"A tearful Vinod Kambli leaves the field, being escorted by security officials as the Eden gardens crowd turns violent.The match was abandoned with India at 120 for 8 and Sri lanka declared winners. India loses a golden chance to lift the coveted ICC Cricket World Cup of 1996 "
This very scene has been shown on the television several times over the years and even in the build up to this year’s World Cup. It was 15 years back and all I can remember of that match was the chaos at the end of the match. I neither had the interest then nor was I able to understand what happened that was gruesome enough to disturb everyone so much. Even then, I had heard some quarters claiming the players to have been bribed. May be it was an act of anger and hopelessness. But what took everyone by storm was that same player who left the field in tears after the match was abandoned and awarded to the Sri Lankans, shouting on Star News in faulty Hindi that he doubts that the match was fixed, 15 years later. This was a spontaneous reaction on being asked about a former ICC anti-corruption investigator, Paul Condon’s comment that almost all matches in the 90’s were fixed. But Mr. Kambli, why do you say this after 15 long years??
Kambli had always been a character of interest for me. Always fond of the lime-light, he has tried his luck in a couple of films , a few reality shows and an odd TV serial.. A much Caribbean kind of dark-skinned,bald and goatee look made him quite a novelty. But still, all fame he could garner was as Sachin Tendulkar’s childhood friend. Many a times I saw him getting all emotional (the guy must love to cry in public, ain’t it?) whenever a question about his friendship with the legendary batsman was raised. I remember him once declaring on a dance reality show “Even if Sachin needs me now on the field, I shall stand by him”. Oh c’mon! As if it were a battle-field and all he needed to do was smash some heads with a bat. Since when did they allow players to have personal bodyguards with them on the field? And until recently, he wasn’t even considered for expert views on any of the news channels. ( This is when even a Vijay Dahiya is sought for ‘expert’ opinion. But that’s a different story altogether)
If you look into Kambli the cricketer, the figures reveal a batsman of sufficient talent. In the 7 Test matches that he had played for India, Kambli had scored two double centuries and two centuries with a batting average of 54.20. Not bad at all! Yet he played his last Test match way back in 1995 at the age of 24. Surprising indeed!! His ODI career was a bit extended though with Kambli playing his last ODI in 2000 and has an OK average of 32.59. His 664 runs’ unbroken partnership with Sachin in a school-level match in which Kambli made 349* is still a world record. But somehow, he lost his way. The glitz and glamour associated with Indian cricket reportedly shifted his focus from his game to parties and showbiz (though he still denies it) resulting into a drastic fall in his career. It’s quite amusing that he officially announced his retirement from all forms of cricket just a few months back in September, 2011!! Was he still expecting a call from the national selectors?!!
And now suddenly , after 15 years of being in the oblivion ,Kmabli finds himself on the front page of most Indian newspapers on the basis of a few ‘doubts’ that he has of that infamous semi-final encounter. Let’s have a look at Kambli’s allegations.
- It was decided until the afternoon before the match that they would bat first on winning the toss which the captain (Mohd. Azharuddin) acted against.
- The wicket was not a turner as suggested by the manner in which he Indian batsmen got out and if he could hold fort at one end how could the others not?
- He was a victim of conspiracy against his career and was dropped from the national side repeatedly without valid reasons being stated.
Now if we take Kambli’s allegations under consideration, then all the players who got out after Sachin’s dismissal were involved in fixing which is practically absurd.. And even if it is so then why was Kambli not approached by the bookies? Or may be as his score of 10* suggests, they were pretty much sure he wouldn’t be of any harm either. Moreover, if he was quite comfortable with the pitch, why was he not scoring well despite the fall of wickets at the other end? Well, regarding the toss, whatever might have been the difference of opinion among the team members, the captain has the final call.
Whatever might be the result of this entire controversy, it has certainly brought him under the spotlight that has eluded him throughout his career and even after it. It might not have been so easily bearable for him o see his childhood buddy reach the epitome of the game they both had started playing together with his own short stint being only comparable to a cameo in Indian cricket. Nevertheless, even if its sheer frustration that drove him to making those allegations, it can’t be denied that the cloud of match-fixing has tainted the Gentleman’s game to such an extent that its very easy to point a finger at any player, team or mach. The presence of vulnerable targets can’t be overlooked either. Hence a probe by BCCI on the ’96 semi-final might just help to strengthen the belief of the people in the integrity of the players and the sanctity of the game. And we never know, some skeletons might fall out of the closet…
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