“Kal khel mein hum ho na ho, gardish mein taare rahenge sada
Bhoologe tum, bhoolenge woh, par hum tumhare rahenge sada
Rahenge yahin, apne nisha, iske siwa jaana kahan”
Above lines from the super hit Bollywood song ‘Jeena yahan marna yahan” from the movie ‘Mera Naam Joker’, can melt the hearts of the toughest ones. Even more so, if you listen to it in the voice of a certain Vinod Ganpat Kambli. He sang this at the end of an interview a few months back.
These lines tell a story. The story of a man who was once touted to be the greatest. In fact, such were his run-scoring feats that Ravi Shastri used to call him Donald after the great Sir Donald Bradman. To refresh your memory, he scored back-to-back Test double hundreds and was the fastest Indian to get to 1,000 Test runs (in 14 innings). But that was it as far his laurels in India colours were considered.
“I am an emotional man, and I cried”
Today, the name Kambli brings an image of a crying man after the 1996 World Cup Semi-finals. He was in tears after the match was handed over to Sri Lanka due to crowd trouble. Remembering that day, he had recently said, “I am an emotional man, and I cried – so what? Winning World Cup was my dream too. The way it ended, I just broke down.”
It was not just the end of the World Cup dream for Kambli, but in a way, was an end to his career as well. He made numerous comebacks, but could never cement his place back in the Indian team. His last international match was against Sri Lanka in an ODI in 2000. And like the Lankans had broken his dream four years back, this time around it was no different. Indians were bowled out for 54 runs, with Kambli scoring 3 runs and India losing the match by 245 runs.
If one looks at the Test match statistics of Kambli, it has an impressive average of 54.20 over 17 tests. But when further analysis is done, one finds out that he averaged only 22.38 in his last 10 tests without a single century. Similarly, he averaged just above 23 (as compared to his overall ODI average of 32.59) in his last 50 ODIs. So, there is no denying that the dip in his performance with the willow was one of the reasons for his ouster. He was famously found wanting against the short-ball against West Indies in the 1994 series.
Performance was not the only reason for his ouster
But if we are to believe people from the cricket community, there was more than just his performance. People questioned his commitment and attitude. Kambli refutes this claim and says, “All I heard from selectors was indiscipline. What crime did I do? Did I drink and come for any game? Did I miss any training because of it? I made nine comebacks! Never got a consistent run.”
But now, all this is past and doesn’t make much of a difference. And as Kambli had himself said during the launch of his biography, “There have been many misunderstandings in my life. I wish I could have done much better, but I am proud of my achievements and myself.”
As far as Indian cricket is concerned, today people usually associate the words “if only” with Kambli. If only, he had lived up to his potential and shown us the full movie of the trailer that he had shown the world along with Sachin Tendulkar in an unbeaten partnership of 664 runs in an inter-school match in 1988.
Agassi was another maverick, but he made a comeback
For some reason, whenever I think of Kambli, the name of the great Andre Agassi - another maverick from the field of tennis comes to my mind. Agassi also got into all the things which a professional athlete should never venture into. But then, the difference is that Agassi made a comeback and is today remembered as a legend of the game.
Of course, he had this great commitment which allowed him to return to the top. But in my opinion, the other difference between Kambli & Agassi is that one played a team sport and the other an individual sport. In a team game, maybe one needs a lot more support from the entire ecosystem. The individual can be totally dedicated, but once you have been branded as flamboyant or brash (as Kambli had been), then it may become difficult to regain the trust of the people, especially in a team sport.
No future talent in the country should fall into this trap
In the end, I would say that the greatest service that Kambli can do to Indian cricket is to ensure that in future no other talent would fall into the path that he had fallen into. There cannot be a better person than him to know what went wrong for him. And that’s the reason I was so pleased to see a banner about his coaching clinic recently at MCA complex in Bandra, Mumbai.
Today, on his 46th birthday, I wish him all the best in his endeavour and hope that youngsters get to learn a thing or two about cricket & life from him.