There's a Kambli in you, too

Teary on camera, 2011

You have heard about cricketer Vinod Kambli crying on a television channel. You have heard the experts. The “I was there…” chant has begun. What is the objection to Kambli’s statement that the 1996 World Cup semi-final match against Sri Lanka was possibly fixed and that is the reason we lost?

Teary on the field, 1996

Here are the arguments by those who know:

  • Why did he wait for 15 years?

We wait for years to discover our heritage and wreak havoc on people in the name of culture. 15 years is not much.

  • Why is he saying that his career was finished when he played 31 one-day matches after that?

Did he reach the form, what was his role in test cricket? Wasn’t he the guy who started with Sachin Tendulkar and showed the same – some even say more – promise?

  • Why is he creating a drama and crying before the cameras?

Kapil Dev cried; Hanse Cronje cried; Dhoni cried; Yuvraj cried – that latter two for sheer joy after the last World Cup victory. Kambli had cried on the field at that time as well. Why did no one say anything about it?

  • How can he say he was made a scapegoat – by whom?

Precisely. The manner in which all those in the team then are now rallying behind Mohammed Azharuddin, who was banned for life for match-fixing, (the ban was removed in 2006) just shows that they knew whose tail they could twist. He quoted the then team manager Ajit Wadekar, and Wadekar is himself now saying that Kambli’s accusations are not true. (Azhar is now screaming about Kambli. Does he know what they have been saying in the studios about him during this discussion? That his word does not count.)

The dressing room has seen a lot of action in the past, so it is not like this cannot happen. If all those experts are saying, oh, it is possible, but he cannot make these claims without evidence, I’d tell them to go run between the wickets. If they can suspect, and say it on national television, then so can Kambli.

It is pretty disgusting to listen to them declare that had the accusation come from someone like Manjrekar or Tendulkar perhaps one would take note. Really? What happens to those ‘waking up after 15 years’ comments? Manjrekar said it may have been a wrong decision but it was an honest one. Now they are all saying that it was a team decision to field. Is there a vote by the team when the coin is tossed on the field?

And where is Sachin Tendulkar? Watching from the wings? No statement from him. Perhaps he is just waiting for that 100th century.

The problem is that Kambli has been the castaway always, and I believe that where regional biases are so strong can someone stand a chance with a high-caste attitude? In the early days an Eknath Solkar (a gardener’s son) could get away with a little pity; in the days of commercialisation someone like Kambli has the stakes heavily against him.

He came from what is referred to as the backward class, lived in a chawl with his parents and six siblings, studied upto matriculation, and became a prodigy on the field. He scored almost 800 runs in his first seven tests. He was clearly on the make. His double century came much before Sachin Tendulkar’s, but the latter is the respectable face of Indian cricket. Kambli was the eternal rebel, seemingly with no roots and therefore no possibility of flowering into anything of consequence.

A lot has been said about the Sachin-Vinod friendship; many have even attributed Kambli’s inclusion in matches due to this factor. It is commendable that they could share such a relationship at all in a cut-throat world. But while Sachin has always been seen as a magnanimous gentleman and a loyal friend, Kambli had to live under this shadow of generosity, even when it dried up. (He made the mistake of mentioning this too on a reality show – the naïve fool.)

He and Javed Miandad (in his time) were like clowns in the circus. They knew that people were there to watch the acrobats and the animals display their skills, while their job was to be funny and flamboyant. This often made them social and professional outcasts. Taking risks had, therefore, become a ‘nothing to lose’ gamble.

Tendulkar stood for stability; we could rely on him and show him off. Kambli was the boy who needed to be given a chance. And he mucked it up by being the bad boy. We could also feel superior for encouraging a wayward person get back on the right track. He was cricket’s own combination of tragedy king and jerk.

The local imperialists as well as the patriots are aghast. When he said, “Main apne desh ke saath kabhi gaddari nahin kar sakta (I cannot ever betray my country),” I can well imagine the shudders going through so many replays. It does not make him a great patriot or the others less so. But it further exposes how this sport’s major contribution these days is not about the nation but the spoils of such wars – it could be in terms of endorsements or making it to the record books.

Why, Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri are on the payroll of the governing body of cricket and yet claim to be objective experts during matches. The controversy has been sidelined. After all, they are not drama queens.

Kambli is. It is in his system. That is the way he played his game, the way he talks and the way he makes a scene. Some of it has been no doubt to get attention. But how can anyone ridicule him for appearing on reality TV shows? All these starchy fellows who make up the panels of news studios are also being exhibitionistic. Last night, the anchor of Times Now, Arnab Goswami, got them to stop and watch a portion of the interview with his running commentary: “See, he is crying, he is hurt, emotions are rolling down his cheeks!” Is this not drama when you replay the drama and get your jollies out of it? If this is a non-issue, why is everyone so hot and bothered and grabbing their airtime? And Navjoy Singh Siddhu should keep shut – he has been a judge on a comedy show, and he does not even have to get on one to be a comic.

Yes, Kambli woke up too late. Yes, he wants to be on TV (was he invited or did he solicit it?). So? In 1996, there were not too many avenues for him to open up. If the media is sitting in judgement, or making the most of this situation, then do not blame him. This is what television is about now, and everyone is playing to the gallery.

Vinod Kambli is this Indian psyche, a sort of street urchin playing in the rain and dreaming of making it big, and landing up in the studios even if it means showing the shit.

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Here it is:


  1. Never thought of kambli this way. It makes sense but cast in this day and age?? Liked your different view tho sachin has moved much ahead so no comparison.

  2. Anon:

    Yes, caste in this day and age. But, I was using caste in a larger framework here to include the 'other'. This is not to dispute whatever Sachin has achieved, but again to posit the manner in which we create 'gods'.

  3. I dont understand why you have to bring caste here. As a keen observer and former state player of cricket it is quite obvious for me and other experts, that Sachin has a better technique and talent than kambli. Even Don Bradman has acknowledged this. The problem with kambli was that he lacked disciple, focus and perseverance. He couldnt play the short balls well and never learnt or improved. All this high caste oppression stuff is nonsense. Just look at rahul dravid, he has half the talen of Kamble, but through sheer hard work he has been able to up his peformance.

  4. Vasu:

    I have already pointed out the mention of caste in the previous response. You will admit that there are several factors, including parochial ones, that have beset the game. The IPL probably changed that a bit.

    I agree that Kambli lacked discipline, but how can anyone make comparisons about his game and Sachin's when he just did not get the opportunities (partly due to his own attitude)?

    Anyhow, since this post and the current controversy is about his revelation, are we going to dispute it or push it under the carpet because he could not play the short balls or because he is an attention seeker? Or is it because we just don't care?

    Since you follow the game closely, I'd appreciate some input from you because I am sick of the experts.


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