Kambli – always second best

Posted: November 20, 2011 in cricket
Tags: , ,

Vinod Kambli has always been the kind of person who seeks attention and thrives on it – on the cricket field and off it. And the latest incident where he has claimed that the 1996 World Cup semi final against Sri Lanka was fixed is another example of that. Before that was his outburst on TV that Sachin could have helped him get his place back in the team, but never did.

Sometime in 1988, a journalist friend called me to ask if I would be interested in carrying a feature in the Maharashtra Herald, on the other and lesser known half of the Tendulkar-Kambli combination. Vinod Kambli was then a 17 year-old-year living in a one-room tenement in Kanjurmarg, in the suburbs of Mumbai, unlike his more famous and younger-by-a-year friend who lived in Bandra.

He and Sachin had just set up a world record score of 664 in schools cricket, and while everyone was raving about the talent of the cherubic Tendulkar, who was already been spoken of as a player to watch, not too many people were talking about Kambli.

So when this journalist friend spoke to me, I was not too convinced. But he used all his powers of persuasion to convince me of Kambli’s talent and the fact that the ‘biased’ Mumbai sports media couldn’t see beyond Shivaji Park and Dadar Gymkhana!

So we carried a full-page feature on Kambli and it made fascinating reading. Here was this boy from the lower strata of society, who knew that everyone was talking about Tendulkar, said he didn’t mind because Sachin was his best friend. The young Vinod would travel by local train to Shardashram School where both the boys would go through cricketing lessons under the watchful eyes of their coach Ramakant Achrekar.

He was sure that one day soon his time would come, that people would take his name in the same breath as they did Tendulkar. And they did, in 1993, four years after his friend Sachin made that spectacular debut against Pakistan. In his first seven Tests, Kambli scored two double-centuries and two single ones. Not even his best friend could have boasted of such a sensational start.

He then made that very telling comment, “Sachin used the elevator and I used the staircase.”

Nothing could have been better for Indian cricket at that point. I genuinely liked the kid and thought he deserved his success. From January 1993 to November 1995, Kambli had played 17 Tests and scored 1084 runs at an average of 54.20. He had scored 2477 in 104 one-dayers. Pretty impressive record, but then somewhere along the way, I believe his success went to his head. Unfortunately, his career never took off because he was, like many others before him, suspect against the rising ball.

There were also various instances of indiscipline and a tumultuous personal life, which probably also contributed to his slump. His behaviour on and off the field was in marked contrast to that of his friend Sachin, who was never involved in any unsavoury incidents – personal or professional. Even the fact that Sachin ended up marrying someone seven years older was overlooked by the media. And since Kambli was supposed to be his best friend it was natural for the media to compare the two. In this comparison, it was Kambli who invariably ended up with the bad reviews.

I remember speaking to some senior sports journalists, much more knowledgeable and experienced about the game than I was, and their opinion was that Kambli just wasn’t as good as Tendulkar and had been outmaneuvered by the opposition bowlers, because of his weaknesses outside the offstump. They also felt he had messed up his career by his antics off the field.

Around the time when he was out of the Indian team, I remember writing a piece for the newspaper, where I praised his batting in some first class match. Kambli’s first wife called me to complain about the piece. She said I had no idea what he was up against and instead of supporting him I was running him down! I didn’t have the patience to clarify and didn’t see the need to apologise.

A few years later, I was at a medical shop in Pune, near my home, when I saw Vinod in shorts and a tee-shirt buying a crate of beer. I remember thinking, as he struggled with a paunch to load the beer into the car, that this is what happens to players who get dropped. I then heard that he had got into a brawl at some disco in Pune, because some people tried to make a pass at his wife.

A few days later, the advertising manager David Sawant came to my cabin to tell me excitedly that Vinod Kambli was coming to our office to book a full-page advertisement on Valentine’s Day for his wife. Frankly, I had no interest in Kambli’s antics and couldn’t understand why he needed to announce his arrival. My caustic comment was, “Does he think he’s Sachin Tendulkar?”

For Vinod Kambli, I guess that’s what it has really been all about since he was 17.

  1. Its the best example to personify that old saying
    To go to the top you require talent, but to stay there you require character.
    Unfortunately kambli had one quality less.

  2. Sunayan Bhattacharjee says:

    Brilliant write-up Sir! Loved it all the way! Was and still is a great fan of Kambli despite everything that have gone against him! His very colourful persona, which I don’t know why, has always fascinated me! I remember watching him play as a 7-year-old kid on TV and delighting in everything that he did on the field. I was deeply pained when he was dropped in 1996. I still believe that he should have been taken in for that illustrious Lords Test in 1996. Records firmly put him at an advantage vis-a-vis Ganguly who was selected eventually. I still feel for this guy badly! I wish otherwise though….

  3. Akashi Kaul says:

    First time I’m leaving a comment here, but just thought I’d let you know that I really liked this one! 🙂

  4. logicaldna says:

    Both are talented and have their own character, I think kambli never had what was required from a family. Kind of peace and control which could keep sachin’s feet on ground. I seriously think that’s what he tried point out when he said sachin did not help him. He might be expecting elder brother kind of support from Sachin, very emotional and kind of TV serial kind of theory, but that’s what I feel 🙂

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