India’s lost hero Vinod Kambli recently came back into the news with him being admitted to a hospital in Mumbai after complaining of severe chest pain. As soon as the news flew in, feature stories about his failed international stint and his undisciplined lifestyle start doing the rounds again. While it is true to an extent that Kambli was unlucky not to have an elongated run at the international level due to his injuries and poor form, it is also a fact that he had numerous opportunities to reestablish himself in the Indian team, at least in the one-dayers.
It is famously known that Kambli made as many as nine comebacks into the Indian squad. His last try in 2000 was also his best chance to cement his place in the side. Kambli had been recalled for the ICC KnockOut Trophy in Nairobi in 2000 on the basis of some magnificent domestic performances that could not be ignored. Unlike earlier, he was not facing any injury problems and, at 28, like most other batsmen, was at the peak of his powers. Kambli had everything going for him. All he was needed was to come up with one big score to make everyone believe that he belonged to the international level once again.
The comeback began on a promising note. India faced Kenya in the first match, and chasing 209, Kambli came in with the score reading 135 for 2; Ganguly had just been dismissed. There was no pressure on India, but Kambli was definitely under watch since time was running out for him. But, he did not show any nerves and put together an impressive knock. He remained unbeaten on 39 from 33 balls with seven fours, and hardly mistimed a ball. It was only Kenya, but the match showed the supreme form Kambli was in.
Then came the big game against Australia, the pre-quarterfinals. India batted first, and Kambli came in with India in a spot of bother at 76 for 2. Soon, Dravid also fell and India found themselves in further trouble at 90 for 3. This was Kambli’s opportunity to rise to the occasion, and show everyone the stuff he is made of. The left-hander showed signs of promise when he and newcomer Yurvaj Singh went about rebuilding the innings. Kambli looked in fine form, cracking four boundaries to reach 29 from 39 balls. And then, he gave it all away. Steve Waugh bowled an innocuous delivery outside off stump, Kambli went for a loose drive, and was caught behind. That shot and the innings, in a sense, sums up Kambli’s international career. Almost there but not quite.
In the games that followed Kambli was back to his old ways. In the semi- final against South Africa, he was lbw first ball to Allan Donald, playing across the line, and in the final against New Zealand, he made only 1. Kambli was still retained for the next series since he had shown some spark. His last international appearance was in the 2000 tri-series in Sharjah. Kambli did made 60 in one of the games, but that was against Zimbabwe. In all the other matches he had failed. His fluency had also deserted him. The dead end had come as far as his international career was concerned.
If only Kambli had converted that impeccable 29 against Australia into a bigger score, his international career could have taken a turn for the good.
--By A Cricket Analyst