The Ekalavya Of Indian Cricket

November 23, 2011 at 9:15 PMNov (Friends, Media, Musings, Soliloquy)

Vinod Kambli was almost out of the horizons of our memory till he walked in yet again when he spoke emotionally on a TV channel recently (17 Nov 2011) and suspected the semi-final match of the 1996 World Cup to be fixed.

Lot of ink has been spilled and vocal chords strained over the ‘allegation’ made by Kambli. But less attention has been paid to his words, “My career ended after this and I was dropped from the game,” and “It was not just Sachin’s dream to win the world cup,” in an emotional state, not forgetting to mention the teary eyes.

Saba Karim, who also appeared in the programme said that he reminded Kambli that he had played 35 ODI matches after the semifinals played on 13 March 1996 indicating his career did not end there. The point all seem to forget is that between the first match that Kambli played (August 1996) after the semifinals was ODI number 1106 and the last match that he played in Oct 2000 was ODI number 1652. So, the question immediately pops up is of how many games was he allowed to play 35 matches? And what needs to be noted is he made seven come backs after the WC-96 toournament where he was dropped to make way for Ganguly (1996) , Azhar (1997) and VVS Laxman (Apr 1998) at different times. No doubt about the talent of the players who replaced him. The batting average of Kambli in those 35 ODI matches was not good enough to strengthen his place in the national team say many. True. But when one is not consistently appearing in the team how is one expected to show consistency in the game?

Was it just his failure in the field which cost him his place in the team? Shashi Tharoor asking similar questions to himself says, “Dark whispers speak of issues of temperament, of fatal fondness for alcohol, of player’s sleep being disturbed by a raucous Kambli’s  carousing after dark during the matches.” Derek Pringle also notes, “A weakness against short pitched fast bowling played its role, but his off-the-field lifestyle clearly irked those in charge.” Now place this with the response of Mohd Azharuddin to the ‘allegation’ about the WC-96 semifinals being fixed. He not just rubbished the words of Kambli but also called him “Characterless.” Was he referring to the “off the field lifestyle” marked by “fatal fondness for alcohol” and “carousing”? Let us assume so, for a while. Then Sharad Pawar’s response to Kambli’s words. He too rubbished it and added, “Had he concentrated on his game we would have another Sachin.”

Come on Mr. Pawar the powerful (and franternity), how could India afford to miss another Sachin? How could you afford to lose? How could we afford to?

During the 1993 test match against England at Wankhede stadium Mumbai after the day’s play where Kambli was unbeaten with a century, Sunil Gavaskar went to Kambli and said, “You are shuffling too much across and exposing your leg stump which the England bowlers will try and attack, so mind that.” Kambli calls those words “words of wisdom” with all his respects. He went on to make 224 later in the same test without knowing he was just 12 runs short to the then highest score by an India i.e. 236 by the man who gave him “words of wisdom” the previous evening. The same man went on to give his own watch to Kambli as a mark of appreciation for the double century which Kambli has treasured.

Two things come out of the story. One, Kambli is an emotional human being. Two, Kambli would listen to “words of wisdom” and to people whom he respect.

Sanjay Manjrekar recollecting the WC-96 semifinals had remarked, “It was a sad moment – people still remember Vinod Kambli being stranded there and tears and crying; but that is what Vinod Kambli is all about. And all of us felt the same but Vinod Kambli is more demonstrative.” This gives an insight to the behavior of Kambli out of the field, it appears to me. What needs not to be forgotten is the social and economical background from which Kambli came and given the success he was enjoying, it was a dream that he was living and he was living it in a royal way, given the emotional and “demonstrative” he was including the fact that he was “full of energy and enthusiasm” as Rahul Dravid once said.

While announcing his retirement from International Cricket he mentioned that he had informed about his decision to Sachin Tendulkar, his childhood buddy. We know the story of S. Gavaskar and him at the Wankhede. So, the question remains, to me, is how much did team India and the people associated with it try talking to Kambli about “player’s sleep being disturbed” by his “carousing” and about his “life style out of the field” which “irked” them? Had they spoken he would have listened to and the story of him respecting the “words of wisdom” of Gavaskar and going on to make a double century stands as a witness to it.

What “irked” all so much? So much that they couldn’t even speak to him enough to ‘help’ this “characterless” to shape himself? If not on human grounds (too much to expect I guess) at least for the sake of cricket, sake of India, sake of Indian cricket for he could have become the other Sachin!

Former Captain Azharuddin while rubbishing the ‘allegation’ of Kambli not just called him “characterless” but also “of no background”. As Vaibhav Purandare pointed out, “To point to his lack of background is to ridicule his poverty and his struggle against all odds.” True. But it is not just to ridicule his poverty but also his caste.

Vinod Ganpat Kambli comes from fisher folk caste (backward caste if not scheduled caste) and from the Mumbai suburb Kanjumarg.

Wikipedia explains why Kambli was one of the best over-the-top hitters of spin bowling: The small patch of land that served as his first cricket pitch was surrounded on all sides by high-rise buildings. The scoring system was dictated by the lack of space, and the higher a batsman hit the ball into the buildings the more runs he scored.

Stories about his coach Ramakant Archekar taking care of his travelling expenses and his class teacher at the Sharadashram paying for his schooling is well known like his friends treating him for dinner and Sachin Tendulkar treating him with Vada Pav after the matches. These stories not just reveal what Vaibhav Purnadare means when Kambli has fought against odds. It also reveals what exactly Dravid meant when he said, “To come from where he came, a very humble background and to achieve what he did… he has a lot to be proud of.”

Proud of a career that began with a six. Proud of taking Shane Warne for 22 in an over. Proud of being the first Indian to score two Test double-centuries in a row against two different opponents. Proud of being a man with four Test centuries to his name in his first seven Tests. Proud of the fact that though he ended his career at the young age of 24 his test batting average marked 54.20.

But any sort of expression of this pride and that very success itself is not tolerated, especially if the person is from a background class and importantly caste. So now when some bloggers angered by the ‘allegation’ that Kambli made they say things like- “All Kambli is left with is those awful 1990’s earrings,” “he has had two hot wives and that is a big achievement for him given his bald looks,” which are nothing but an intolerance towards the success and flamboyancy of a man from a backward class and caste. Not much different from the intolerance towards Priyanka Bhotmange riding a bicycle in Khairlanji.

Another blogger, after declaring that he is writing “as a cricket enthusiast and a responsible citizen” goes on to say, “Cricket as we all know is a gentleman’s game but sometimes unfortunately the characterless creatures like Kambli emerge from the dirty drains which brings bad name to the gentleman’s game.” Note the usage of words like- unfortunately, creature (not even the least human respect), dirty drains, bad name!

This castist and classist attitude is not restricted to cricket fans but also to players and as S. Anand rightly pointed out is also the attitude of the very game cricket itself.

As S. Anand said, “it does not require much disciplinary training to infer that cricket is a game that best suits brahminical tastes and bodies and that there has been a preponderance of Brahman cricket players at the national level.” In comparison to the games like Hockey or football, says S. Anand, cricket hardly involves much physical activity. Not just that but it neglects body like no other game in India and is a game which only those who have surplus time can afford, given the very structure of the game. With these sharp observations S Anand  draws our attention towards the brahminical and elitist nature of the game.

Later in a comparison with hockey and hockey players with cricket and cricket players he says, “The game (hockey) is never likely to recapture the public imagination. Most important, Dhanraj, Thirumalvalavan, Dilip Tirkey, Jude Menezes, Lazarus Balra or Pragat Singh are unlikely to win the confidence of the publicity managers of Pepsi and Coke. They are also unlikely candidates for promoting credit cards.” Saying this he adds, within bracket, “Add to this the fact that cricket players tend to be a fairer lot compared to hockey players. And TV and cinema have always promoted an Indian brand of racism that excludes the darker looking majority. He goes further to say, “This marginalization also owes to the social backgrounds of hockey players and they are unlikely to make much headway in Brahman-dominated cricket.”

The right points have been hit saying cricket is a brahman dominated game in India and that the non-brahman are unlikely o make much headway. How many Dalit cricketers have been produced by India? S. Anand counts it as three- Palwankar Baloo, Vinod Kambli and Dodda Ganesh. While the first name happens to be pre-independent the other two are post-Independent but had a short-lived career. While Dodda Ganesh was not given enough chance to appear promising, Vinod Kambli was not allowed to translate his promising powers and strengths to great success.

K.R. Nayar, a journalist who saw Sachin and Kambli grow up as cricketers revelas that it was difficult to judge as to who among the two were best but says that Kambli was hailed as more talented than Sachin. But  Sachin, as K.R. Nayar says, focused on sharpening his game and built a wall around him and kept all his friends out including Kambli while Kambli spent a lot of time with his friends. As S Anand points out “We do not need much statistical backing to assert that Indian cricketers have excellent personal records at the expense of the team.” He adds to it, “Such a strange statistic is unlikely to be available in say, hockey,” trying to drive the point that cricket as a game in not just brahminic and elitist but also quite individualistic. And as Dravid pointed out “Kambli was a team man.” Not just that he was a man of friends with whom he liked to spend time.

If Kambli was weak “against short pitched fast bowling” the coach could have worked on it and should have worked on him, as he could have surely become another Sachin. But team India and its associates chose to drop him several times from the team for his bad form, his weakness and more importantly his “off the field behavior” which “irked” them to the extent that they think he is “characterless.”

Rahul Dravid once, while speaking of Kambli said that part of the challenge of international cricket is to be able to cope with stuff of the field. Probably Dravid was suggesting that Kambli was taken away by the sudden success and limelight. It is a task to handle stardom and not let it distract while it gets attracted to the successful. But as said earlier this ‘celebration’ of one’s own stardom was essentially because of sociological reasons. This needs understanding and not just rubbishing him off by saying, “success got into the head.” If Kambli got carried away and this carrying away distracted his game to an extent then it should be a lesson to learn from and should be understood like another version of Mayavathi getting corrupt with power. But again this needs a larger understanding and not just dismissing of them.

So, did Kambli destroy himself as many believe? Kambli certainly got destroyed. He himself did play some role in it. But there were other factors which led to this destruction too. Kambli while saying his career came to an end after the WC-96 semifinals said that it was not just Sachin’s dream to win the world cup. It was the dream of Kambli too to win the World Cup. But the structural circumstances are such that it won’t allow him to win it for the nation like Kachra, in the film Lagaan, is not allowed to hit the necessary six  and it is a Bhuvan who hits it. So Kambli and Sachin are not just narratives of what one can become and what one could have become but also of what allows one to become and what stops one from being what one could become. As a friend of mine put it he is the Ekalavya of Indian cricket.

It was also Kambli’s dream to win the world cup. Else tears wouldn’t role down the way it did on 13 March 1996 at Eden Gardens. But India will never play for Kambli. India will not even in the remotest of its possible imagination think about winning the world cup for Kambli. When India wins the World Cup finally, there are people to carry Sachin saying he has “carried the team for long”. True Sachin’s contribution may remain undisputed. But how many thought of wiping the tears of 1996 still frozen in the eyes of Kambli saying, “Friend, finally we have done it. We have done it for the tears that you shed.”?

Tears of Kambli during the programme where he suspected the WC-96 semifinals to be fixed, speaks of the chocking reality of castist, classist, individualistic India and his words of suspicion or allegation, even if or not not factually true, should be understood as an expression of frustration caused by the castist elitist individualistic India, which not just failed Kambli but also itself because else we would have had, as Sharad Pawar said, another Sachin.


  1. Arron Menezes said,

    even i remember a little about the world where he cried….and also heard and read the stories sachin and him being best buddies and best cricketers….but i felt it always that we missed a grt player….

    it is sad to know abt the remarks Gentlemen and related people made….
    but i always thought that sachin could have helped him….

    nice to know about all this…thanks.

  2. talha123sheikh said,

    Damages have tormented the final few years of Sachin Tendulkar’s vocation and while he has performed on events when he has been fit, his absence of presence on the pitch has appeared to alter his supports.

    Read More :

  3. Romeo Here said,

    i read your article, i too believe that vinod kambli was not supported by his friends(close one) , may be they were too busy basking in his glory. this is a problem with a person from vinod background , that they never have mentor and god father ,who can gently guide them. i also feel pained to see the life of vinod kambli.i think he was like a Ferrari used as a maruti 800. He could have been one of the best player for india. i think there is a lesson for SC/BC to learn that they should be very diplomatic and practical.

  4. Yatish said,

    I need to point out that Dodda Ganesh doesn’t belong to dalit caste. He belongs to an agriculture land owning caste .

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