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November 18, 2001
He's the most unlikely hero. It's five years since he played a Test match for India. Carrying at least a few extra pounds and even making the occasional foray outside cricket to the movies, he's not the person you back to torment a touring international team. Yet, Vinod Ganpat Kambli found his feet, unveiled strokes people said he couldn't play anymore and stormed his way to 109 of the finest runs against England at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. It's lamentable that Indian cricket found no more use for this attractive left-hander after just 17 Test matches. It bears repetition that even this short career yielded 1084 runs at an average of just under 55 and included two double tons.
The bowling attack of Matthew Hoggard, James Ormond, Craig White and Richard Dawson will remember Kambli for a long time to come. As much as they would like to forget him, the powerful drives, the delectable late cuts and the booming pull shots will be etched in memory.
The bowling attack of Matthew Hoggard, James Ormond, Craig White and Richard Dawson will remember Kambli for a long time to come. As much as they would like to forget him, the powerful drives, the delectable late cuts and the booming pull shots will be etched in memory. Yet, one should not get too carried away by Kambli's innings. There is no place in the Indian middle-order for Kambli to make a comeback. There will be no dream ending to this fairytale. Yet, the fact that one can travel to a venue and watch high class entertaining batting like this makes the innings special in its own right.
Kambli was the first one to realise this. His celebratory gestures on reaching three-figures bordered on the excessive. Beginning with a pumping of fists, moving on to a bat-wave to every section of the stands, Kambli ended by making the sign of the cross and looking to the heavens. The prayer of a man lost in the wilderness?
There's something about the England bowling attack that inspires the best in Kambli. For a moment, take a walk down memory lane. On February 19, back in 1992, Graham Gooch won the toss and elected to bat at this very same venue, the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. When Graeme Hick, whose career path has alarming similarities to Kambli's, notched up 178 and England posted 347, he might have harboured hopes of putting victory out of the reach of the Indians. But what the Hoggard-led foursome learnt today, the attack of Phil Defraitas, Chris Lewis, John Emburey and Phil Tufnell discovered all those years ago - it was next to impossible to bowl to Kambli on song.
Coming to the wicket at 109/1 Kambli took the Indian score to 563/8, cracking a sizzling 224 that included 23 spanking hits that found the ropes. India made 591 and bowled out England for 229, winning the Test by an innings and 15 runs.
There are many wise cricket lovers in Mumbai, who have seen the unfolding and subsequent unraveling of Kambli's career, while continuing to believe to this day that he is the best batsman in Mumbai. Enough has been said of the Amol Muzumdar's and Wasim Jaffer's of Mumbai cricket. At the end of the day however, it takes an out-of-shape Kambli to charm the fans, put the runs on the board and keep the Mumbai flag flying high.
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