A controversy has arisen over a statement made by Vinod Kambli, the former India batsman, that he "doubted" crucial decisions made during the 1996 World Cup semi-final between India and Sri Lanka in Kolkata. Several of Kambli's team-mates in that match, including captain Mohammed Azharuddin, and the team manager Ajit Wadekar, have denied the allegations.
Kambli said, in an emotional interview with television channel Star News in India on Thursday, that he "doubted" the semi-final. He said the team had decided at its pre-match meeting to bat first if India won the toss and he had noticed that opener Navjot Sidhu had padded up before the toss, as was his habit, indicating that if India won the toss, he would be batting first.
Kambli then said he was surprised when India decided to field first. The semi-final was abandoned following crowd trouble after India, chasing 252, were 120 for 8 - they were 98 for 1 at one stage - with Kambli unbeaten on 10. Kambli said in the interview that he would never forget the match because his career had ended after that game. "This ended my career. I was dropped from the team, I was made the scapegoat," he said. Kambli was not available for comment following his TV interview.
Saba Karim, the former India wicketkeeper who also appeared on the programme, told ESPNcricinfo that he had reminded Kambli that his career did not end then. "I said to him, Vinod, you played for India after that, we played together in Canada." After the World Cup semi-final on March 13, 1996, Kambli played 35 ODIs for India.
Azharuddin, appearing on CNN-IBN, sought to dismiss Kambli's allegations. "Absolutely rubbish. [He] doesn't know what he is talking about." Azharuddin said a "team decision" to field first was made at a meeting where, "Everyone was there, including the manager. Kambli must have been sleeping during the team meeting." He said that after a discussion India had decided to field first. He conceded there were different points of view at the meeting but said the final decision was taken collectively.
Azharuddin was handed a life ban by the BCCI in 2000 after a federal inquiry found him guilty of match-fixing. He denied the charges and is awaiting judgement on a suit filed by him.
After the Indian sports minister Ajay Maken called for an investigation into Kambli's claims, BCCI vice-president Rajeev Shukla denied any further action was needed. "The BCCI had decided to ban Azhar on the basis of CBI report and there are no new circumstances to review the decision."
Sharad Pawar, the ICC president, also rejected the claims. "Kambli's allegations are not logical. If he had concentrated on his game, we might have got another Sachin Tendulkar."
Sanjay Manjrekar, another member of that team, also sought to dismiss the allegation on Twitter. "1996 world cup semi-final - The decision to field first may have turned out to be a wrong decision but it was an honest cricketing decision."
Ajit Wadekar, who also spoke to Kambli on Star News on Thursday night, said the decision to field first had been based on the Sri Lankan team's excellent record at chasing scores at the World Cup. "The entire team felt that the Sri Lanka players were good chasers. Hence, the team felt that if India fielded first, Sri Lanka could be easily defeated. In the team meeting before the match it was decided that India would field in the event of winning the toss. The decision was taken after consultation with the entire team."
Former national selector Venkatapathy Raju, who also played that match, said that in the meeting Navjot Sidhu was the only person who believed they should have been batting first because the wicket was dry. Raju, speaking to Star News, called it "surprising" that Kambli was claiming this after 15 years.