When he burst onto the scene three seasons after his great pal Sachin Tendulkar, with whom he had once added a world-record 646 in a schools match, the sky appeared the limit for Vinod Kambli. Sadly, his fall from grace was as spectacular and sudden as the elevation to star status. Worked over by West Indian quicks and troubled by indiscipline and injury, he faded away to become Indian cricket's greatest regret of the modern era. No one knows how good he could have been, perhaps not even Kambli himself. Here, he talks to Cricinfo about the days when he was still king, and when his home crowd inspired him to his greatest height - 224 against England at the Wankhede in 1993.
My first double-hundred was really memorable for various reasons. Playing on my home ground, encouraged by the vociferous crowds, against a well-balanced England bowling side, I was enjoying every moment of my innings. Once England spared me early on in my knock - on 57, I stepped out to a flighted delivery from John Emburey and didn't connect properly, but Phil Defreitas at long-off failed to latch on to a simple chance - I didn't look back for a long time. Still being a raw player, there were many rush-of-blood moments.
Keith Fletcher, the England coach, was getting desperate at the partnerships that India were steadily building and was charging in and out of the dressing room and making patrols around the ropes, instructing his bowlers to bowl at a particular length and line. I had been observing him for a while and decided to take him on - every time the bowler would try the Fletcher-way, I would dispatch him to the ropes. The crowds would go manic and applaud every shot like I had scored a century. That would egg me on to play the next shot.
Amidst this excitement, it was a heady feeling to score my first hundred in my third Test. Later that evening Sunil Gavaskar came to me and offered words of caution: "You are shuffling too much across and exposing your leg stump which the England bowlers will try and attack, so mind that." Words of wisdom, and I would never forget them. I went on to complete my double-century and what a moment it was with the thousands in the ground chanting "Kambli, Kambli".
England seniors, Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting, whom I used to watch as a kid, came and patted me on the back, which sent a chill down my spine as these were some of the heroes I had seen so much and read about and one day wanted to emulate. I got out on 224, not knowing that I was so close to Gavaskar's 236, then the highest score by an Indian. And the man himself congratulated me on my feat and taking me aside, he took off his wristwatch to give to me as a gift. I have treasured that, and kept it safely till date.
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