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December 15, 1998


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The Cricket Interview/ Vinod Kambli

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'They cheered me even when I was on crutches'

To continue the World Cup theme, when match referee Clive Lloyd took the decision to conceede the match, what was your reaction?

Initially I did not even know about it, I was at the other end. He went up to Kumble, spoke to him. As far as the situation goes, I don't think there was any way the match could have been continued, given the situation in the stadium, so I guess it was a wise decision. But that doesn't mean we had to like it, we were all disturbed, my colleagues came and hugged me, they all felt bad. But all that is behind us now, anyway.

To move ahead, Vinod, how does it feel when critics compare you with the Caribbean players in terms of approach and personality?

It doesn't make any difference to me personally. I am an Indian and proud to be one, I am an individual in my own right, I am just plain Vinod Kambli, that's it. I don't like to be compared with anybody.

What would you say are your strengths as a batsman?

My strokeplay. I am a natural strokeplayer, I hate getting bogged down, I always like to be on top of the bowling.

Have you needed to change your batting style at any point?

Sure, it all depends on the situation, there have been many times when, playing for Bombay and even for India, I have had to to defend. Even when I was feeling well set, I continued to defend, when the team interests demanded that form of play.

What is your bread and butter shot, the one you rate as most productive?

The lofted shot to spinners. As for the quicks, I think it is the pull, which I have developed now.

Critics say you are in a heck of a hurry to get off the mark, always, that it creates risk...

It's not like that. Being a naturally attacking batsman, I don't mind playing my shots even early in my innings, especially if I get a loose ball. But like I said, there are also times when you play according to the team situation. Usually, once I start middling the ball, I feel very confident. And it usually doesn't take me much time to start middling the ball.

What do you rate as your best Test innings so far?

The double hundred against England, mainly because the ball was turning so much, batting wasn't easy. The innings gave me so much confidence, it also made me happy because I was doing it on my home ground, in front of my home crowd, the support I got from them was simply amazing.

And your best in ODIs?

Wasim Akram I would rate the 40-odd I got against Pakistan in Sharjah, when I opened the innings with Ravi Shastri. I was very satisfied because the attack was spearheaded by Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Aquib Javed. I rate that innings high, because I was facing the new ball and did very well. Normally I bat number five or six, so to face the new ball, as an opener, was very challenging. I enjoyed every moment of it. I was also happy with my innings against South Africa in the Hero Cup tournament, when I scored seventy-odd runs and got the man of the match award. It was a good feeling, batting well against the likes of Allan Donald, Fanie de Villiers, Richard Snell and Brian McMillan.

Strange that you didn't single out your one day hundred against England at Jaipur in 1993...

Sure, that was special too, more so because I got it on my birthday. I got a standing ovation when I walked in to bat, that stimulated me, helped me play very well. In fact, it proved to be a crucial innings, because it paved the way for my eventual Test debut.

You talked of how much you enjoyed that innings against Pakistan, where you opened the batting. Are you looking at trying for the opening slot again?

If I am in the side, I have to do whatever the captain and coach expect of me, bat wherever they want me, so yes, opening wouldn't be a problem. If you are giving me the choice, then I like batting at number three.

You hope to make a comeback at least for the next World Cup -- but do you see vacancies in the team as it stands now?

That is up to the selectors, the team management. I can only bat well, score runs. If they want me back in the side, if they think I fit into the scheme of things, then they will find the vacancy.

Which do you prefer, Tests or one dayers?

As a batsman, I enjoy both, but if you ask me to choose one over the other, I would choose Tests because they are more challenging, it calls for a lot of concentration and energy. I think a Test hundred always gives me more satisfaction than a century in a one day game.

Does being a southpaw help?

Sure, it is a big advantage. And if you have a right hander at the other end, it becomes very difficult for bowlers to settle to a line, for captains to set the right field. It also gives you some psychological advantage over bowlers, being left-handed.

Name the bowlers who have troubled you?

Allan Donald I can't say any particular bowler has "troubled" me, but the quickest I have faced is Donald. The South Africans had just come back into international cricket and they were fired up, keen to prove something, Donald in particular was really firing. Akram and Younis are also great bowlers to face, but the best bowler was probably Kapil Dev.

I was dying to play against him, I only managed one match, though, where I got to face him. Kapil Dev was the best bowler to face, because he always seemed to know what the batsman was up to, and had a plan ready to counter it. He was so good that even in the nets when he bowled to us, he posed a heck of a challenge, we used to feel very proud of the way he would challenge everybody. He would go, 'Come on, Vinod or Sachin, or whoever, I am going to get you out, let me see how good you are!'.

To go off at a tangent, there were media reports that you were planning to play for Maharashtra, also that you wanted to emigrate to New Zealand...

All rumours, nothing else. I will neither desert my state team, nor leave my country to play for some other land. Bombay, India, have given me so much, that I can never repay it all. Playing for my state, for my country, has meant a lot to me, and I hope to repay that debt by scoring runs, runs and more runs.

Assuming for the moment that you don't get picked for the national squad, will you play abroad, as a professional?

Why not? If commitments to the state and country don't intrude, I would definitely love such an opportunity, to play in England or South Africa or Australia as a pro, I will get to play at a very professional level there, that will be challenging.

Tell us a bit about your background, Vinod?

I come from a very, very poor family. My father was a mechinist, worked in Bhandup, in Mumbai. We stayed in a chawl in Kanjur Marg. Dad was a good fast bowler and played against many former Mumbai players, even Test cricketers. He had to look after seven of us, but he never made us feel that we lacked anything. The encouragement he gave me to pursue cricket was tremendous. And my mother also helped me a lot. I give full credit to my parents for whatever I am today.

Besides them, my coach Ramakant Achrekar also helped me so much when I was starting on the cricketing ladder. I would also like to mention my cousin Avinash Kadam. I had stayed for three years with him before I began playing for the country. And, of course, my wife, Noella, despite all the ups and downs in my career, she backed me all the time, she never got dejected, she is the one who keeps encouraging me. You need somebody in your life you can talk to, express your inner feelings, especially when you are not doing well, and Noella has given me that.

Do you regret not pursuing academics more seriously?

Seriousness had nothing to do with it, I just didn't have the time. But I definitely regret not studying further, I should have finished graduation at the least, instead I only studyied upto SSC. In fact, I was doing my SSC when I began playing for India.

No kids of your own on the horizon?

Hopefully, one next year.

You were known for your flamboyant lifestyle, your penchant for dancing. In fact, if I remember right, you once got in trouble when during a rain break, you joined the ground staff doing a jig in the ground. Have you mellowed down?

Basically I am still the same guy. But you do change as you mature, you mellow as you grow older. It is six years since I first played for India, so obviously I have changed some, person-wise, behaviour-wise. But my close associates know that I am basically still the same old Vinod Kambli.

There was talk, especially during the last World Cup, of your fondness for late nights, for a drink or three...

It was all so much crap, I wish I knew who spread those rumours, just because I was in and out of the team. Hey, you do tend to get frustrated when that happens but that doesn't mean you take up those vices. Against the few who spread those rumours, though, there are thousands of supporters who have backed me to the hilt, so I am happy about that. My aim is just to play cricket as well as I can, for as long as I can.

There were also rumours of temper tantrums...

I used to be a short-tempered earlier, but now I am a cool guy. I have matured a lot over the years. Even if I lose my cool on odd occasions, I get back to my normal self pretty soon. But even when I do get angry, I don't harm anyone, ever.

Ever felt a touch of pessimism?

Nope, never. I know that age is in my favour. I am just 26 at the moment. It is just that I am not fit right now. If you are fit, your body responds very well. Fitness counts a lot in the life of a sportsman. I've learnt to take the downs in my stride, I have a positive attitude to most things.

A biography or autobiography under consideration at any stage, Vinod?

No, not this early, maybe when I retire but believe me, that won't be soon, so you will have to wait for that.

Are you into reading?

Nope, hate it. Love music, though. I like all kind of music -- Hindi, pop, classical etc. It helps keep me cool and relaxed. It also enables me to keep myself cheerful. Lively. Also love to dance, it is actually part of my work out. I don't go to discs, I dance in my room though, sweat it out. If I feel I am idle, moody or something like that, I just switch on the fast music. It can work wonders. I also like driving, love cars, love to collect antiques, we have lots of them at home. Whichever part of the world I go to, I make it a point to get some antiques from there.

Which sports personality would you love to meet and why?

Boris Becker and Michael Jordan. Their performances, their achievements, their will to win and, above all, their commitment have been so outstanding. They have given so much in their disciplines.

Favourite film stars, Vinod?

Amitabh Bachchan among actors and Madhuri Dixit and Kajol among actresses.

Say you are batting and someone sledges you, how would you respond?

Not with words or gestures, but if at all possible, the next ball will go to the boundary.

But isn't that the idea, to get you tempted into a rash shot, disrupt your concentration?

Disrupting my concentration may be their idea, but I ensure that I concentrate twice as hard on the job of hitting the ball out of sight. It's not like retaliating, if someone sledges me I keep my temper, but I do want to teach him a lesson, which is why I will go on the attack. In all probability, he will behave better after that. Of course, if the team interest dictates that I stay at the wicket, I will have to rein in my instinct.

What would Kambli have been if he hadn't become a cricketer?

A PRO, something of the kind, that involves dealing with people, I guess.

Any thoughts you want to share, Vinod, something you want to talk about before we close?

Yeah, the fans. They have been tremendous, really. You tend to think fans back you only when you are in the side, when you are doing well, but I found out different. It's been very touching, actually. When I got injured, no matter where I went, even when I was limping on crutches I got welcomed, encouraged, cheered. I got hundreds of fan mail from India and abroad, get well cards, the outpouring has been amazing, heartening.


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