I have seen Vinod Kambli cry...

I have seen Vinod Kambli cry. Not like grown men cry when they lose someone important in their life, but like children do, when they feel helpless and confused and frustrated...

More than 15 years have passed since that Semi-final in Eden Gardens in World Cup 1996. But those images refuse to leave me. The image of Kambli crying. The image of the stands at Eden Garden burning. The image of glass bottles littered on the ground. The image of the Ranatunga leading his men off the ground.

As kids, I remember, the only sport we followed was cricket. Kids those days didnt follow football or F1. Most of us didnt even know what FIFA stood for. For us, there was only one sport that mattered - Cricket.

I was 11 when 1996 World Cup was played in India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. You didnt learn the significance of this event till you saw men standing outside Electronics stores, standing on their toes to get one glimpse of the batsman. You didnt realise the importance of the World Cup till you heard your male friends talk about the last match, very much like their fathers did with their friends, singing praises of the players if India won and completely degrading them if India lost!

I remember asking my father if India had ever won the World Cup. I dont know if you remember, but for some reason, we had very little faith in our players back then.It was that era when Indians didnt deem India good enough to win any major sporting competition. I was pleasantly surprised when I learnt that we had..Kapil Dev's men had.. So did that mean we could do it again? Of course we could! And we were playing at home!

Then came the quarter finals of India vs. Pakistan. You thought Wednesday's game was awesome? Wait till I tell you this -

Have you, in all the matches you have watched, seen an umpire ask a batsman to ask the crowd in the stands to keep noise levels down coz he cant hear the stump mic? Well, I have. The batsman was Ajay Jadeja! He went hitting the Paki bowlers out of the park and the crowd went crazy, so much so, the noise levels didnt allow the umpire to hear the stump mic! Jadeja had to walk up to the stands and request them to shut the hell up! How cool, just how cool, is that!!!

We went into the semi-finals hoping to thrash Sri-Lanka out of the tournament. We believed we could do it. It had been 2 World Cups since we last won. We thought we could win. Only, we didnt win....

I have such a clear memory of that match in Eden Gardens... The one we lost to Sri Lanka.

I dont know why I remember it so clearly. Maybe it is because it was my first heart-break. Maybe it was because I had learnt that cricket players, the ones whom we saw hit humongous sixers out of grounds the size of our school campus, while we at age 11 couldnt even connect bat to ball properly, were after all human. They felt hurt and helpless just like we did when we got a poor score in Math.

I have such a clear memory of that fateful match...I even remember the commentary. I remember Srinath got Jayasurya and Kaluwitharna out cheaply. I remember the hindi commentator exclaiming "Aaj toh Javagal srinath ball nahi, aag ke gole barsa rahe hain!" At home we rejoiced. The two danger men were out cheaply. Only to be undone by a strong partnership between Arvind D'Silva and Ranatunga.

But we still thought we could win that match. After all, we had Sachin in the team. And then I remember during the 24th over when wickets were falling all around him the commentator said - "He's trying, he's trying hard.. But this is a big ground and he is a small man..." The fact that small man has now close to 100 centuries in One dayers is another story.

I remember how the Indian supporters turned against Indian team all in a matter of hours. A section of Eden Gardens started throwing glass bottles on the ground & burning down the wooden seats.

Vinod Kambli had come in to bat at no.5 and he had seen his team mates depart on what was turning out to be a mine-field of a wicket... He had hung in there for an hour or so scoring around 10 runs or so... It was impossible that India would win. The crowd in Eden Gardens couldnt take that defeat well...

The umpires called the game off and Ranatunga lead his team off the ground. Vinod stayed behind hoping that the crowd will give him one last chance. But the rioting didnt stop. As he walked back to the pavillion, alone, he burst into tears.

I was just 11. I had never seen a grown man cry before. You were made fun of and called names if you cried in front of your friends, and here Vinod was, crying in front of a live crowd. His team mates in the dressing room saw him, his friends must have been watching him on TV, his parents must have seen him... He cried in front of the nation.

Heroes shouldnt cry in front of their fans... It makes the fans realise how ordinary their heroes are, how human.

Vinod's career after that match was rather uneventful. He had a forgettable average. He was dropped from the team soon and then soon, he gave up cricket.


Come saturday we will face the Lankans again. Only this time, we wont lose. 15 years have passed since that semi-final. Now, it's our time.

We are going to win the world cup 2011.

I am not being cocky. I am just telling you what fate has in store for us.

It would be unfair to not grant Sachin his World Cup. It would be unfair to Sourav Ganguly after all the work he put in to make this a world champion. It would be unfair to Dhoni after the leadership he has shown. It would be unfair to all Indians who are born after 1983, for they havent seen an Indian lift the World Cup. It would be unfair for those 50 year olds, who were 25 when Kapil Dev lifted the World Cup and have been waiting ever since to see the Indian team win the cup again.

It would be unfair if India didnt win. It is no longer about which team played better cricket on that day. It is about destiny.

And our destiny, is no longer, a matter of chance...

UPDATE: Indians have WON the World Cup 2011!!! (02 April 2011)
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6 letters to the editor:

    Just wanted to see India lift another cup after long 18 years...

    really a nice post...you brought up the whole match day live in front of us...obviously i don't remember anything, i was 6 years then...;)

    On April 2, 2011 at 1:38 AM     
    Rohan said...

    What a match that was...seeing sachin get stumped..it was a close call by the third umpire(that was new!)...i remember my father bought generator to watch that match since we stayed at an obscure place in Bihar with limited electricity...i cried like i lost my bat to a bully in my mother's lap...

    On April 2, 2011 at 2:24 PM     
    Nupur said...

    I've always been a crazyyy cricket fan and written a lot about cricket...cricketers rather! But, I must say, I've never felt this patriotic before after reading a piece on cricket! Wonderful work!

    Awesomely written post!! :D

    And win we did! :) :)

    For that man who tried then, and for that man who cried then! And for that man who finally got it today. :D

    I remember that match too..first ever world cup i remember..I was 9 then..I dont remember Kambli crying but..we had lost aft defeating Pak..But Ranatunga n his men were in unformiddable form then..FF 15 years, I felt sorry for SA team..They havent had a chance to lift the cup inspite of being a great team...At the end of the day, its a game, you win or lose..

    On April 4, 2011 at 8:41 PM     
    Anonymous said...

    Brilliantly written!

    I do remember that match. I also remember someone in Bengal committed suicide coz of the defeat(Hell yeah, we are cricket crazy nation.

    But finally Lanka dehen ho hi gaya