Let me get this straight: 15 years after a teary Vinod Kambli ran off a cricket field, he decides to accuse his teammates of fixing the match. The evidence is shaky; apparently, it involves a very hazy recollection of a team meeting, the decision to bat second, and Navjot Singh Sidhu’s compulsive habit of wearing pads. Granted, that match — which ended with India crashing out of the 1996 World Cup — has always tormented the Indian cricket fan’s consciousness. How exactly does a team go from 98/1 to 120/8, and what is wrong with Bengali cricket fans? (I’ve written about my own night watching this game as a young pre-teen.)
Here’s what probably happened: Kambli is a nobody. He always held out promise for more, but he ended up the underachieving brother (and next to Tendulkar as a sibling, that’s a tough act to play). He tries to get on with his life, but he sees Navjot Singh Sidhu — a man found guilty of murder, mind you — enjoy a comeback as a member of parliament and, for a brief time, a national commentator. He sees his former captain Mohd. Azharuddin — a man found guilty of match-fixing and banned for life — enjoy a comeback as — sigh — a member of parliament. And all Kambli’s left with is those awful 1990s earrings.
For a better psychological assessment, read Dilip Preemachandran. So it’s hard not feel for the guy, but self-pity isn’t exactly a full-proof defense. The more interesting question is what that match meant for Indian cricket. Apart from signaling the rise of a very dangerous type of cricket nationalism, it also epitomized how much India relied on Tendulkar to get through the 1990s. It also left me with a perpetual nervous condition; even after all India’s cricket achievements in the past few years, I still await the batting collapse and the stray bottle on the field. Will it be like the 1990s again when the Big 3 retire?