With the 2019 edition of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup set to begin on May 30, we look back at the most memorable moments from the tournament’s four-decade-long history. You can read the entire series here.
Moment No 12
If you were a kid growing up in the Sachin Tendulkar era, 13 March, 1996 is a day you are unlikely to forget. The World Cup semi-final at Eden Gardens. Fresh after an incredible quarter-final against Pakistan, the confidence was high among fans and players alike. After all, Tendulkar was having a dream tournament and the momentum was with the hosts.
If you were a kid growing up in the 90s, that was also, perhaps, the day you witnessed heartbreak for the first time. (Hands up if that was the first cricket match that made you tear up and experience weird sadness at the fortunes of a sporting team?)
The tears, though, were not just restricted to the fans: that night gave us one of the most iconic World Cup moments when Vinod Kambli walked off the field in tears, flanked by Sri Lankan players and security personnel.
Sachin out, India out
The habit of turning off the television set when Tendulkar was dismissed was perhaps at its peak in that period in Indian cricket. The batting line-up was a one-man army especially in the 50-over format.
Until he was batting in that semi-final against eventual World Champions Sri Lanka, everything seemed rosy. Chasing 252 for a place in the final, India lost Navjot Singh Sidhu early but there was no stopping Tendulkar. He cut, he punched, he drove he pulled, he danced down the wicket and took on the spinners with authority.
When the scoreboard read 98/1, Sanath Jayasuriya got the ball to trickle down the leg side off Tendulkar’s legs. The Master Blaster lost his bearings for a minute and Romesh Kaluwitharana was alert to gather the ball and whip the bails off. The few minutes of wait that followed that appeal and the third umpire giving his decision felt like eons: for Tendulkar, for the Sri Lankans and for Indian fans around the world. As he walked back, dejection writ large over his face, there was a sense that India were going to lose control.
And, as if on cue, the collapse followed.
When Kambli walked in at No 5 after Mohammed Azharuddin’s dismissal, the scoreboard read 99/3. It became, 101/4. Then 110/5. 115/6. 120/7. 120/8.
As the Indian batting crumbled, Kambli had trudged along to 10 off 29 balls, batting 49 minutes without hitting a boundary. It was a struggle for him in the middle, but the real kick to the gut would come when the Kolkata crowd decided that they had enough. Unruly sections among the fans started letting their frustration known and the match had to be stopped, first temporarily and, after efforts to pacify them failed, permanently.
Kambli, and presumably hundreds of thousands of fans, could not control the tears. What started as potentially one of the best days in Indian cricket (when Sri Lanka crumbled to 3/35) had unraveled thanks to Aravind de Silva’s genius with the bat and the Indian batting order’s ineptitude.
“They keep showing that clipping of me crying. To be honest, tears roll down my cheek even today,” Kambli told dna in 2011. “We had played like terrific cricket throughout the tournament. We had beaten Pakistan in the quarterfinal.”
“All seemed well till Sachin was batting. But once we lost him, it was downhill from there. I remember watching five batsmen depart while I was at the crease. Had at least one of them kept me company, we could have made a match of it. I cried because I thought I was robbed of a chance to do it for my country.”
For Tendulkar, after three more editions of heartbreak, the dream eventually came true in 2011. But for his childhood friend that night at Eden Gardens spelled the beginning of the end. He played 35 more ODIs since, averaging less than 20 and a promising career came to a premature end. Incidentally, in the year Tendulkar completed his dream, Kambli revisited that night in Kolkata and aroused suspicions of match-fixing, alleging he was made a scapegoat for some of his teammates’ nefarious deeds. But at that point, it felt like a broken man trying to claw back an inch of pride.
He was not the reason India lost that semi-final in Kolkata, but that was the day Indian cricket lost Kambli.