Most Indian cricket fans know the gist of the Vinod Kambli story. A gifted Mumbai batsmen, a peer to Sachin Tendulkar in school cricket and perhaps just as talented. But in the end, he was remembered as a ‘what if’ player.
No matter which version of events one believes to be true – that Kambli was a victim of circumstance or conspiracy – it cannot be denied that he was a promising Indian cricketer who, on his day, could be a game-changer with his flamboyant style of batting.
But leave aside the latter years, the wasted opportunities and the off field drama. There is a very impressive highlight of Kambli’s cricket career that made him stand out – the start he had to his Test career. No Indian to this date has reached 1,000 Test runs quicker than him.
Fastest in history to reach 1000 Test runs
|Player||Debut||Time to reach 1,000 runs||Inns|
|H Sutcliffe (ENG)||14 Jun 1924||0y 244d||12|
|ED Weekes (WI)||21 Jan 1948||1y 14d||12|
|DG Bradman (AUS)||30 Nov 1928||1y 223d||13|
|RN Harvey (AUS)||23 Jan 1948||2y 312d||14|
|VG Kambli (INDIA)||29 Jan 1993||1y 293d||14|
Very few cricketers can boast of such a successful take-off in Test cricket, especially in the 1990s when India was not a very strong side in the longest format of the game. But the left-handed Kambli made his mark early on when he hit two double-centuries and two hundreds in his first eight Test innings as a 21-year-old.
He reached 1000 Test runs in only 14 innings. In international cricket, he is behind only Herbert Sutcliffe, Everton Weekes, Don Bradman and Neil Harvey. He is also the youngest Indian to score a double century in men’s Test cricket.
In early 1993, Kambli made his Test debut in a home series against England as a No 3 batsman and scored 16 and 18 runs in his first match. In his second, he scored his first half-century (59) as India won by an innings.
In the third Test, at his home ground the Wankhede Stadium, he showed the range he possessed with his first Test ton, fittingly a double.
In February 1993, with England having scored 347, Kambli came in to bat with India at 109/1.
He got a life once, dropped in his 50s and went on to punish England by scoring, in only his third match, a sensational double ton. He scored 224 with 23 boundaries as the crowd cheered for the home boy.
In an interview with the Indian Express, he later mentioned how he had a little help from another Mumbai batting legend.
Sunil Gavaskar was my idol, as also Sachin’s. I was batting on 179 overnight. He was doing commentary. After the day’s play he came down and told me, ‘Vinod, your leg stump is opening up’. The next morning, I corrected it and went on to score the double century. After the innings, he came to me and gave me his sunglasses.”
Incidentally, he also got close to surpassing Gavaskar’s 236, then the highest score by an Indian batsmen in Tests. But in a symbolic moment, he fell just short.
India went on to win that match by an innings as well, the series 3-0. Kambli spoke to ESPNCricinfo about how even England greats congratulated him on his knock.
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.
Next up was a one-off Test against Zimbabwe in Delhi, where he bettered his previous best by scoring 227 off only 301 with a strike rate of over 75. It resulted in another innings victory for India.
In the process, he became the first Indian to score consecutive double centuries in Test cricket, joining an elite club that now features Donald Bradman, Virat Kohli, Kumar Sangakkara, Wally Hammond, and Michael Clarke.
In July that year, India went to Sri Lanka and the Mumbai batsman carried on with his good form, scoring 125 and 120.
That, as it turned out, would be his last Test century.
After breaching the 1000-run mark, he played only three more matches as his Test career ended in 1995. He finished with 1084 runs at an average of 54.20 in 17 matches and 21 innings.
Interestingly, his Test average is better than Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli of all those who have played at least 20 innings.
It’s hard to say what Kambli would have achieved had he played longer or indeed, overseas. He played all his Tests in the subcontinent only and there were many who believed that his dashing style of batting was not suited for foreign conditions.
But if one focuses on what was instead of what could be, it is evident that Kambli was a special batting talent.