Friday, December 06, 2013

It’s your choice that ruined him, Mr Bhogle

Harsha Bhogle’s verdict is out. Vinod Kambli was ruined by his own “choices”. Bhogle, very conveniently, washed his hands off this curious affair by refusing to admit that he played a big part in creating an environment that destroyed the classy left-handed batsmen. Kambli, we all know, was a rare talent. But even best of talents need proper nurture. God does give talent but it's the community that builds it up and brings it to fruition. In Kambli's case, the cricketing community that was responsible to care for his talent worked to
In the beginning we were both equal
erode any self-confidence that Kambli may have had in his own abilities. Did Bhogle ever write a laudatory piece, an encouraging article about Kambli? Did he ever give him his due as a commentator and a charming orator? Always enthralled by that fair-skinned, upper-caste wonder boy from a stable and supporting family, did Bhogle or others of his ilk ever think, they need to extend equal—if not more—support to the prodigious talent of that dark-complexioned youth from a disadvantaged background. And then blame it on the latter’s poor choices. A disgusting ploy so commonly and with so much √©lan put to use by the glib-tongued pundits.

Bhogle has been following the careers of Vinod and Sachin since their school days. There’s an article he wrote before either of these two boys made it to the national team. The piece is startling in that it reveals the support Sachin was getting, in terms of being groomed by the powers that be in Bombay cricketing world. Notice this innocuous little description that gives you the glimpse of how Sachin’s progression from school to the national team was so carefully and meticulously planned:
The beginning of the 1987-88 season saw Sachin at the Ranji nets. Once again the top players were away playing Tests and perhaps the Bombay selectors felt it wouldn't be a bad idea to give Sachin first-hand experience of a higher category of cricket.He was named in the 14 for the first couple of games, and manager Sandeep Patil kept sending him out whenever possible - for a glass of water or a change of gloves. All along Sachin probably knew that he was still at best a curiosity, and that while Bombay was giving him every blooding opportunity, he had to prove himself on the maidans.
Obviously, this article was to be a strategically planned and placed to that it could make possible for Bhogle to break into the cricket establishment via commentating and writing. He could only do that by concentrating on the apple of every one’s eye. He didn’t want to be an eye sore by praising the other young champion, Vinod Ganpat Kambli. But then it was impossible to write about Sachin without mentioning Kambli. Bhogle is forced to mention Kambli in that article twice but it says a lot about both Bhogle and Kambli, and even Sachin.
And in the course of that innings of 329* he set the much talked-about record of 664 for the third wicket with Vinod Kambli, who, it is not always realised, scored 348*
And what about that world-record innings? “I could bat very freely then because my partner Vinod Kambli was batting so well that I knew that even if I failed, he would get enough runs for the side.”

These are the only two places in that 1,800-word long essay that he mentions Kambli. In the first of the two
Genius bestowed on the silver platter
quotes, Bhogle clearly admits that Kambli’s 348 not out (incidentally the higher of the two scores), has almost always overlooked by reviewer, writers, commentators, etc. Now one expects from a decent, honest writer to go on and write another article to tell the story of that overlooked feat. Mr Bhogle apparently never had any time for that. His mission was simple: concentrate on promoting Sachin and ensure your own promotion.

In the second quote, Sachin himself acknowledges that it was because
And you shall be my mirror image, not him
of Kambli’s flair that he was able to play without feeling much pressure. Now pressure is among the deadliest of enemies for anyone, and more so for a sportsperson, a young sportsperson. When Rahul Dravid took pressure off Laxman, the latter could go out and play a match-winning—and career-turning—innings of 281 at that memorable Eden Gardens Test. So it does pay to have a partner who allows you to play your natural game without fear. Anyway, over the years, Sachin had been coached and learnt to keep away from acknowledging Kambli, and that’s what he did in farewell speech recently in Mumbai.

However, returning to that theme of pressure and support, let’s look at another, non-sports aspect of it. Sachin never really felt pressure off the field because of his family’s support. What his elder brother Ajit did for Sachin is well known. But do we ever hear of any elder brother, cousin, uncle extending any support to Kambli? In that scenario, wasn’t it the ethical duty of the cricket establishment to walk an extra mile and offer psychological and emotional support? Bhogle criticizes Kambli for making a “caricature” of himself, but did the Bombay, and later Indian cricket establishment, to which Bhogle provided much sheen, create conditions for that to happen?

Manufacturing greatness from the commentary box
The Bhogles, the Shastris and the Gavaskars of the game were all part of a big racket that downplayed Kambli, especially by keeping silent about him, so that they may prop up their blue-eyed boy. And, if they are forced by circumstances to speak about Kambli, they do so without losing the opportunity to run him down. This Indian Express article is a case in point. Kambli is in the limelight for an unfortunate reason and these pundits are constrained to say something.
And even as Kambli convalesces after the recent heart attack, Bhogle did not forget to rub in the point that Kambli was a suspect talent because he could not handle short-pitched delivery. He goes to the extent of giving a list of his Test match scores post-1994. Just for the record, in the ongoing Ashes series, England’s Jonathon Trott was severly, and offensively, criticized by his opponent David Warner for the former’s failure to negotiate pace and bounce generated by Mitchell Johnson. It was only later that the story came to light of Trott’s stress illness. And since then, everyone, including David Warner, has gone out of his way to offer support to the South Africa-born English batsman. Did Bhogle and co. have the decency to show any sense of understanding towards their own compatriot?  By the way, there are others who think that it was not the inability to play short-pitched balls that was Kambli’s undoing but his own temperament. And that’s precisely one of the points this article is trying to make. Most batsmen, Tendulakar including have struggled with short-pitched stuff and with coaching and counselling this can be sorted out.

The bottom line: Vinod Kambli is more sinned against than sinning and the likes of Bhogle have no moral authority to make any judgment or pontificate about him making wrong choices. After all, if a young man is not allowed to play Test cricket beyond his 23rd year, what meaning can you attribute to the word "choice"? If anyone at all, it is Bhogle—and the system he represents—that stands implicated in this tragedy of Vinod Kambli. 

Yes, granted that Kambli's individual choices may have something to do with his downfall, but unlike most others, he was not given the honest 
Did you choose that heart attack?
opportunity to redeem himself, rather common human frailties were exaggerated (his love for bling, for instance) and used strategically to plot the murder of a promising career. Giving him a fair chance, would have been too much of a threat for the other icon they were nurturing, nay, pampering.

And yes, choices do make a difference. And Mr Bhogle, you chose to write this article about Kambli today, and not the article that should naturally have followed the one you wrote as an “innocent” 27 year old for that sports magazine.

PS (7 Dec 2013, 12.44 p.m.): A Wild Victim

POOR Vinod Kambli. If it weren't for another team selection process in progress (the team for Parliament, that is), he would have stayed in the news for much longer. As it is, the flashing outside the off-stump of Murli Deora and the leg glances of Jayalalitha have pushed him off our pages. Off the record, there is much speculation on really why he was left out of the team. People speak with authority about his wild ways; one ex-Test cricketer confided to me: "Kambli has really run amuck on the personal front." Since this isn't Stardust, we won't go further, except to say that surely it would be much fairer to the young man if he was summoned by Gundappa Vishwanath and company and told: "Take your pick. You either sow your wild oats or play for India."
By keeping quiet, the selectors are doing Kambli more harm than good. As it is, they have added insult to injury by selecting Saurav Ganguly, a left-hander whose technique is even poorer than Kambli's and who has travelled with the Indian team earlier without ever suggesting that he deserved to be there. Whereas Kambli, shuffle or no shuffle, footwork or no footwork, has a Test average of 50 and a one-day average of 40.


(A minor change and a correction made on 7th December at 11.54 a.m.)