Kambli: ‘It all started because of Sachin Tendulkar’

Former India cricketer Vinod Kambli tasted success as mentor of Shivaji Park Lions, the runner-up of the T20 Mumbai League, and is now open to coaching IPL and domestic teams.

Sachin Tendulkar hugs Vinod Kambli during the prize distribution of the Mumbai T20 league on Wednesday night.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

One of the memories cricket partisans have of Vinod Kambli is him pleading the match referee to continue the semifinal against Sri Lanka at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata in 1996 amid unruly crowd behaviour. Despite injuries, controversies and criticisms for being indisciplined, Kambli never gave up on cricket. He badly wanted to play the game.

But the talented left-hander — also a style icon of the nineties with ear studs and bandanas — became irregular in the national team towards the latter part of his career. This month marked his return to cricket, this time, as a mentor of Shivaji Park Lions — a T20 squad that finished runner-up in the inaugural T20 Mumbai League that concluded on Wednesday.

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The start through Sachin

Taking close friend Sachin Tendulkar’s suggestion, Kambli decided to return to his first love, cricket, and the new offer brought him back to the ground after years of dormancy.  “It was a wonderful experience to walk into the grass, where I normally belong. It was a challenge as I was doing it for the first time, but with all my experience from whatever cricket I have played, I kept having one-on-one interactions with the players cheering them up and guiding them how to go about a T20 game,” Kambli told Sportstar on Thursday.

"The players were keen to listen as we hadn’t done well in the league stages, but we came back in a positive way,” he added.

The Lions lost the final to Triumph Knights by three runs.

Tendulkar and Kambli’s friendship had taken a downward spiral around 2009 but last year, the duo buried the hatchet. “It all started because of Sachin. When I met him, he told me, ‘Vinod, it’s high time you should give back to the game’ and that’s how I got a coaching job at Mumbai Cricket Association’s Academy (Recreation Centre) at the Bandra Kurla Complex, which led to this offer. Even I wanted to do something for the game. Whatever I have learnt from my coach Ramakant Achrekar sir, it was time to pay back,” told Kambli, whose Test career ended at 23, but the batting average stood at an extraordinary 54.20.

Mumbai Indians, close to my heart

The T20 format didn’t exist when Kambli roared in the middle but he picked up the nuances, following it on television, over the years. “I missed out on playing T20 due to injuries, but in the meanwhile, I was watching games and giving expert opinions to the media,” he revealed.

He is also open to coaching IPL teams and domestic cricket teams. “I am open to any offer from any team. I can share my experience interacting with cricketers, the same way I contributed to the Shivaji Park Lions; Mumbai Indians is close to my heart.”

However, there is no clarity whether Kambli will continue as mentor of the Lions if there is a second season. “I have to take a decision. There will be a meeting to decide what’s next. There will be a revamp.”

Kambli is also willing to come out and bat in tournaments such as T10 and Ice Cricket. “I am completely fit. I am working hard on my fitness. Whenever I get an opportunity in the academy, I also bat.

“When I entered the Wankhede stadium as a mentor, my hands were itching and I felt like taking the bat and going in,” he added.

It’s fine if he bats, but it will perhaps be complete if Tendulkar is there at the non-striker’s end.