New Delhi: Former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin rubbished claims by his ex-teammate Vinod Kambli that the 1996 World Cup semi-final against Sri Lanka at the Eden Gardens could have been fixed.
Azharuddin was backed by his former teammates Sanjay Manjrekar, Nayan Mongia and Venkatpathy Raju and the then team manager Ajit Wadekar who all said that the decision to chase was a collective cricketing decision.
Azharuddin, now a Congress MP from Moradabad, said Kambli was making false allegations.
"In the team meeting it was decided that we would bowl if we win the toss. In the last match (group stage) against Sri Lanka we lost despite scoring 271 at the Ferozeshah Kotla. So we decided to do something different at Eden Gardens and the decision was taken unanimously at the team meeting. May be when he was sitting in the meeting, he must have been sleeping," said Azharuddin, who was given a life-ban by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) after being found involved in the 2000 match-fixing case.
"I think Kambli is just talking rubbish and making these statements, he has showed his class. He has betrayed the team," he added.
Asked whether the semi-final match was discussed when the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) interrogated him on the match-fixing case, Azharuddin said: "My case is still pending in the High Court and I don't wish to comment on the case. When my name is cleared everybody will come to know the truth... I am not affected by the allegations."
Azharuddin also said that he doesn't regret his decision to bowl first in the semi-final despite winning the toss.
"I don't have any regrets and why should I? It was a collective responsibility and the team took the blame for the loss. It is a game of match, you win some you lose some," said Azharuddin.
Azharuddin also said that Kambli was wrong to say that he was made a scapegoat after the match.
"Kambli was never made a scapegoat. He was dropped from the team purely on the basis of his form. In fact he should be thankful to me for the cricket that he has played. He has always maintained that I was the best captain he has played under and now his statement is very annoying. On several tours he could have sent back home due to his misdeeds. He was not disciplined and that spoiled him," he said.
"It would be unfair to say that Kambli never got his chance. He was included in the team in 1998 but injured his ankle that finished his career. I think if he had taken his cricket seriously he wouldn't be in this position now," the former captain added.
Kambli told a TV channel that he was stunned with India's decision to bowl first. Kambli was viewing his comments on former International Cricket Council (ICC) anti-corruption unit chief Paul Condon's claim that many teams were monitored for fixing in the late 1990s.
"I was stunned by India's decision to field. I'll never forget the match because my career ended after it. I was stunned by the decision to field," Kambli told a TV channel.
Kambli also claimed that then team manager Ajit Wadekar, also a former India captain, was aware of everything.
"Something was definitely amiss. However, I was not given a chance to speak and was dropped soon after. Our team manager at that time, Wadekar, was aware of everything," he said.
Wadekar, however, rubbished Kambli's claims and said the game was clean.
"I did not even think there was anything suspicious in that loss. It was purely because we misread the wicket and were slightly overconfident after beating Pakistan in the quarterfinal.
"Why did he wake up suddenly after 15 years? During my four-and-half year stint (with the national team), I used to frequently have dinner with Vinod. Had he told me about his suspicions then, I would have requested the board to probe the matter," he said.
Manjerekar, now a a cricketer-turned-commentator, said the decision to bowl was an honest cricketing decision.
"In the 1996 World Cup semi final - the decision to field first may have turned out to be a wrong decision but it was an honest cricketing decision," Manjrekar tweeted.
Raju, a former selector, said that Kambli was stirring up an unnecessary controversy.
"I don't think the match was fixed. The claims made by Kambli are false. The decision to bowl was a collective decision," he said.
Mongia also concurred with Raju and said such controversies were bad for Indian cricket.
"I agree with what Mr. Wadekar said. There was nothing suspicious about the loss," he said.