After former India player Vinod Kambli raised his doubts about the 1996 World Cup semi-final match that India lost to Sri Lanka, Mohammad Azharuddin on Friday, reacted strongly to the allegations calling them 'third-class.' India lost the match after a major batting collapse, having restricted the opposition to 251.
Kambli, a veteran of 104 ODIs had said on Thursday that he suspected something was amass when the then India captain Azharuddin chose to field against Sri Lanka at the Eden Gardens despite the entire team having decided earlier that batting first would be the best option. Kambli further said that he was not allowed to speak on the decision and was eventually dropped from the team. "I was standing on one side and on the other end my fellow batsman was telling me that we would chase the target. However, soon after they quickly got out one by one. I don't know what transpired," he said.
India had managed to restrict Sri Lanka to 251 in the match at Eden Gardens but then slumped to 120/8 in front of an agitated Kolkata crowd. The match was eventually halted and consequently awarded to the Arjuna Ranatunga led side.
Azharuddin, on his part, reacted sharply to the allegations on Friday and told NDTV in an exclusive interview that he did not understand why ' Kambli was crying.' Azhar further said that the allegations were absolutely incorrect. "I want to say that Kambli's allegations are absolutely wrong. He has made an absolutely third class statement. I don't know why he is crying. I have said before that it was a team decision (to bowl first), even the coach said that. I think he was sleeping during the team meetings."
With 334 ODI matches for India, Azharuddin has been considered one of the finest cricketers and skippers that India has produced. The cricketer himself chose to question the character and ability of Kambli as a player. "He should be happy and the thankful for the amount of cricket he got to play. All the players knew about his character. He was dropped on the basis of his performance and the claims of him being a scapegoat are baseless,"Â he said.
Ajit Wadekar, the team's manager during the 1996 World Cup, also chose to differ from Kambli and believes that it is a desperate attempt for some attention. Sanjay Manjrekar however stopped short of painting Kambli as a villain but said that bowling first was an incorrect decision but one that was an honest cricketing mistake.