Bengaluru, May 3: Long before the superstar 'VK' that we have in Indian cricket today, there was another talented 'VK' and it was Vinod Kambli.
The southpaw had once led even the maestro Sachin Tendulkar with his runs in international career, picking up two back-to-back Test double centuries. But as talents too need care, Kambli faltered to abide by the golden rule like his childhood friend Tendulkar and faded out prematurely.
However, before waning out, the stylish batsman had hit a century in the ICC Cricket World Cup. Later, Kambli was equalled by the likes of Sourav Ganguly and Shikhar Dhawan as left-handers who hit hundreds on the world stage.
But the talented batsman did it at a time when the Indian batting order was synonymous with the giant called Tendulkar and on a day when India badly needed a win and the giant had failed to roar.
It was March 6, 1996, when India took on Zimbabwe in their final group game at the Green Park, Kanpur. Mohammad Azharuddin's side had started off well with two back-to-back wins over Kenya and the West Indies but were thumped by Australia and Sri Lanka in the next two games in which Tendulkar had excelled.
Another loss could see India finishing fourth in the table and going to Pakistan to play South Africa, the toppers in the other group. It wouldn't have been a happy schedule to have.
Zimbabwe captain Andy Flower won the toss and elected to field first which was a brave decision given the fact that the hosts had the spinning likes of Anil Kumble and Venkatapathy Raju in their ranks.
The Proteas had their plan in place and it was about picking Tendulkar early. Spearhead Heath Streak was in a great form in the game as he not only knocked out the Master Blaster's timber but ended up giving only 29 runs in 10 overs with three maidens. Sanjay Manjrekar was back soon on 2 from 18 balls while Azhar was dismissed also on 2 from 10 balls. The ghosts of 1983 seemed to be in a mood to return as India slumped to 32 for three.
In came Kambli and India started a resurrection. The other opener, Navjot Singh Sidhu, was still batting and the duo added 142 runs for the fourth wicket to give the fans some relief.
Kambli played all around the wicket in his familiar stylish style. Sidhu was picked by spinner Paul Strang on 80, but Kambli continued and was given a worthy company by Ajay Jadeja who remained 44 not out in just 27 balls.
The left-hander eventually fell for 106 off 110 balls and the team score was 219 then. He hit 11 boundaries and it was Kambli's last international hundred at the age of just 24! Tendulkar, who went on to slam 49 hundreds in the 50-over format, had only six to his name at that point of time.
India won the game by 40 runs as Zimbabwe could not brave the Indian spinners and made the quarter-finals to set up a date with Pakistan in Bengaluru. Kambli did not get the man of the match award which went to Jadeja, but he remained the only India batsman other than Tendulkar (who hit two) to hit a century in that World Cup.
The world though remembers Kambli more for his tears at the end of that ill-famous semifinal against Sri Lanka than his hundred in the 1996 edition.