Kambli carries hopes of a nation
SAME time, same place, last year, Vinod Kambli was carrying the bags for his Indian teammates. To expect him to be doing it these days would be like expecting the Queen to carry her own bags.
While not in the league of royalty, Kambli now has a stature and respect which grows every time he walks out to bat.
If anyone deserves to be called a run-machine, it should be left-hander Kambli. His record speaks for itself. Successive double centuries, against England and Zimbabwe, then another ton the next time he went out to bat against Sri Lanka. A couple of half-centuries pitched in for good measure.
His batting average is mind-boggling, considering that he has only played seven Tests.
Kambli is used to big figures. As a Bombay schoolboy, he and schoolmate Sachin Tendulkar wracked up a 600-plus partnership, a record in cricket.
While Tendulkar, India's vice-captain, was quicker to earn a Test place, Kambli can be rated as a batsman of equal quality.
The only difference in the two is that Tendulkar was born with a silver spoon in his mouth while Kambli struggled to come up in India's caste-ridden society.
Cricket however, being a great leveller, has put them on equal footing these days.
It is difficult to understand why India chose not to play Kambli in last year's Sixes when they only had players like former Test men Kirti Azad and Sandip Patil.
Kambli did play in one game, keeping wicket, but did not get the chance to bat.
There is no chance this time that captain Mohammed Azharuddin will shield his top batsman as India, clearly one of the favourites, go all out to make amends for their loss to Pakistan in last year's final.
With players of the calibre of Kambli and Tendulkar, that superb all-rounder Manoj Prabhakar, who opens the batting and bowling for India, spin wizard Anil Kumble and hard-hitting batsmen Ravi Shastri and Javagal Srinath, Azharuddin can afford to feel confident.
And the Indian fans can be excused if they feel that their side can go one better than they did in last year's inaugural Sixes.