14-5-29-1 Vs WI, Antigua 2002

If you do not understand what these figures mean or signify, you have just insulted India’s most affable cricketer. A lion at heart, a true fighter, the man who can replace the word “Gentleman” in dictionary.

I’ve seen people run away from the field with the slightest of injuries, this man bowled with a broken jaw. Takes guts, takes great courage and takes a truck load of patriotism. His 619 wickets and awesome hundred at the Oval can be kept aside. This one act of his, puts him in World Cricket’s Hall of Fame.

Hit by Merv Dillon in the first innings, it looked unlikely he would bowl. Despite no result in sight, he did not shy away. Stepped out with a bandaged jaw, bowled consecutive 14 overs and scalped Lara – and Jumbo won a million hearts all over again.

He narrates an anecdote:

“The first paper clipping that I have is of an under-17 match and the top headline says ‘Tendulkar and Kumble score centuries’. He scored a century for West Zone and I got a century for South Zone and I didn’t know who Sachin was at that point of time. When we first came into the Indian team, everybody in India said you [Tendulkar] would break all records. You’ve done that. Congratulations to you. To me, when I first came, they said you won’t last two Test matches.
You had the challenge of proving everybody right. I had the challenge of proving everybody wrong.”

And how well did he do that. Anil Kumble debuted in 1990 Vs England. The tall, lanky, bi-spectacled bloke. The one I learnt was an Engineering Student – he did look the type – studious & serious. He had me wondering what was this guy doing on a cricket pitch? He gave me the answer for almost 2 decades post that series and I never asked that question again. If his body had not given away, he would still be holding fort at one end for the country. There is no one today in this team who inspires the same confidence that he did. I remember Ganguly saying in one of the interviews, “When the opposition was at 250/1 and I was looking around to see who would bowl next, I often had Anil staring back at me wanting the ball.” Never afraid of a challenge, never the one to give up, never the one to walk away.

When he called it a day my eyes were moist and the mind did not want to accept. The images on the news that day will not fade away for a long time. I’ve not seen my husband so upset. I’m was even more surprised at myself, practical and objective always, I had a tear in my eye when I saw him take the field for one last time that November of 2008 at the Kotla.

The warrior, the fighter, the pacifier, the real gentleman of this game, Anil Kumble is sorely missed by one and all; the cricketer, the bowler, the captain, the team-mate and more than anything the wonderful human being.

Calm, peaceful, determined, gritty, he has all the qualities that make us believe that cricket is indeed a gentleman’s game and Anil Kumble is fine representative of that breed which is slowly diminishing away.

But of all the qualities listed above, the one that you identify with most is that of a true fighter and a committed player. Go back to the first paragraph of this post – Antigua 2002, when he claimed Lara’s wicket with a broken jaw. The image is still fresh in the mind and it only talks of undying love and commitment to the game, to the country and more importantly to oneself. Anil Kumble personified each letter of the word commitment that day.

He is a rare, super role model for generations to come, simply for the way he carried himself in the cricketing world for 18 years.

I still remember the ’93 series against England at home which lifted India from a series of defeats and put Kumble in the forefront of India’s bowling attack. There is no difference between that Kumble and the Kumble after 18 years. His thirst for taking wickets had not reduced, he continued to accept challenges, he continued to toil endlessly without showing an ounce of tiredness, and every time he picked up a wicket, he only wanted more.

But unfortunately his body gave away, though his mind and heart had not. Though, I must say that in the end he made a good decision, he called it quits at the right time. The injury to his hand only hastened the decision, which he might have held onto till the Nagpur match, had he not been injured.

Till date he remains India’s best bowler in the history of the game. 619 wickets and only the second bowler in the world to claim 10-wickets in an innings. The only bowler the captain would turn too when in dire straits and Kumble would more often than not respond by running through the side. He has given us ample to cherish. However, my most cherished moments after the 10-wicket haul come from his batting heroics. His 88 in Kolkatta 1996 in his partnership with Azhar against South Africa and his 100 in 2007 at the Oval in England. He waited for a long time to add that to his kitty and what a well deserved one it was!

Anil Kumble did not receive the same fan following or the adulation as his contemporaries got – Sachin, Dravid or Ganguly. He was the quiet fellow, the one who did the groundwork, kept his head down, completed his duty and got back – unnoticed by the fans.

Anil Kumble’s absence is felt more in the Indian dressing room, he was a mentor and friend to one and all. Despite being injured he was at the nets in the 2001 series to guide the young Harbhajan. Bhajji himself admitted after that amazing series that earned him the tag of ‘Turbanator’; as to how much Anil Bhai had contributed to his success. Jumbo was and is a constant source of inspiration and guidance for the young spinners in the country.

Although a fine leader, captaincy came very late in the day to Anil Kumble. He did a fine job in the limited time he had as a captain. He stood calm and tall against all that was thrown at him and his team. His conduct in the controversial 2007 series down under proved this fact.

There is not a single fan of this game, of Indian cricket, who will disregard Jumbo’s valiant efforts in two decades, his courage, his grit and his dedication. Jumbo has left behind a great legacy, one that will remain unparalleled for a long time to come. He has left a path that will be tough to follow and emulate; but he has ensured that he will be there to guide those who try to tread the same. Ask Bhajji , Chawla and Mishra.

Jumbo we miss you, we realize it now; it is tough watching the matches knowing that you are not there to bowl the straight one, the flipper, and to shut the critics up who said you could not spin!

You have left this game with the honour of being India’s best spinner and bowler till date; that has been the best answer to all the critics in the world.

Yes, you proved all of us wrong – all of us who raised doubts about your abilities to last beyond a few test matches. You had the bigger challenge, you knew that and you finally won – lasting two decades and how!

Wide Angle By Anil Kumble

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