Monday, November 03, 2008

Anil Kumble

And he walks away.

Thousands of tributes have poured in for the man fondly called "Jumbo" by his teammates, so I'll keep this one short.
There are 3 distinct memories I have of Anil:

1. During the mid to late 90s period, when India played at home and lost the toss, almost every time Kumble would start warming up as soon as India took the field. He would invariably end up bowling within the first 8-10 overs, sometimes even earlier. He was our only hope.

2. During this year's infamous Sydney Test, the Indian team got wronged so many times in so many different ways that one would've forgiven Kumble if he'd lost his cool at the end. And he almost did. You could see it in his eyes and his voice. But the way he maintained his composure while suggesting only that Austraila were not playing in the spirit of the game not only gained him worldwide appreciation, but also gave his team the moral high ground, which they used superbly to win the next match in Perth. (One of the more memorable Indian Wins). Shouldn't that be "Captaincy 101" or something?

3. The Antigua run-fest in 2002. If not for Kumble's heroics, I'm sure nobody would even remember this match. (Well.. except maybe Ajay Ratra's fans [are there any?]). I was almost drifting into sleep when I saw Kumble come out to bowl with a heavily strapped face covering a broken jaw. I had not seen anything like it in my life. He bowled 14 straight overs, made the ball talk and scalped Lara's wicket. He boarded a flight home that night and didn't play for months. 

I'm sure Kumble would've liked to play out the year. Or the Australia series at least. You could see it on his face. He wanted to beat the Aussies one last time. He also wanted to take India to the top spot in world rankings. But it wasn't to be.
The eyes still had steel in them, but the legs didn't. Deliveries still carried intensity, but not the bite.
He did the right thing in the end. In spite of being a long time Kumble fan, I felt at the beginning of this week that his time was almost up. And you've got to give him credit for catching the pulse of things at the right moment, you know, for 'getting it'.

Young spinners in India have a huge gap to fill now. They would do well to remember those eyes. The way they stayed on target the whole day, every day, for 18 years.

(Image Courtesy: Getty Images, Cricinfo)

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