When Anil Kumble announced his retirement from all forms of cricket — that’s right, not just cricket, but from all forms of cricket — I was immediately reminded of Adam Gilchrist’s shock retirement during the Adelaide Test match against India. There was a parallel of sorts in the retirements of these two contemporary greats of modern cricket. Adam Gilchrist had, earlier, indicated that the tense Sydney Test was what prompted his retirement thoughts. Anil Kumble too indicated that the tour of Australia, and particularly the Sydney Test match, was what prompted him to think about the rigours of playing mentally and physically tough cricket constantly. Already, the fractious Sydney Test match had claimed its first victim in Andrew Symonds who was disenchanted with the circus that surrounded the game; the circus that emanated (in my view) from the actions that he must claim some responsibility for. Now, that Sydney Test had claimed its third victim in Anil Kumble!
However, it was that Sydney Test that defined for me one of the most dignified players of our generation. Through the morass of Sydney, he alone stood tall, with poise, empathy, alacrity, simplicity and integrity.
In the words of Harsha Bhogle: “In course of time, like with the legends, we will remember Kumble by his numbers. They are extraordinary but the picture they paint is beautiful and incomplete. They will not tell you of the dignity with which he played the game, of the integrity he stood for and of the extraordinary respect he carried in the cricketing world; as a bowler but even more so, as a man.”
In reality, although the Anil Kumble retirement was coming and one sensed that it was around the corner, I thought Kumble would continue till after the two-Test series against England in December 2008. However, Kumble had other plans and got out of the road of Amit Mishra’s progress the moment he acquired a crushing injury to the little finger of his left hand. Anil Kumble felt that his body had taken a beating after 18 years — and a few shoulder operations. Moreover, he felt comfortable that he was handing over the spinners’ baton as well as the captaincy mantle to able soldiers.
Indeed, Kumble is probably leaving Indian cricket in a better shape today than it was when he took over the reigns as captain.
When Kumble took over the captaincy reign in 2007, Rahul Dravid had suddenly resigned. The tour of England left Dravid with few friends in (and little support from) the establishment. Rahul Dravid, the captain was disenchanted and disgruntled. The team had no coach and had to make do with Chandu Borde as “coach” on the tour of England. While the establishment wanted the decks cleared in the shorter versions of the game, the clarion calls for the retirement of the “Fab Five” were getting shriller. What was needed was a stabilising force and a cool head. The establishment was unwilling to risk Dhoni as the Test captain. Sachin Tendulkar, after showing some initial interest, had turned down the job. To give the captaincy to Sourav Ganguly would be a retrogressive step. The selectors turned to Anil Kumble. We at i3j3Cricket predicted the choice of Kumble as captain. It was a wise move especially since there were two important tours against Pakistan and Australia coming up.
In walked Anil Kumble.
A year later, the team has a more stable look to it.
India has a coach who prefers the obscurity of the last seat of the bus rather than the one closest to both the steering wheel as well as any microphone!
Harbhajan Singh has stepped up and accepted his role as the senior spinner in the game. Without anyone quite realising it, he stands on the cusp of getting his 300th wicket in Test cricket! And in Amit Mishra and Piyush Chawla, India has two reasonably good spinners. India also has Pragyan Ojha with his brand of left-arm spin. This time last year, there were a few question marks on India’s spin talent.
Although the fast bowling bench strength has sported a healthy look, it is only in the last year that we have seen the emergence of Ishant Sharma as an exciting talent on the world stage. Along with Zaheer Khan, the Indian fast bowling option sports a healthy look. It is quite likely that Ishant Sharma, with his flowing locks and exciting action, will be the most exciting pace bowler in the world today!
And with pace bowlers like Munaf Patel, R. P. Singh, Irfan Pathan, Sree Santh, Praveen Kumar, Manpreet Gony, Pankaj Singh, Siddharth Trivedi, Ashok Dinda and Pradeep Sangwan, India can boast of a healthy look to its fast bowling stable.
Batting has always been India’s strength. But it looks like there are players that are able and willing to step into the large shoes of the batting ‘Fab Four’ when they leave the world stage. Gautam Gambhir has made enormous strides in the last year under Dhoni and Kumble. In the middle-order, there are players like S. Badrinath, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh and Cheteshwar Pujara to look forward to a future when players like Sourav Ganguly (in five days’ time), Rahul Dravid (perhaps in a 9-months’ time from now), V. V. S. Laxman (perhaps in 18 months’ time from now) and Sachin Tendulkar (perhaps in 36 months from now) leave the arena.
And finally, we have a captain-in-waiting who is able, young, lively, energetic and hungry for success.
We are witnessing the start of the end of an era in Indian cricket. But there is a future that doesn’t quite look as bleak as it possibly did a year ago.
And Anil Kumble can claim some credit for this transformation. He is certainly leaving the place better than he found it.
It started with him developing a “vision” statement for Indian cricket. It is his blueprint that is being implemented today. He wanted to beat Australia in Australia and wanted to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. His efforts at beating Australia in Australia was achieved spectacularly at Perth with an against-all-odds victory. He may be successful in helping India regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy if India plays another five days of good cricket at Nagpur.
Before his first Test match as captain, he handed his “vision” document to his team. He had no coach like John Buchanan or Greg Chappell or Tom Moody or John Wright to craft it for him. It was his vision. It was simple and yet deep.
He wanted the his wards to “Play fearless cricket in a team where team goals come first.”
What’s more? He insisted that the BCCI percolate this “vision” to the Under-15 level.
Here was a cricketer who had the health and well-being of Indian cricket pumping in his every heart beat.
Who can ever forget his bowling spell in Antigua when he bowled 15 overs with a badly fractured jaw? Kumble had been struck on the jaw by Mervyn Dillon while batting. The jaw was splintered into position although a few teeth were moving!
Viv Richards, the West Indian batting legend, has surely seen many a brave deed on the cricket field. But that one event compelled Sir Viv Richards to say “It was one of the bravest things I have ever seen on a cricket field”! Kumble bowled his heart (and his jaw) out to strain for an Indian victory. It didn’t quite happen. He returned home to get the jaw fixed but not before saying, “At least I can now go home with the thought that I tried my best.”
And it was not just his cricket either.
He carried himself with dignity and humility. His words and actions after the Sydney Test match made the world sit up and take notice. He did not need to beat his chest. He did not need to thump tables. There were others that were doing enough of that. He got about his job quietly and impressively. He said what he had to with poise, alacrity and dignity. The world noticed and were dumbstruck by the severity as well as the simplicity of his message.
There is something about cricketers from Bangalore. Right from the times of the off-spinning gentle colossus Prasanna, who was once referred to by Ian Chappell as the best spinner he had ever faced, we have had players like Chandrashekar, Gundappa Vishwanath, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath, Rahul Dravid, Venkatesh Prasad, et al. The one word that captures all of these players is perhaps “dignity”. There is a certain lack of brashness and arrogance. There is a certain poise, humility and dignity about all of the players in that list. They are gentlemen first. Almost all of them are all well read. They are soft spoken (Robin Uthappa is a strange exception to this rule, I hasten to add). They go about their business in a quiet, compelling and committed manner. And yet, they leave their mark and their impact in a significant manner.
But in this of greats from Bangalore, none, in my view, will be greater than Anil Kumble. Like Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble depended on 3 D’s: “Determination, discipline, dedication”.
These are the qualities that made the MCC recruit Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid into its World Cricket Committee. The committee includes, Mike Atherton, Mike Brearley, Geoffrey Boycott, Martin Crowe, Tony Dodemaide, Rahul Dravid, Andy Flower, Mike Gatting, Majid Khan, Barry Richards, David Shepherd, Alec Stewart, Courtney Walsh and Steve Waugh.
To put things into perspective:
- Anil Kumble played 132 Test matches (bowled 40850 balls), gave 18355 runs for his 619 wickets (at an average of 29.65 and a strike rate of 65.9).
- Bishen Bedi played 67 Tests (bowled 21364 balls), gave 7637 runs for his 266 wickets (at 28.71 and at a strike rate of 80.3).
- Chandrashekar played 58 Tests (bowled 15963 balls), gave 7199 runs for his 242 wickets (at 29.74 and a strike rate of 65.9). Interesting to note that Chandra’s strike rate and Kumble’s strike rate are identical!
- Prasanna played 49 Tests (bowled 14353 balls), gave 5742 runs for his 189 wickets (at 30.38 and a strike rate of 75.9).
- Kapil Dev, generally regarded India’s best bowlerr ever, played one less Test match than Anil Kumble for his 434 wickets! Kapil Dev played 131 Tests (bowled 27740) balls, gave away 12867 runs for his 434 wickets (at an average of 29.64 and strike rate of 63.9)
In other words, Kumble has bowled 4/5ths of the total number of balls bowled by the Prasanna-Bedi-Chandra spin trinity who bowled a total of 51680 balls, giving away a total of 20578 runs for their 697 wickets (at an average of 29.52). In other words, Kumble has taken almost as many wickets as India’s spin-trinity. Surely, that is the work load for a warrior!
Suresh Menon writes, “[Kumble] bowled India to more victories than the entire spin quartet of the 1970s, yet he was condemned to being defined by negatives. The pundits told us he did not spin the ball, that he did not have the classic legspinner’s loop, that he did not bowl slowly enough to get the ball to bite. Kumble was described by what he did not do rather than by what he did.”
Dileep Premachandran called it best, I thought, when he write, “After all was said and done and the match called off, he came back out to be chaired around the ground, part of the way on the shoulders of the man who will succeed him as captain. For someone who scaled the greatest heights, it was one of the very few occasions during the 18 years when his feet actually left the ground.”
Towards the end of his career though, Kumble did show his irritation with the media in India. In the face of stinging criticism after the two defeats in Sri Lanka and amidst the growing shrillness of the tone in the Indian media over the continued inclusion of the “Fab Five” in the Test team, Kumble lashed out at the unjustified criticism and, more particularly, the unjustified and uncharitable comments . He deplored the trend for sensationalism in the Indian media that led to wild speculation around the existence of a voluntary retirement scheme that was offered to the ‘seniors’ by the BCCI!
However, in the end, Kumble left the game on his own terms. He arrived fighting for a credible spot in the team. There were many that questioned his ability, his uncharacteristic action, his studiousness as well as his desire. He fought all of that to become a quiet warrior and a dignified champion.
He left on his own terms too and that, to me, was a complete picture.
In his retirement, one hopes that he will continue to serve Indian cricket as he did when he was a player. Indian cricket needs players like him: Players who have Indian cricket’s hopes and fortunes in their every heart beat. Players who have achieved a lot in their playing time. Players who created an impact. Players who left the game better than they found it. And more importantly, players who played the game with integrity and with dignity.