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Monday, November 03, 2008 

Top Spinner

Jab tak suraj chaand rahega...

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was the biggest match winner who played for India. The timing of his retirement announcement was characteristic of his demeanor, composed and educated. So was his farewell, un-superhero like, modest and honest. Anil Kumble will always be remembered in Indian cricket books for as long as they are written. I expected him to retire sometime soon, but to actually know it, was a bit of a shock. The point is that he is still good enough than the Mishras, Ojhas and Chawlas, but he has dipped from his own very high standards. And great players don’t play just because they are good enough. They play the game because they want to be the best.

Of all the retirements that are impending in this Indian team, this surprisingly is the first one, and will perhaps remain the best timed. Again, if Kumble had played against England he would have thrashed them, but he realizes that it’s not worth continuing and letting younger guys have a taste of things will be more fruitful. Afterall the second string of spinners can definitely take on England anyways.

It’s the end of the career of a legend, only that it doesn’t sound like one. Perhaps it will sound like one on the fifth day of the Nagpur Test, only that this time it would not be a true legend. There are so many stories, so many matches and so many moments related to Kumble that we have cherished over the years. Everyone knows that he is a gritty man, very aggressive on the field and very polite off it. And even after all that aggression he never said any bitter thing to his opponents. There were so many times that he was criticized by media. Now he is not the first person to get it from the media and then give it back. But the way he handled criticism was quite extraordinary. I remember once he was asked how he felt on being dropped from the team and he politely said – maybe my performance hasn’t been good enough and I will go back and take a few wickets in the first class matches and try to come back. No allegations of bias, no references to the number of years he had played for India. He just wanted to do well and get back in the team. The sheer weight of his performance kept bringing him back and I think that is why he was always so assured of himself. He never took his place for granted in the team and that is why he had more highs in an 18 year old career than any Indian cricketer.

But the best part about him, the icing on the cake of his greatness, came when he thanked everyone for their support in his final interview as the captain of India on the field. The fact that he mentioned Azhar really left a lump in my throat. There was a time when Azhar and Kumble were my most favorite cricketers (batsman and bowler). Caught Azhar at silly point bowled Kumble used to be usual service in those days. I was pleasantly reminded of that mid-90s era. Kumble is a true sportsman and a gentleman and acknowledged the contribution of everyone, even those who have been long buried.

Kumble walks off the cricket field as perhaps only second to Kapil Dev in terms of his completeness as a cricketer among Indians. He eventually did everything including a test hundred and captaincy. If Kumble had not been the captain at Sydney, then either the team would have crumbled like a cookie or 3-4 more players would have been suspended on various charges ranging from racism to physical contact and spitting on the umpire’s face. He must feel satisfied and content today as he looks back at all these years. From an MBA perspective he has a very diverse profile so to say (smile). And you know it may not be a surprise if he actually does something like that. As Rahul Dravid mentioned, he has a Masters in Engineering and a PhD in leg spin.

Anil Kumble has been an inspiration for me all these years and a source of comfort while I sat through heart wrenching matches on TV. He has given me so much to cheer about and so much pleasure, that the cricket field will look a little empty without him. Now it’s up to the rest of the guys to plan the perfect farewell party for Anil Kumble and that other chap, whats his name?

Undoubtedly, the biggest Kumble moment is the jaw-strapped performance to get one of the best batsmen in the world. But throughout his career there was so much that you saw and felt within that gives you the true idea of what Anil Kumble did for Indian cricket.


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