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An uncomplicated performer

By Vijay Lokapally

HAIL THE HERO! Anil Kumble is applauded off the field after achieving his feat. - Photos: V.V. Krishnan

NEW DELHI, DEC. 10. Anil Kumble, from the time he first bowled for India, has remained an uncomplicated performer on the field, one who revels when most fail. By nature, a spinner ought to be cunning, for his job is to con batsmen. But this genial unorthodox leg-spinner has pursued a simple path and philosophy — give your hundred per cent — and in the process he earned the respect of the opposition with his honest ways.

Pressure is unknown to Kumble. "The game is all about pressure, so why worry about it," is his refrain. To put things in perspective, pressure gets the best out of him. "I love pressure," he says with a smile.

For one who dreamt of bowling fast the transformation to a spinner of unique abilities was pleasant though obviously not easy. Kumble's forte has been accuracy, an aspect of bowling associated with the greats of the game. Sir Richard Hadlee was the protagonist of this art and Kumble comes closest in the modern era to qualify as a bowler who needs to be watched with utmost concentration.

Difficult course

Having chosen a difficult course, Kumble has stuck to his job magnificently, rarely allowing the opposition to dictate. It must be remembered that often he has worked without the cushion of support from the other end. Ironically, the advent of Harbhajan Singh has meant that often, overseas, they rarely play together.

Captaincy has never been an issue with him at any stage of his career. "Who would not like to be the captain but then it is something not in my control. I like responsibilities and have never shied away. I have led my State team. I had my opportunity in Chennai (against England), at least for one game. But it does not really bother me," says the affable leg-spinner.

Kumble's moment of recognition as a capable leader came in January 2002 in the one-day match against England which India won by four wickets.

The most striking feature of Kumble's character has been his positive attitude, facing all challenges with a smile, and a countenance that reflects confidence.

He must be the only spinner to often bowl in the company of a third seamer at the other end; one of the few slow bowlers to be handed the new ball in both forms of the game.

In the last World Cup he bowled four overs in the first 15 against the rampaging Australians at The Centurion Park.

Elite scalps

What stands out in Kumble's list of victims is the fact that his prime scalps have been the elite, and not tailenders. He has dismissed openers on 74 occasions and the No. 3 batsmen 53 times, followed by No. 4 (46), No. 5 (38) and No. 6 (44). Statistics may not always convey the true picture but in Kumble's case they do drive home the point that he has thrived by snaring the best.

Kumble has had his best calendar year when circumstances have been loaded against him. His haul of 64 wickets this year in 10 Tests up to the home series against South Africa certainly do not show him as a liability to the team.

It has been a disappointing one-day season for Kumble. Sitting out in the Asia Cup final on a helpful pitch; not included in the playing 11 in the Champions Trophy and dropped for the one-day match against Pakistan at Kolkata have hurt the man.

Having bowled 28,674 balls, 900 more than Kapil Dev, to claim 434 Test wickets, Kumble is best qualified to assess his contribution to Indian cricket. "I have always looked at cricket as an important part of my life. The competition is all about raising the bar. Kapil had set certain standards and I have made my contribution towards meeting them. It is a nice feeling to know that the next man to break the record would be setting higher standards. Someday, somebody will certainly improve upon my record."

Perfect role model

A perfect role model, Kumble has brought dignity to the job. His impeccable grooming reflects in his behaviour on and off the field. Not the one to shirk responsibilities, and not the one to disappoint his fans and well-wishers,

A shoulder injury apart, Kumble has been an epitome of fitness, rarely failing to deliver, even on unhelpful pitches. From a spinner's perspective, Kumble has encountered flat tracks in South Africa, England, Australia, West Indies, but nothing has ever dented his resolve.

Kumble never fails to mention the role played by wife Chetna in motivating him in times of distress. She, however, underplays her contribution. "He is being modest. He is such a wonderful human being. From a mundane exercise like tying his boots to the intensity that marks his bowling, Anil is amazingly focused. His commitment is unflinching," says Mrs. Kumble.

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