Anil Kumble’s retirement from Test cricket brings to an end a sporting career of high distinction. Few men have commanded greater respect from comrade and opponent alike; nobody has won more Tests for India. For all the weight of his achievements — greater than any other Indian bowler, and among the finest in the world — Kumble tended to be under-rated. This was partly because he had to share the stage with Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan, whose big spin wizardry and world-beating success struck a chord with the lay fan. Kumble’s rigour and nuance demanded a more discerning taste. Moreover, in a country besotted with batting, spoilt for choice by the richness and versatility Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman, Saurav Ganguly, and Virender Sehwag offered, it was natural that Kumble wouldn’t receive the attention he deserved. This tension between perception and performance marked his whole career. Perceived more often than not as a leg-spinner who couldn’t turn the ball, this highly intelligent man set about challenging easy assumptions. He knew his method would succeed, thus was able to convert the belittling of his talent into a competitive advantage. He went one step better, evolving over time into a complete — if not conventional — leg-spinner, drawing high praise from no less exacting an expert than Terry Jenner, Warne’s mentor.
Kumble belongs to a rare breed of sportsmen: a genuinely nice person who is a fierce competitor. Australia set the benchmark for aggression, skill, and bloody-mindedness during Kumble’s time, and to a man, every Australian who played against him acknowledged that when it counted, under pressure, few were as steady and strong-willed. Kumble’s physical courage is legendary: in 2002 he bowled with a broken jaw in Antigua to dismiss Brian Lara; in his last Test, with his left little finger held together by 11 stitches, the 38-year-old captured his 619th and final Test wicket after running back and catching the batsman off his bowling. Eventually, it was this injury that told him that the missives his body had been sending him for some time had grown urgent. His intelligent pride would not allow him to hang on aimlessly, as some champions have done in past years. The Bangalorean leaves behind a unique legacy. He has bowled India to wins in Australia, England, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the West Indies, demolishing the myth that he was dangerous only at home. During the fractious tour of Australia, India gained from his clear-sighted leadership; in fact, he might be the best captain India almost never had. In the final analysis, Kumble leaves Indian cricket immeasurably better than he found it when he made his Test debut in 1990.