Chennai: Anil Kumble will not play for India any more. His indomitable spirit, though, will continue to inspire the side. He drifts into golden sunset a champion and a hero.
The leg-spinner’s retirement provides us an opportunity to reflect upon his feats, celebrate his achievements.
He has the numbers — his 619 Test wickets is the third highest tally in Test cricket after Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne — but then his career stretched beyond numerical figures.
Whether his broken jaw was wired up or his non-bowling arm sported almost a dozen stitches, he still bowled with the same commitment and passion.
Kumble’s international journey lasted 18 years and his body bore the scars. Now 38, India’s spin spearhead for long heads for family and home, peace and quiet.
On the arena, his intensity was all consuming. His simmering aggression suggested he was a fast bowler in a spinner’s guise.
He would bound in relentlessly, hustling and nailing his adversaries with bounce and just the right amount of spin.
Yet, Kumble was a gentle, soft spoken man, a cricketer with enormous dignity, compassion, and courage.
He was a shining star and a role model.
To the youngsters, ‘Jumbo’ was larger than life. Kumble bucked the odds and returned from a career-threatening shoulder injury. And he was, arguably, India’s biggest match-winner.
It was, perhaps, fitting that Kumble ended his international career at Ferozeshah Kotla. It was the ground of his destiny.
It was here that he orchestrated a famous comeback in the 1991-92 season with a destructive spell in the Irani Trophy. Several summers later, he scored a perfect ‘Ten’ against Pakistan. Here, he consistently turned a Test on its head.
For long, he defied critics and pre-conceived notions about spin bowling. Kumble was not a big spinner, but consistently got his deliveries — his high-arm action and wrist position were major factors here — to jump off a length.
On surfaces with inconsistent bounce he was dangerous. On good wickets, his accuracy and the ability to send down long spells of unflagging concentration made him a combative bowler.
There was rhythm in his run-up, bite in his bowling.
Like most great bowlers, he strangulated batsmen with his control before prising them out. Along the way, he evolved.
In the second half of his career, he developed a potent googly. He could strike with his top-spinner, get his flippers to skid off the surface.
Kumble’s variations were subtle. He could read the batsmen, explore the angles and bring about changes in trajectory and length.
The use of the crease — from over or around the wicket — was another key aspect of his bowling. These deliveries were more top-spun than side-spun.
There were occasions when he bowled slower through the air. Kumble prised out batsman with clever field placements. During the tour of Australia in 2003-04, he lured batsmen to doom, having his mid-off and mid-on straighter and longer.
He was an outstanding success on that campaign, relishing the bounce off the pitches down under. Kumble had his moments away from the sub-continent too; in Australia, England, South Africa and the West Indies.
Kumble and Harbhajan Singh formed a formidable leg-spin-off-spin pairing. They bowled in partnership, created the pressure.
The outstanding leg-spinner’s brief tenure as captain was eventful. He handled the difficult on and off-field situations during the last season’s Australian tour with poise and tact.
This Jumbo is a giant in every sense of the term.