A superstar without the celebrity tag

S. Dinakar

Chennai: Anil Kumble returns to the arena where tales of conquests swirl around him. On a turf that is dotted with immortal footprints, his are prominent ones too.

At 35, his bowling bristles with rare energy. Off the field, he is relaxed. On it, he radiates intensity and aggression. A contemporary giant, he certainly is.

But the man with 465 Test scalps is so modest, so self-effacing that his remarkable achievements sit lightly on him. He is a superstar without the `celebrity tag,' a man of rare charm and grace.

Kumble is just three Tests away from a century of matches. He was the highest wicket-taker in Tests in 2004 with 74 in 12 matches. The leggie has the most Test wickets at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium with 42 in six matches.

Let's not forget that he is the leading wicket-taker in Tests for the country, and also is the first spinner from the land of spin to cross the 400-wicket barrier.

It's sad that richly deserved recognition often eludes India's foremost match-winner in Tests. Kumble is not the kind to complain though; all he would want to accomplish, as he tosses the ball from hand to hand and bounds in, will be to run through sides.

The leg-spinner was at peace with himself when his eyes scanned the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium after practice. It was here that he cut a swathe through the formidable Australian line-up last year with a vibrant seven for 48 on day one answering those who argued that he excelled only on wearing pitches.

He would hunt again with his famous in-form spin partner Harbhajan Singh. Both are aggressive bowlers, and crucially, the heat is maintained from both ends.

Such is Kumble's accuracy that the pressure gradually builds on the batsmen. His high-arm action is a factor in the bounce that he extracts from most surfaces, and the silly point and short-leg come into play when he operates.

The Sri Lankans are among the better players of spin, but they will have to contend with Kumble's precision, his vertical lift and just the right amount of spin. The wrong `un and the top-spinner will be his key deliveries, apart from the leg-break. You can expect the wily leg-spinner to vary his pace, change the angles by using the width of the crease intelligently.

It should be an enthralling face off between Kumble and the islanders. Marvan Atapattu, Kumara Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene use their feet well, and Jayawardene has delicate touch. Still, Kumble is bound to probe them and his vociferous appeals should rend the Chepauk air.

Much of Kumble's bowling is about rhythm. From the moment he collects the ball to the time he completes his follow through, his method has a rare feel and a distinct identity about it.

If the weather holds, the pitch at the Chidambaram Stadium could increasingly assist the spinners.

Kumble will be eyeing more glory at a venue where good memories swirl around him.