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Anil Kumble: Lion-hearted cricketer and brilliant tactician

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

It was on this very day, 42 years ago, the great Anil Kumble was born. Not many would have given the bespectacled 19-year old to go far in his cricketing career when he arrived on the scene at Manchester in 1990.

Through the 1990s, if Sachin Tendulkar symbolised India’s hopes with the bat, it was Kumble who was the standard bearer of India’s bowling attack – the chief architect of numerous Indian triumphs. His Riplesque 10-wicket haul against Pakistan at Delhi being the high point of not just that decade but his entire career.
Chasing a victory target of 420, Pakistan were 101 for no loss, with India’s nemesis Shahid Afridi and Saeed Anwar going strong. Kumble then came into the attack and played havoc, as were bundled out for 207. The scars of the dramatic defeat at Chennai in the previous Test were still fresh and Kumble’s feat was like a soothing balm.

With the dramatic emergence of Harbhajan Singh in 2001, Kumble was relegated to the second-choice spinner in the squad. He invariably found himself out of the eleven whenever India opted for the lone spinner – particularly in the one-dayers. It was something one wouldn’t have imagined as a senior player – someone who enjoyed a stature similar to Tendulkar in the team – was benched for a junior. It was quite unlike the Indian way – something that changed under the leadership of Sourav Ganguly.

There was, however, a twist in the tale. During the tour to Australia in 2003-04, Harbhajan injured himself and Kumble suddenly found himself as the preferred option. The veteran knew it was his shot at redemption. And he didn’t disappoint. In a series that is largely remembered for the heroics of some of the Indian batsmen, Kumble’s amassed a number of wickets in that series and never looked back thereafter.

The Australia series was a start of something that wasn’t seen before. Kumble was always looked at as someone who dominated at home and didn’t quite perform abroad. However, in the years that followed, he bowled a number of crucial spells to help India to victory overseas. The whole aura around him changed and he became a very strong contender even when the surfaces didn’t suit him as much. While we talk about India’s change in fortunes overseas after Ganguly took over the captaincy, it was Kumble who injected a lot of fire in the bowling. He also effectively wiped off the tail on numerous occasions – something that many Indian frontline bowlers have traditionally struggled to do.

Happy birthday, Anil Kumble!

Anil Kumble… His career has been one of guts, grit and glory © AFP

If one has to pick two moments to signify Kumble’s career, they wouldn’t exactly include any of his match-winning spells. Yes, those bowling performances are memorable, but the two moments stand-out in memory. The first one is the obvious one – where he walked out to bowl despite having a broken jaw. With a bandaged face, the warrior walked out to ply his trade and help his team pick wickets against West Indies at Antigua in 2002. He was successful in picking a wicket – that too of the great Brian Lara.

The second instance is the unforgettable maiden Test century which came at The Oval in 2007. Kumble was known for his fighting qualities and had held on with the bat a number of times to help India. As India piled a huge total against England, Kumble make his ascent to the three figure mark. As he neared the milestone, the whole dressing room was nervous – with each member praying for the leg-spinner’s success. The moment arrived though – that too in a comical manner. Kumble charged to a widish delivery from Kevin Pietersen, reached out to it desperately and edged it under the keeper’s legs to the boundary. The old warhorse raised his bat with pride and acknowledged the ovation. His expression was one of fulfilment and one felt that he deserved it completely.

During the last phase of his career, Kumble was given the honour of leading India in Test cricket. He did lead them to a few great wins – none being better than the one at Perth against Australia. Coming into the game at the back of the controversial Test at Sydney, Kumble inspired his troops and kept them focused on the job. The result was a team effort that smashed perceptions that the Indian team wouldn’t last long at Perth.

Today, Kumble has moved into a territory rarely charted by former cricketers – administration. With his integrity and intelligence, one gets the sense of assurance and dependability – much like when he would bowl on the final day to win a Test. Nicknamed “Jumbo” by his team-mates, he would certainly give it a “jumbo” effort as he moves into a new role with the International Cricket Council (ICC) as the Chairman of the Cricket Committee. Kumble’s tryst with cricket isn’t over and perhaps more remarkable deeds are yet to come.

PHOTO GALLERY: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ANIL KUMBLE

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)

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