The name of JS Bach may now be an integral part of musical heritage, but it was only over 50 years after his death that his legacy was fully appreciated. If such a fate could befall the most legendary of Western classical composers, perhaps the plight of a relative mortal like Anil Kumble is more understandable. As England ground India’s much-hyped spin bowling attack to dust, the absence of the man fondly known as “Jumbo” was felt more than ever.
It was nearly 20 years ago at the venue of the ongoing Test between India and England, Eden Gardens, that the then captain Mohammad Azharuddin found the magic formula to build an invincible home record. And Kumble was his magic weapon. In tandem with Rajesh Chauhan and Venkatpathy Raju, he helped inflict an eight-wicket defeat on England in that game and went from strength to strength thereafter.
With unusual pace for a spinner, staggering accuracy and relentless persistence, he demolished visiting teams on dustbowls almost as a matter of habit. He boasted a bowling average of under 25 in India, with a whopping 25 five-wicket innings hauls and seven 10-wicket match hauls. Once Kumble was into his stride and had discovered a sweet spot in the pitch for him, it was only a matter of when rather than whether he would knock over the opposition’s challenge.
And never was this better demonstrated than in his record-equalling 10 wicket innings haul against Pakistan at Delhi in 1999. After going wicketless at the Fort End through the morning session, it took Kumble no time to run through the Pakistan batsmen from the Pavilion End post lunch. They were helpless in the face of what looked like a rapid fire machine gun discharge of vicious leg breaks or, rather, flippers and bouncers!
In the noughties, Kumble’s craft matured and he became a more effective bowler abroad with vital contributions to India’s proud away wins as at Leeds 2002, Adelaide 2003, Johannesburg 2006 or even Perth 2008. However, the image of a spinner who couldn’t really spin the ball and depended on wearing tracks stuck and Kumble never really got his due, from the BCCI or from the media.
When he went past 600 wickets in Test cricket, the feat was received more with dreary-eyed astonishment than warm appreciation. Evidently, some people had never noticed all those wickets he had bagged by toiling hard through long spells, day in and day out. When he bowled with a broken jaw in the West Indies in 2002, it was cynically interpreted as more of a publicity stunt to keep Harbhajan Singh out of the team than a mark of his commitment.
In 2008, Kumble stepped aside, waylaid by injury and assured by the promise of Amit Mishra that a successor had been found. But the shabby treatment of this living legend continued post retirement, most notably in the unsavoury National Cricket Academy affair. The International Cricket Council (ICC) meanwhile has found better use for his know how and he is now the Chairman of its Cricket Committee.
At the end of Day Three of the ongoing Test, Pragyan Ojha freely admitted that neither he nor Ravichandran Ashwin could bowl at Monty Panesar’s natural pace, which approaches 100 kph. Panesar’s pace and accuracy have put the Indian batting line-up under tremendous pressure. His performances suggest that he may have watched the methods of the original Indian spin assassin and learnt his lessons well. Perhaps, if the nation finally got around to acknowledging Kumble’s indispensable role in Team India’s home victories, there is still hope for the art of spin bowling in India. A team needs to take 20 wickets to win a Test and I am sure MS Dhoni is rather acutely aware of it now more than ever.
(Madan Mohan is a 27-year-old chartered accountant from Mumbai. The writing bug bit him when he was 8 and to date, he has not been cured of it. He loves music, cricket, tennis and cinema and writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake. He also writes a blog if he is not feeling too lazy at http://rothrocks.wordpress.com/)