Anil Kumble Biography
The set jaw, the glint of steel in the eye, the immense effort in the action, the ball shooting down from a great height, poison tipped, diabolical, fizzing, projected like a javelin; then the vicious moment of landing on the pitch, followed by the skid, the thud into the pad, or past every line of defence into the woodwork or off a hapless edge and the pad into the hand of one of the posse of close-in catchers; or sometimes the sudden devious bounce that underlined why the wicketkeeper behind the stumps was always intent on donning a helmet.
And then the elation — match after match won through one man’s relentless endeavour — the desire for victory visible as the flame that set those eyes ablaze. No bowler has come even close to Anil Kumble in terms of single-handedly winning matches for India. At home he sent down deliveries that went down as the biggest challenge to negotiate for batsmen around the world (and Indian wicketkeepers). And after a decade and a bit of painstaking perseverance, success finally touched him on those unresponsive foreign pitches. Like vintage wine he improved with time, new essence added into the mix while the fizz and sparkle remained undiminished.
Even when victory did not materialise the blaze of glory surrounded this tireless performer like a glowing halo. It took the form of the bandage wrapping the fractured jaw as he entered the field and tried to bowl India to victory in Antigua. Gallantry was complemented by dignity, and never was this more starkly demonstrated than in the press conference after the infamous Sydney Test of 2007-08. Under the shadow of defeat, frustration from shoddy umpiring and faced with an onslaught of unethical ruthlessness under the guise of gamesmanship, Kumble —then captain of India — maintained striking calm shrouding the simmering anger within and pronounced his personal verdict in a fluent, articulate sentence that stunned the cricket world into introspection. "Only one team was playing with the spirit of the game, that's all I can say."
There was no sight more touching than when he left the international arena forever, chaired on the shoulders of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, the mighty hero of 18 years, the architect of triumphs, the biggest name in the pantheon of great spinners of the country.
Yet, he was hardly a spinner other than in the pages that listed his profile. He seldom lured batsmen out of the safety of the crease with tantalising flight. Rarely were his victims stumped, or induced to loft in the air and hole out in the deep. The vagaries of the googly improved with time, some of his leg-breaks did turn. But he preferred his own method of snaring batsmen — perfected through practice. The top-spinners and flippers, relying on the bounce and the skid, getting the batsmen leg before, bowled or caught in the close cordon. Kumble hated to be taken for runs. Sessions used to go down without a boundary scored off his relentless line and length. For the batsman there was no moment to relax when Kumble was bowling a spell.
Off a gangly run, the arm came over from a great height on top of his six foot two inch frame, propelled by powerful shoulders. Through the air he was always quick, often compared tongue-in-cheek to the medium-pacer (which was, incidentally, what he started his career as) — by onlookers, seldom by the tormented batsmen. The stumps were his target, and he could go at them forever. If the surface helped the ball skid or there was a semblance of cracks, he would become unplayable. Bounce would nourish him as well.
With time the leg-spinner in him did evolve. The direct approach at pad and stumps was refined. Side spin increased, the slow leg-break and the flighted googly came to the fore. The angle of attack was varied, there were spells from round the wicket at the left-handers. But, never did he resemble a conventional spinner. It did not stop him from becoming the most successful Indian tweaker by far.
And yet, he looked most elated — even more than what he looked when he took ten in an innings — when he scored that elusive Test hundred at The Oval in 2007!