It had to occur when I was asleep. The countless replays and reruns cannot make up for that one moment of letting your guard down. When Anil Kumble ran through a hapless Pakistani line-up one February afternoon at the Feroz Shah Kotla, I woke up just in time for the last two wickets. During that passage of play, one of the greatest acts of sportsmanship also played itself out by the side. Javagal Srinath attempted what no other bowler ever had – giving your heart and soul in a bid not to get a wicket. An engineer from India’s IT hub made history that day – not by selling his software company for a million dollars, but for taking ten wickets in an innings.
Anil Kumble was an engineer who turned cricketer. Then he wanted to be a pace bowler, but turned spinner. And then he had to listen to people say he wasn’t a spinner. Nothing came easy or quick for Anil Kumble. It was how he played the cards that were dealt to him that mattered. He was offered captaincy in the twilight of his career, which he took without any misgivings. He scored his first test century in 2007, a year before he hung up his boots. But at least one thing came easy – being inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame before the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman.
Only numbers don’t make you a statesman of the game. It’s how you play the game that people will remember you for. Records and statistics are seldom cast in stone. But dignity, sportsmanship and character are non-negotiable. And that is how Anil Kumble played the game – with grit, humility, and no rancor. It was having a man like him at the helm that kept the fractious 2007-2008 tour of Australia from imploding. One of the most unforgettable moments of the tour was him addressing a press conference. He took a deep breath and simply said “only one team played in the spirit of the game”, which was followed by applause from the gathered media persons. Very few men can get away by uttering those words, Kumble being one of them. When he fractured his jaw in Antigua, he came out to bowl 14 consecutive overs and accounted for the wicket of Brian Lara. Read that again – he came out to bowl with a fractured jaw and bowled 14 overs on the trot. Talk about putting country before self.
He has donned many hats since he hung up his boots- administrator, team mentor for the Royal Challangers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians in the IPL, Chairman of the Technical Committee, among others. He wasn’t a classical spinner but still managed to carve a niche for himself in the era of Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan and ended up with 619 wickets in test cricket, the third highest wicket taker of all time. Not bad for someone who was chided for not turning the ball like his illustrious contemporaries. Being the fourth Indian to be inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame is the icing on the cake of a magnificent career.
A wildlife conservationist in his own right, Anil Kumble was nicknamed Jumbo, a name that also does justice to his stature, achievements and influence.
May his tribe increase.