FINAL LANDING FOR JUMBO
I was fortunate to be at the Ferozshah Kotla that hazy January day in 1999 when Anil Kumble took all ten Pakistani wickets. I was again at the same Delhi stadium, that looked so different from that quaint ground of yesteryear, on this lazy November afternoon in 2008 when the new electronic screen flashed a message that I was not surprised to see. It said, "Anil Kumble has decided to retire after this match." I had anticipated this two days earlier when he split a finger trying his damnest to catch a sizzling drive that was whistling past him. After taking more stitches than the perfect ten scalps that he bagged nearly a decade earlier, there was no way that the man could appear in the final Test against Australia a few days hence.
Amazingly, but in a move that was typical of the man, he returned to the field with a heavily strapped left hand at a time when his team was so casually letting the Aussies off the hook on the fourth day of the Delhi Test. He was soon hard at work and snapped up three wickets, which by then were too late to force a win. But he made one final point, not the least to his butter-fingered and lackadaisical fielders, when he ran back yards to hold a skier off his own bowling. One knew then that this was his final victim, his 619th Test wicket. And so it turned out the next day, today.
No matter that he was a leg-spinner who couldn’t turn the ball, a sportsman who fitted into nobody’s idea of an athlete, a fielder who never dived, just flopped to the ground, all arms and legs when he ran after the ball like a windmill in the doldrums, he was in the arena a man with a heart the size of a jumbo, a warrior who never learnt to give up. They said he wouldn’t last a year in Test cricket. He didn’t. And then he struck in the Irani Trophy, where else but at Delhi’s Kotla, and earned a seat on the plane to South Africa. There was no looking back from then on. Followed a series of triumphs on home turf under the captaincy of Azharuddin that launched the Kumble legend.
Third behind fellow tweakers in the all-time list of wicket-takers in the 131-year history of Test cricket, one of only two men who have bagged all ten wickets in a Test innings, star of so many of his country’s wins in Test matches as well as One-day Internationals, Anil Kumble was one of the unlikeliest of sporting heroes. His successes were born not so much of the gifts that nature had blessed him with, as of countless hours of toil, cast-iron determination, the spirit of a blue-blooded fighter, a man who would give his best every single time. Whoever extolled the virtues of perspiration over the largesse bestowed by the Almighty that they call inspiration, must have had in mind someone akin to Kumble.
Above all, Anil Kumble leaves behind a massive legacy to the millions who doubt their own ability to succeed and thus fail to try their hardest. They only have to turn a few pages and seek inspiration from each of the nearly thousand International wickets that this modestly talented bowler earned in a career that has flummoxed the pundits. Indeed it is time to seek inspiration from bucketfuls of Anil Kumble’s perspiration that turned an ordinary being into a rare international icon. Here’s a final salute to one of the most distinguished soldiers of Indian cricket.