Kumble — a cricketer of courage and character

November 2nd, 2008 - 8:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Chennai, Nov 2 (IANS) If there is more emphasis on Anil Kumble’s courage, character and commitment rather than his 619 wickets in Tests, 337 in ODIs and 10 wickets in an innings, in the tributes that are flowing in on his retirement from Test cricket Sunday, then it is an apt reflection of the man’s impact and influence.Antigua 2001, underlined Kumble courage when he batted with a broken jaw that was wired together and Sydney 2008, showcased the dignity and decorum with which he handled the wretched “Monkeygate” scandal. Yes, it will be generations before we get to see a more dedicated, committed and courageous cricketer who gave lie to the theory that nice boys do not win.

In these days of unbridled aggression and gamesmanship that have tainted cricket, Kumble stood out like a beacon on a stormy night, and he would be remembered thus. Not given to taunting batsmen to distraction and pick up wickets through such means.

Kumble rather match wits with the willow-wielders and win the battle fair and square.

In other words, Kumble put huge effort in just about every activity he indulged in - be it bowling on flat tracks or batting in a crisis situation or the wildlife, environment and other social causes that he endorses. His mate from junior days, Rahul Dravid, referred to Kumble as a man who held nothing back.

One of my earliest meetings with Kumble was in the 1990s when he was out of the Indian team nursing a shoulder injury. At the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru, I caught him wheeling away at the stumps during an extended training session. He readily granted me an interview without fuss and patiently answered even some repetitive questions. Not once did he avert his eyes, a sure mark of a honest man.

Much later, I requested him to attend a product launch that I was handling in Bengaluru. “Ok. When, where and at what time?” was his response. On the appointed day, he turned up along with Dravid, Venkatesh Prasad and Sujith Somasundar! There was no talk about appearance fee or other conditions that are common to celebrity appointments.

In the early days of his international career, his bowling was likened to the other famous Karnataka son, Bhagwat Chandrasekar. But Kumble begged to differ and never failed to point out that the only similarity was that both were quicker through the air than conventional spinners.

Kumble has always been a thinking bowler and a great believer in match preparation. It could be put down to his keen engineering mind that analysed situations with a clarity of thought given to few, like a Shane Warne or a Muttiah Muralitharan or a Glenn McGrath.

The travesty was that Kumble went through his 18-year career as a decidedly underrated bowler, despite the Wisden Cricketer of the Year award in 1996 and who was unfairly cast in the long shadow of Warne. It did not matter that Warne himself held Kumble in the highest esteem.

Critics never failed to put him down saying he never turned or spun the ball! Yet, Kumble chipped away, letting his bowling do all the talking.

Worse still, for reasons unknown, Kumble was kept away from captaincy until the tour to Australia last winter when he was 37! His leadership qualities and statesmanship that came to the fore during the contentious tour, only highlighted the unforgivable faus pax committed by the National selectors.

That fellow-cricketers, in fact, looked up to him to sort out BCCI contract issue was a clear endorsement of his leadership ability, something that the authorities failed to acknowledge. So much so that there were quite a few red faces during the felicitation function in Chennai earlier this year to mark his 600 Test wickets as in his reply, Kumble indirectly referred to his unfulfilled dream of captaining India.

Kumble might not have launched a thousand products like some of his contemporaries, but the joy he gave to the connoisseur of cricket mattered more. In the ultimate analysis, if ever a gentleman played cricket, then it was Anil Kumble, the gentlest of the giants.

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