December 20, 2001

Kumble: I'm happy I reached 300 wickets before the second innings

For a cricketer who is humble, well-behaved, and generally uncontroversial, Anil Radhakrishnan Kumble has more detractors and critics than one would expect. The tall Karnataka bowler, who notched up 300 Test wickets when he trapped Matthew Hoggard lbw on the second day of the third Test against England at Bangalore, became the first spinner from his country to achieve the feat. It is a major achievement, given that India have produced the likes of Erapalli Prasanna, Bishan Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Srinivas Venkataraghavan. When the talk of great spinners comes up, the famed quartet springs to mind instantly. Perhaps it is time that people stopped looking into the past and welcomed yet another champion bowler - Kumble - into this venerable hall of fame.

"It is a good feeling to reach the milestone of 300 wickets. I had to wait a long time to get there, but it is well worth the wait," said Kumble to pressmen. After taking 18 wickets in the first two Tests, Kumble struggled to pick up the magical one that would take him to 300. The ace leggie appeared anxious on the field, and clearly the weight of anticipation weighed down heavily on his broad shoulders.

"That's cricket. You work the whole day, toiling hard. Sometimes you're lucky and pick wickets, on other days you have nothing to show for it. I was just being positive and knew that things had to change at some point. The one wicket today was very important, and I'm happy I got over that before the start of the second innings," said Kumble, with characteristic maturity and restraint.

As a bowler who has bowled a tight line and length almost non-stop in his career, Kumble was the right candidate to be used in a restrictive capacity if the occasion called for it. As a leggie who flights the ball less than most and does not extract expansive turn, he could easily be used in what is spoken of as a 'negative' mould. The talking point of the second day's play was England's use of Ashley Giles in this very capacity, bowling the ball into the rough outside the leg stump from around the wicket.

The man with 300 Test wickets to his name from 65 matches had this to say on the matter. "It is a difficult question. My own personal feeling about this is that I would not do that. If I bowled 30 overs, I might come around the wicket for a short while just to change things around, as an option," he began. On a stronger note, Kumble added, "I would not consider bowling around the stumps as a positive move from my perspective. I would prefer bowling around the stumps as I would have more options of getting the batsmen out."

Kumble's style of bowling might have gotten him wickets by the truckload, but it has given enough room for critics to moan about him being a 'pretender' as a leg-spinner. If these critics were not answered by the number of matches that Kumble has won for India, or the very fact that he has taken more wickets than any Indian spinner in the history of the game, his words might come as a prick to the conscience. "I have my own style as a bowler. My job is to get wickets. How different people do it doesn't concern me; each person has his own style," explained Kumble.

"I have always believed in my ability and gone out there to the middle to perform. As long as that happens, I am happy. People might classify me as a leg-spinner; it doesn't affect me. They may classify me as a mediumpacer, and that too doesn't affect me. As long as I'm getting wickets, am successful and am helping the team, that's all matters," he suggested. And surely, one cannot disagree with him on this point.

Another feat Kumble has achieved that is unique to him as an Indian bowler is his 10 wickets in an innings against Pakistan at Delhi in 1999. Ever the team man, Kumble compares that achievement with his latest. "We were one down in the series against Pakistan, and my effort helped India win. This (300th wicket) is just a landmark. When you're playing in a team sport, you invariably cross landmarks, and it's a great feeling. It's a very special feeling to be part of the 300 club."

In an illustrious career that began in 1990 in England, Kumble has achieved a great deal. There is, however, one disappointment that Kumble has had to live with. "What most of us want is a series victory abroad. That is something that has eluded us. At least when I have been part of the team, I haven't been able to achieve that. We came very close to winning a Test match in the West Indies and South Africa, but that didn't happen. That is one disappointment I have."

Pressboxes are primarily workstations. People tapping away at keyboards working to meet deadlines seldom have the time to enjoy the big moments in the manner in which they deserve. The fact that they also have their favourites, dislikes, and own axes to grind compounds the situation. When Kumble reached 300 Test wickets, however, differences were put aside, work shelved for a brief moment, and people got together to applaud the fruits of labour of a hardworking, sincere cricketer.

It was the least that Kumble deserved.