Anil Kumble retires November 2, 2008

A pillar of Indian cricket

During the 1990s Anil Kumble and Sachin Tendulkar were the twin pillars of a team that sought to establish itself as a big player on the world stage

Mahendra Singh Dhoni carries Anil Kumble on his shoulders after the Delhi Test © Getty Images

For those of us old enough to remember the days before black bats and matches worth $20 million, it was the most poignant of snapshots. As he walked off the square for the final time, Anil Kumble got a pat on the back from the only man who has been playing international cricket even longer than he has. Kumble's first Test, at Old Trafford in August 1990, was Sachin Tendulkar's ninth, and in the decade that followed they would be the twin pillars of a team that sought to establish itself as a big player on the world stage. Over time, they would be joined by other great players, a nucleus that would allow India to challenge Australia on a consistent basis, but the mind-boggling durability of the two main men remained a source of wonder.

By the time shoulder surgery laid him low at the turn of the millennium, Kumble had already been around for a decade, inspiring an unprecedented number of victories on home soil. Coming back from that was perhaps the greatest challenge of his career, especially once Harbhajan Singh stole the limelight with his 32-wicket haul against Steve Waugh's side.

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Perfect 10
  • Antigua: Bowling and a broken jaw don't really go together. They couldn't keep Kumble off the park though, and what's more, he got Lara out too.
  • Adelaide: The game where he once again established himself as India's premier spinner. He ran through the tail on the second day to set in motion a chain of events that ultimately led to the most improbable of Test wins.
  • Chennai: Gilchrist done in by the googly behind the legs was the highlight, but there were 12 other wickets, including seven on the opening day.
  • The Oval: For a man who took his batting very seriously, this was a special highlight. Not too many have struck Test hundreds when in sight of their 37th birthday.
  • Multan: India's first win in Pakistan, and an eight-wicket performance from Kumble, including 6 for 72 in the second innings.
  • Bangalore: His last big performance on home turf. Bowling seam-up, he almost won a game that appeared to be drifting to a boring draw.
  • Delhi: There'll be a few quibbles about some of the umpiring, but 10 for 74 was an immense effort by any standards. From 96 for 0, it sent Pakistan tumbling to defeat.
  • Sydney: Remembered more for what he said after the game. He took eight wickets and scored a valiant unbeaten 45 as India sought to avoid defeat.
  • Johannesburg: The first sign that he was there to stay as a bowler. He went through 44 overs, picking up 6 for 53. No batsman really handled the quicker one that detonated off the pitch.
  • Chennai: His 6 for 64 clinched a series win against England, and perhaps laid the foundation for the Azharuddin-Wadekar strategy that would be so successful at home in the seasons that followed.
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The return in South Africa wasn't especially memorable, but as soon as the team returned to India, it was as if he had never been away. Eight wickets sent England tumbling to defeat in Mohali , and there would be over 300 more in a second coming that was to last eight seasons. With a greater emphasis on variety and more faith reposed in the googly, he wasn't quite as Scrooge-like as before, but the strike-rate was markedly better, suggesting that the new model was an improved one.

In the years that followed, he would play his part in nearly every significant Indian victory, something that he admitted gave him the most satisfaction. Unlike the 1990s, when successes arrived on designer pitches at home, the millennium version of team India won all over the world. Kumble picked up seven at Headingley, eight in Multan and four in Perth . Inevitably, for a man who finished his career with 111 wickets from 20 Tests against the best team in the world, the standout performances came against those in baggy green.

He picked up 12 wickets in Steve Waugh's farewell Test, bowling himself into the ground as India strained every sinew for the epochal series victory that never came, and there were 13 victims in Chennai in a match that was ruined by last-day rain. He picked up 7 for 48 on the opening day after Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer had emerged from the dressing room like buccaneers intent on pillage. In the second innings, he bowled Adam Gilchrist behind his legs with a googly, a dismissal that he said was one of the most satisfying of his career.

For someone who started out as a medium-pace bowler, it was almost appropriate that he took the new ball when he came out for the last time. Hayden had already pulled a long hop for four and flailed a cover-drive by the time Tendulkar took his cap for the final time to hand over to the umpire. And with his penultimate delivery, Jumbo rolled back the years. Lifting from the rough off a good length, it beat the Hayden forward push and nearly decapitated Dhoni.

That it was followed by a full toss that was smashed past him for four was almost incidental. A journey that had lasted 18 years was finally over. It spanned 132 Tests and 619 wickets, figures that might embarrass the strident critics who derided his ability when he first came into the team as an earnest and bespectacled engineering student.

After the game, there were no tears and no histrionics, just the modulated tones of a man who always put his team-mates first. "It's very tough when you've been playing for 18 years," he said with a stoic expression at the press conference. "My body gave me the decision. I didn't want to let the team down, and I thought it would be fitting to finish here."

The Kotla and Kumble will forever be entwined, in the same way that Brian Lara and St. John's and Jim Laker and Old Trafford will be. The 10-wicket haul in 1999 will always be part of the Indian-cricket highlights reel, and he didn't do too badly in his other six Tests either.

After all was said and done and the match called off, he came back out to be chaired around the ground, part of the way on the shoulders of the man who will succeed him as captain. For someone who scaled the greatest heights, it was one of the very few occasions during the 18 years when his feet actually left the ground.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Vipul on November 4, 2008, 6:30 GMT

    contd this reason that he displaced Warne to second position as my most favourite bowler.Critics argued that he is effective only on the sub continental pitches but on more than one occasion he showed that he has the ability to reinvent himself and pose some serious problems to good batsmen even on unhelpful pitches by making subtle variations in pace, developing a slower googly etc. A player's greatness should not be judged by figures alone but in his case it would be a folly to refuse to recognize it. 132 matches , 619 wickets. And in the matches where Kumble has played and we have won : 44 matches , 288 wkts at an average of 18 and strike rate of 44 deliveries per wicket. By any yardstick this figures reflect a Colossus , a Titan the Greatest Match Winner India has ever produced. In a career spanning 2 decades , earning the respect of peers as well as public it has been nothing but remarkable .Not bad for a man who could not turn the ball that much to begin with.Not bad at all.

  • Vipul on November 4, 2008, 6:28 GMT

    contd .. Kumble was not the reason that I took up leg spin to begin with. I always aspired to bowl like Warne and it was with a heavy heart that I learnt that maybe I just did not have the ability to give the ball the required rip to make the ball drift towards leg stump and suddenly break towards off after pitching. Physically also I was much more similar to Kumble than Warne and because of my 6 feet height, flight was never an option for me. It is a given that players like the Warne's , the Sachin's , the Lara's who have been blessed with an abundance of talent by the Almighty , would achieve the feats which in the end they did , cause anything less would have been a spit in the face of the Creator. Kumble belonged to the tribe of millions of ordinary mortals who have not been equally blessed but he made the most of his limited abilities with his hard work , diligence , dedication and a single minded pursuit of excellence. It is his story rather than (to be contd ...

  • Vipul on November 4, 2008, 6:20 GMT

    contd ..boundary. I used to closely follow his spell , minutely examining ball after ball but he hardly ever erred in length and line. Sure the aesthetic value of a Warne leg break easily outweighs that of a Kumble topspinner , but I am sure that any batsmen who has faced both Warne and Kumble will readily testify that a typical Kumble spell is as comfortable and pleasing as a thorough rectal examination.

    It is the curse of the bowlers lot , I suppose , that the scorecard does not reflect the dropped catches , missed stumpings and over a period of time the barbs , the snide caustic remarks of my inability to turn the ball took its toll and I quit the game. But I used to derive immense vicarious pleasure whenever Jumbo used to single handedly skittle out batting line ups for next to nothing. If India was known as the impregnable fortress in the 90's it was only because Anil was the fulcrum of a very potent attack . (to be contd ...

  • Vipul on November 4, 2008, 6:17 GMT

    contd .. wish I had listened to that sagely advice ! ). Kumble was the second leggie after Hirwani in the British tour in 90-91 and even though he had not set the Thames alight with his bowling , it was still a steady performance. My recollection about him on that tour are quite hazy and I was not surprised when he was not picked for the next series.

    He made a terrific comeback to the Indian squad after a fabulous performance at the Kotla in a Irani Match and he was selected for the SA tour in 92-93. On that tour he picked up his first 5 wkt haul on a good wicket and what struck me about his bowling was that although he was not a big turner of the ball he was certainly accurate and he had the Proteas groping in the dark. Leg spinning is an art and any decent coach will tell you that it is natural for a leggie to bowl long hops and full tosses. Even at my best I used to bowl a 2-3 loose ones in every couple of overs which were promptly dispatched to the (to be contd ..

  • Vipul on November 4, 2008, 6:15 GMT

    The Man who Could Not Turn The Ball

    I was a leggie in my playing days. It was not my first preferred vocation , as I was a medium pacer to begin with. But I was enamoured by this mystique of leg spin when a blonde chubby Victorian made his debut for Australia against India in the Sydney Test in the 91-92 series. It might not have been the most auspicious of starts as he was horribly mauled by Shastri and Sachin but still there was something about Warne's big spinning leg breaks that caught my imagination and I pursued it with a great deal of enthusiasm and energy.

    To my utter dismay I found that despite bowling for hours and hours , even though I could turn the ball a bit , it was never as prodigious and certainly not as regular as Warne's leg breaks. I was told by the seniors in my team that being a spinner who could not spin the ball much would not help the team in any way and I should go back to medium pace bowling or else I would end up being like Kumble ( how I to be contd

  • Vivek on November 4, 2008, 4:58 GMT

    I am a 1999 graduate - the same year when 'Jumbo' took all 10 wickets at Kotla. I was just staring off my career - and at the very moment I got my moment of inspiration! The unstoppable will-power, relentless accurracy and never-tiring hard work are the work ethics of Jumbo.Those tightening lips, glazing eyes, and straight chest were characteristic of him. The red cherry looked like atom bomb in his palms when he was bowling on those worn pitches.On foreign wickets, he used to use many of his different tricks to catch his preys.Two of the most memorable sites in his career - his delight when he grabbed that famous 10 for74 and the one when he bowled Brian Lara out with that broken jaw.Wicketkeeprs started wearing helmet while keeping for him. Anil - We hope to see you in the commentry box sooner or later as I believe that you can be one of the best commentators like Richie Benaud! Do you remember your quote - 'Only one team was playing cricket' - at Sydney?

  • Manoj on November 3, 2008, 13:42 GMT


    Sachin came into test cricket destined for greatness. He was wonderfully talented, everyone who saw him recognised his potential. It was a question of fufilling his potential. Anil, in contrast, came in unheralded. After his first ODI, he was hailed as a bowler who was "difficult to cart away"! Clearly noone knew how to categorise his bowling. In course of time, through sheer hardwork, determination, combative spirit and a jaw set to improve himself, Anil discovered and rediscovered his genius. If ever there is an example on the cricket field for "1% inspiration and 99% perspiration" definition to genius, it is Anil. He is a true genius who made himself all the way, knowing him, I doubt if his journey has ended, it is just taking a new turn. All of us have what it takes to become Anil, a few gifted to be a Sachin. To fulfill our potential in the way these two greats have shown us is what is really required to make "mera bharat mahan". Let us not pull one down to praise other.

  • Manoj on November 3, 2008, 13:33 GMT

    At the end of the Kotla test, a moronic cricket talk show host came up with an equally stupid topic "Who is better Anil or Sachin". This was his way to pay tributes to this gentle giant!!! Ofcourse, the show did not have the intelligence to rise to any great heights, the whole discussion was insipid and shrill.

    If at all any such comparison is to be made, let us at least look at the details. A 5 wicket haul in an innings is like a century both in the effort of its making and the perseverence required in its execution. A 10 wicket haul is like a double hundred. Sachin has 39 hundreds, Kumble has 35 5 wicket hauls. Sachin's hundreds fall away to single digits when you look at the second innings. Kumble has performed equally well in either. Kumble has more 10 wicket hauls than Sachin double hundreds. That is pure statistics. Let us look at the personality involved. (contd ..._

  • Sat on November 3, 2008, 12:20 GMT

    Respect to Kumbers on a brilliant career. Putting sentiment aside for a moment it is the right decision, in fact some would say overdue - Dhoni has the makings of a brilliant captain & in his primary role as a spinner Kumble hasnt been doing it for a while now. Its time the youngsters were given a chance. Nevertheless, one gets the feeling Kumbers will be a much bigger loss in the dressing room - Dravid & Sachin were both visibly upset during the lap of honour yesterday, staying close to Kumbers as though wishing him not to go. Whoever steps in will have big shoes to fill - Kumbers has truly been a giant of Indian cricket. After his departure & that of Ganguly one now feels Dravid will be next to call it quits

  • Vivek on November 3, 2008, 10:30 GMT

    This post is a tribute to one of the greatest soldiers to have ever graced Indian Cricket. Ever since I started following cricket as a small kid sixteen years back, the man on the TV screen remain unchanged-flipping the ball in his hands and then running in intensely to bamboozle the batsmen. My heart refuses to take in the fact that Kumble will no more enthrall the viewers and the batsmen alike with his bowling. This man was an inspiration on the field and off it. The work ethics he brought and the dedication with which he pursued his goals tirelessly are exemplary if not insurmountable. The unsung hero braved not only injuries but also unfair criticisms and bricklbats silently to propel Indian Cricket towards glory. Hope his retirement helps put things into perspective and he is accorded his due respect. Anil Kumble-take a bow. Your ardent admirer, Vivek .

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