India's greatest match-winner
Eighteen years, 132 Test matches, 40,850 deliveries, 619 wickets. Those are incredible numbers, and they belong to India's greatest match-winner. Anil Kumble finishes his career as the third-highest wicket-taker in Tests, and easily the highest among all Indians.
His last year in Test cricket wasn't the greatest (28 wickets at an average of 51.07), but it also meant he ended his career with stats which are remarkably similar to India's greatest fast bowler and allrounder, Kapil Dev. Kumble had 185 more wickets though he played only one more Test than Kapil, but the difference in average was a miniscule 0.005, which, when rounded off to two decimal places, means Kumble and Kapil finished with exactly the same bowling average. Kapil's strike-rate is better by just two balls, while Kumble has more five and ten-wicket hauls, largely because he bowled more overs per Test than Kapil did.
Where Kumble stands head and shoulders above the other Indian bowlers is in his contribution to team wins. He took 288 wickets in the 43 Tests India won - an average of 6.70 wickets per Test. The average was a remarkable 18.75, at a strike rate of 44.4 deliveries per wicket. Harbhajan Singh, who is next in line in terms of wickets, only has 153. Kumble's average in wins is only marginally bettered by Kapil Dev, Bishan Bedi and Erapalli Prasanna among Indian bowlers with at least 50 wickets in wins.
Kumble's value to the Indian team can be gleaned from the percentage of team wickets he took. In the 132 Tests he played, Kumble took almost 31% of India's wickets; at home it rose to 35.07%, but even overseas his share of wickets was as high as Kapil's.
Kumble's share of wickets in team wins was an outstanding 34.37%, which means he took a touch more than one in every three wickets. For Kapil, the percentage of wickets in India's wins was only 19.31, largely due to the fact that 20 of the 24 wins that he was part of came at home, when spinners did much of the bowling.
|Kumble's share||619 (30.72%)||29.65|
|India at home||998||30.26|
|Kumble's share||350 (35.07%)||24.88|
|Kumble's share||269 (26.45%)||35.85|
|Kumble's share||288 (34.37%)||18.75|
|Kapil's share||434 (25.09%)||29.65|
|India at home||931||30.40|
|Kapil's share||219 (23.52%)||26.49|
|Kapil's share||215 (26.91%)||32.85|
|Kapil's share||90 (19.31%)||18.30|
Critics have often pointed at Kumble's away record as a proof that he wasn't a complete bowler, and while that criticism is partly justified, there were several factors that led to Kumble's poor overseas numbers: the Indian batting often came undone when India played in conditions favouring seam and swing, and with few runs to play with, Kumble's role was often limited to that of damage control, where he bowled with defensive fields and looked to stem the runs. When the batsmen started performing more consistently abroad, Kumble's numbers improved significantly too.
The shift happened from the England tour of 2002, when Rahul Dravid started his golden run at No. 3, producing several match-winning efforts overseas. With Sachin Tendulkar scoring consistently, and VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly contributing as well, Kumble had enough runs to play with. It helped that during this period he added more variety to his bowling, bringing in the slower legbreak and the googly, and the difference in stats thereafter was significant.
|Matches before||Wickets||Average||Matches afterWickets||Average|
|In South Africa||9||31||35.32||3||14||24.71|
|In West Indies||7||22||34.09||4||23||28.60|
In terms of numbers, Kumble's record is poorer than Muralitharan's and Warne's, but to an Indian team struggling to find penetrative bowlers, his presence was immense. And he does have one milestone that neither of his two spin contemporaries could achieve - a Test century, which he managed at The Oval last year.
That knock also fetched him his ninth Man-of-the-Match award in Tests. A tenth followed in Delhi later that year against Pakistan, and while he couldn't achieve a hat-trick of awards at the Feroz Shah Kotla - he had won the prize there in 2005 as well - it was utterly fitting that he bowled his last ball at a ground which has been kinder to him than any other - 58 wickets wickets at 16.79, including that one performance by which India's greatest match-winner will always be remembered.
S Rajesh is the stats editor, and Mathew Varghese is sub-editor (stats) at Cricinfo.