Kumble perseveres through pain
When people think of Anil Kumble's indomitable spirit, they usually hark back to Antigua (2002) and the broken jaw. In some ways though, the best example of his refusal to give up came 18 months later, in Australia. Though an order of preference had never been announced, Harbhajan Singh had unofficially held premier-spinner status since his 32-wicket heroics against Australia in 2001. At the Gabba, Kumble watched from the dressing room, often with camera in hand, as Harbhajan endured a miserable Test match.
Less than a week later, he was on the field at the Adelaide Oval , with Harbhajan having decided to go under the knife for a finger injury. In his only previous tour of Australia, a poorly selected and incompetent Indian side had used him primarily as a stock bowler and his five wickets at 90 apiece had provided a convenient stick for critics to beat him with. Devastating on more responsive pitches at home, he had been negated by an Australian team that appeared intent on playing him as a slow-medium bowler.
On that opening day in Adelaide, Australia piled up 400 for 5. Kumble bowled 34 of the 90 overs, finishing with unflattering figures of 1 for 116. The home thoroughbred had once again been utilised as a carthorse away from home, and there must have been a few who wondered if he regretted Harbhajan getting injured. To lose heart though is not the Kumble way, and on the second afternoon, he picked up four wickets to restrict Australia to 556. It was to prove the springboard for one of the unlikeliest of Test triumphs.
Given his previous record at the Feroz Shah Kotla , it would have taken a severe injury to keep Kumble away. On the third afternoon, he suffered just that, and needed 11 stitches for a gash on the little finger of his left hand. He didn't emerge on the fourth morning, leaving Mahendra Singh Dhoni in charge for the first hour of play. But as soon as he ran on to the field after the first drinks break, the ball was in his hand.
There was no headline-grabbing ten-wicket haul, or even a five-for. But after Michael Clarke and Shane Watson had shown some signs of dominating against Amit Mishra, Kumble shut the scoring down. There was no prodigious turn, and only the occasional glimpse of the Jumbo, the delivery that used to take off so disconcertingly from a good length. But despite clearly being in some discomfort from the unwieldy contraption strapped to his left hand, he went through his repertoire, probing away for the mistakes that were interminably slow to arrive.
Kumble varied his run-up and tried going round the wicket to spear the ball into the rough. By the time Brad Haddin had a touch too much of the morning sun and gave him the charge, Kumble's first wicket of the series had become something like the quest for the Holy Grail. It was the fifth ball of the 75th over he had bowled since Bangalore, eclipsing even the 66.2 overs he had to wait for a breakthrough in Sri Lanka.
Numbers though shouldn't be used to judge Kumble on a day like today. The wickets that followed were almost incidental, with Australia having more or less assured that they couldn't lose the game. Brett Lee would have been quite miffed to be given out to one that struck him high on the pad, but there was no questioning Kumble's commitment when it came to the return catch that ended the innings.
By then, he had bowled 26.3 overs in the day, conceding only 59 runs. By his usual Kotla standards, it was a middling return. But given his recent travails, it was a pretty strong statement from a man who usually prefers to convey his messages on the field with ball in hand. Even if he doesn't play at Nagpur, there's an awful lot that Amit Mishra and so many others can learn from the man who just keeps coming back.