Kumble leaves in the spotlight
It was so unlike Kumble.
Kumble is not the man for the spotlight; an undemonstrative trier, he has won India matches like it's everyday business. He has turned up and given 100% day in and day out for 18 years. And for every single day of his career, it has all been about India, not about Anil Kumble.
And yet, in his last Test, after we knew the game was drawn, he stole eight overs for the spotlight. Eight overs when cricket would be in the background, and only Kumble would matter. Eight overs when, perhaps for the first time, he would show emotion on the field.
He knew last night his body had given up on him but he waited till he knew the match had been saved. He then conveyed his decision to his team-mates one by one, before finding the chairman of selectors. And then he declared the innings closed - runs and leads didn't matter. Some other day he would have chosen to grind Australia more, tire them more. Today it was about Kumble, and who could grudge him that?
So he walked out for one last time. His team-mates were there to give him a guard of honour. Behind them stood a horde of photographers and cameramen who in normal circumstances wouldn't be allowed on the playing area. But this was hardly normal. For, how many times would one see Kumble fighting to keep emotions in check, and still lose out?
Out he came, his left hand heavily strapped, his emotions on edge. He took off his cap in acknowledgement of the reception and got down to business, to bowling. Billy Bowden, who took the cap from him, shook his hand before they could start, as did Matthew Hayden and Simon Katich.
The PA system at the Kotla announced the declaration so that Kumble could bowl the last few overs, and asked the sparse crowd to show their love. And once he walked out, the crowd certainly didn't seem small. "Jumbo, jumbo" chants were heard throughout. They improvised on the "Aussie Aussie Aussie, oi oi oi", changing it to "Jumbo jumbo jumbo, Oye oye oye".
After finishing his overs, he walked towards mid-on, and waved to the crowd, a rare display of emotion on the field. The crowd got louder at every such signal, reminding one of Sachin Tendulkar's response, when asked about the small crowd that had come to see him breaking the world record in Mohali: "It's the quality, and not the quantity that matters."
Yet it was so like Kumble.
|He was still desperate for one more wicket before he went. Had he got it, he would have been desperate for one more. Every ball he bowled was meant to get him a wicket: the story of his life|
His first ball was an accurate slider, hurrying Hayden into a defensive stroke. He was still desperate for one more wicket before he went. Had he got it, he would have been desperate for one more. He changed angles, he went over the wicket, round the wicket, then back over, and then round again. Every time he came close to beating the batsmen, his arms went up in the air. Every ball he bowled was meant to get him a wicket: the story of his life.
When he went to bowl his last over, Tendulkar took the cap from him to give it to Bowden. It's so like them. Remember the Kotla Test in 1999, when Tendulkar insisted he hand Kumble's cap over to the umpire because that would bring him wickets? Kumble would later say: "When he took the cap he said, 'I'll do it this one last time'. It all started here in 1999, when he started taking the cap and said, 'You'll get a wicket in this over'. And it has continued till today. Unfortunately I didn't get a wicket in the last over."
Hayden felt he was a part of the drama. So he contributed too, pulling out when Kumble was in his delivery stride. Kumble turned back, ran in to bowl again, and bowled a gentle fulltoss which Hayden drove to the straight boundary. Perhaps the emotion was behind it, but then again he needed to prove - before he went - that he was human. His penultimate ball, though, was a Jumbo, one that kicked and jumped up from a fullish length.
Bowden went up to him, handed him his cap and shook his hand again. Ditto Hayden. Amit Mishra came up to hug him; the baton was perhaps being passed. And then he was swarmed by his team-mates. Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan lifted him and after a while it was clear he was not comfortable with all that. Dravid and VVS Laxman tried it again before Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the strongest man in the team, took over the job alone and lifted Kumble on his shoulders. But Kumble was not happy; he wanted to walk on his favourite turf, soak it in one last time.
Not a person in the ground could stay seated through the farewell; they could sense a very important part of their lives going away. Kumble would have felt the same but, save a few emotional moments, he handled it with dignity and with equanimity. It was so like Anil Kumble.