Top Performer - Anil Kumble

A ton for Jumbo

Anil Kumble was in the thick of things again - this time with bat in hand. By Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

August 15, 2007

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Old dog, new tricks: Kumble gets his first hundred at last © Getty Images

Anil Kumble isn't the prettiest batsman in town, nor the most prolific, but there can be few more popular centurions in Test history. In his 118th Test, on his last lap in England, he crowned himself India's oldest first-time centurion. The sagely turtle had stormed ahead of the younger hares in one of his final races.

It has long been believed that Kumble hasn't fulfilled his potential as a lower-order batsman. He began promisingly, notching up good scores at the Under-19 level, but couldn't carry the momentum on to the higher levels.

Kumble brings to his batting the same cussedness that he shows with the ball, always battling away. He could be relied upon to hang around - remember Ahmedabad in 1996 when he and VVS Laxman shared a match-winning partnership?

Here he rose above himself and his more illustrious team-mates. While none of India's top-order batsmen reached three figures in the series, Kumble sneaked a hundred in his final opportunity. It was an innings that brought out various aspects of his batting. The ungainly defensive prod played its part, as did the wild flash outside off stump. When he walked in, the match was secure but he stamped the watertight seal.

Kumble is not a bunny by any means, not one to back away from a short one. It's tough to get him out, simply because he doesn't flinch. What he lacks in technique, he makes up for with mental toughness. In Jamaica last year on a Sabina Park snakepit he supported Rahul Dravid in his bid to win the series. As the rest of the top order crumbled, Kumble stood firm. It was over-my-dead-body material.

The pitch at The Oval was far more benign, the team situation more secure. But Kumble came with a similar bloody-mindedness: when on top, trample them. England had already been exhausted by the top order; now Kumble was flogging them. Tailenders rubbing salt into wounds are among the worst humiliations for a fielding team - not only are you facing a hopeless situation, you're being laughed at.

Kumble brought out the whole range. Cover-drives were rasped on one knee, glides threaded the gap between slips and gully. He jumped down against spin and angled his bat against pace. Michael Vaughan was tearing his hair out: first he puts in an extra gully, then he sees the ball go finer.

Kumble then troubled England with the ball, although he couldn't finish them off on the final day. Vaughan fell to a classical legspinner's set-up (the googly slipped in between legbreaks) in the first innings, and he was foxed at what may have turned out to be a crucial moment on the final day, only for Rahul Dravid to floor a regulation chance. It would have been the 50th instance of a "c Dravid b Kumble" entry in the scorebook, and might have opened up the floodgates for an Indian win.

Later in the session Kumble fumed when Pietersen got in his way as he tried to field a ball off his own bowling, and needed a cooling down from the umpire and Dravid. It showed how badly he wanted the win. He frowned when Ian Bell pocketed four fours in an over near the end but got his reward a few overs later, trapping Bell with a slider.

It was Kumble who delivered the last ball of the Test, providing the final touch to an unforgettable draw. None would grudge him his Man-of-the-Match award.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo

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