Anil Kumble January 17, 2008

The master of nuances

Anil Kumble's 600 wickets are just rewards for a cultured practitioner of a unique art

Kumble has shown that changes in length and pace can deceive the batsman as much as turn and flight © Getty Images

It's incredible how 600 Test wickets has become a routine milestone. That Anil Kumble would get there had been apparent for a year, that he would get there so quickly in this series was perhaps not expected. When he got to 400 wickets in 2004, he had said it would be nice to get to 500. At the rate he has been going it is conceivable he joins his illustrious comrades and rivals, Shane Warne and Muthiah Muralitharan, in the 700-club.

It would be fitting, too, because Kumble belongs in their company. In their contrasting and incomparable ways these three kept the flag flying for spin bowling, that most delicate and noble of cricket arts, in an era when everything - bigger bats, shorter boundaries and the limitations of one-day cricket - conspired against slow bowlers. It is staggering that between them the holy trinity have teased, deceived and winkled out over 2000 victims. And if Murali and Kumble keep going the number could well swell to 2500. That, you can safely say, would take some beating.

Kumble has certainly been hurrying to his landmarks. The last 200 wickets have come in 40 Tests, and the only thing that would stop him, it seems, is a weakening shoulder that has speared down more 38,000 balls in 18 years and has already been under the scalpel. I chatted with one of his colleagues before this series and to him it was never a matter of faltering form or a waning of desire. It was only a matter of how many overs Kumble could squeeze out of that shoulder.

That he has been an unusual spinner has been said many times before. It has also been said, a trifle unfairly, that he is a unidimensional bowler. Palpably, he has lacked the turn of Warne and Murali, but his variety has been subtler, far more apparent to batsmen than to viewers. He has shown that not only turn and flight that can deceive the batsman but also the changes of length and pace. He has been a cultured practitioner of his unique craft and a master of nuances. How many times have batsmen gone forward to find the ball not quite there, or gone back to find it hurrying on to them? It's only in the later years of his career that umpires over the world have started declaring batsmen lbw on the front foot. Had they been more amenable to one of Kumble's most natural modes of dismissal, he may even have had a hundred more wickets by now.

He would perhaps have a few more if he didn't have to provide succour to his bowling colleagues who, for a substantial period of his career, couldn't soften up the top order as Glenn McGrath did for Warne. And with India's batting proving fragile overseas for the first 12 years of his career, he has often been pressed into damage control rather than hunting for wickets.

Only in the last five years has he had the cushion of runs and the comfort of a pace bowling attack with some teeth. It has allowed Kumble the luxury of being more expressive and experimental. He has expanded his range, looked to bowl more googlies, slow the pace down, toss the ball up bit more and take more risks than he could afford in the earlier years. The results are revealing.

His first 84 Tests yielded him 397 wickets at a strike rate of 67.1 and an economy rate of 2.52 runs an over. He has been far more generous to batsmen in the last 40 Tests, allowing them 3.04 runs an over, but the strike-rate has dipped by nearly ten points to 58.5, almost at par with Shane Warne's career-rate. His career strike-rate of over 64 is the highest among the top ten wicket-takers of all time but it must be viewed in the context of his predicament.

It was fitting in many ways that he got to his latest landmark against Australia, for he has always stood tall against these mighty opponents, claiming 105 of their wickets, 68 of which have come in the last 10 Tests. He was lion-hearted on his last tour here, claiming 24 wickets in three Tests after being ignored for the first, but he returned with the regret of not being able close out the series for India on the last day of the Sydney Test. The wicketkeeper wasn't his greatest ally that day, nor were the umpires.

Given the task of leading the county in the autumn of his career, Kumble has brought the same dignity and competitiveness that have distinguished him as a player. It was a job that should have been his by right - John Wright, India's coach for four years, often used to reflect on what India had lost by not choosing him as captain - but was ultimately granted by default. In some ways, that has been the story of Kumble's life: he has had persevere till recognition and reward could be denied no longer.

Six hundred Tests wickets were inevitable, but let this be another reason to celebrate the success of one of the greatest cricketers India has produced, and a man who has dignified his sport.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rohit on January 18, 2008, 17:42 GMT

    Congratulations jumbo! I am just proud of you. But what is sad to see is lack of recognition of the media. When warne and murali achieved the feat it covered front pages and various news channels ( including Indian channels ) But when Kumble gets it is the last info on the news channels. Its disappointing to see no one giving him the praise which he deserves. Where is the BCCI now? Not even a word of congratulations. Sad! I am sure when Sachin beats Lara's record of maximum runs there will be millions of people praising him. I am sure this record can be beaten by an Indian but i doubt if any Indian bowler can beat Jumbo's record. Look at the difference in wickets between him and Kapil and Bedi. We rarely had a good bowler and when we have one we dont even praise. India is known to be a cricket mad nation but to see very few applauding a rare feat by an Indian shows that there are few who understand the game well.

    Well done Jumbo! I am proud of you

  • James on January 18, 2008, 13:37 GMT

    Congratulations on the great achievment of 600 wickets, Even as a fanatical australian supporter i was on my feet cheering the dismissal! thankyou for the good on and off field sportsmanship from Anil kumble throughout the series. Good luck for the future and 700+ wickets

    scott, sydney

  • Kishore on January 18, 2008, 10:37 GMT

    Nice article it is, A single word for Kumble is "Worrier", He played for the country in true spirit and won the matches most then any other crickter, he is simply great. heads off to Kumble.

  • Harish on January 18, 2008, 4:47 GMT

    Sambit - a nice tribute to a great man...Kumble is much like Vishwanathan Anand, a diamond that is seen once in a lifetime. Quiet, unassuming and absolutely brilliant.

    Kumble is easily the greatest contemporary Indian cricketer. Like Cricinfo's player profile states - No other cricketer has won more matches for India.

    Little wonder that one of Bangalore's most visible and important traffic junctions is called Anil Kumble Circle.

  • Mangesh on January 18, 2008, 1:31 GMT

    Wonderful article that sums up Anil's career. Its hard to believe that for almost 18 years India's spinning attack has literally been carried on the shoulders of this great cricketer. Kudos to him and hope he will continue this juggernaut to enroll himself into the 700 club.

  • Anant on January 18, 2008, 1:06 GMT

    Kumble has been convincingly a great cricketer for the past decade and certainly turned out to be one of the greatest that the game has ever seen. Especially he has played well against the bigger names in Cricket, which shows how much quality he can produce on the field with degnity. Hats off to you Kumble

  • Ashok on January 17, 2008, 23:55 GMT

    Thank you Sambit for an excellent article. Anil is a professional in true sense of the word and a great cricketer. Compared to Sachin, Rahul and Sourav, his profile has always been a low key one, despite being their equal. Nevertheless, he achieved greatness without much occolade - Century in Test cricket, Captaincy of Indian Test Team and now 600 wickets. Above all he showed how Cricket should be played in true sportsmanship spirit even to the World Champions!. Congratulations Anil, the Cricketer and the Engineer. You showed the world that great things can be achieved even out of humility in a dignified way. Good Luck in winning the Perth Test.

  • Sridhar on January 17, 2008, 23:14 GMT

    Congratulations to Anil Kumble, the greatest bowler ever to have played for India. I was one of the several doubting thomases when he was going through a lean patch, I think during late nineties. He proved me and others wrong - he is the epitome of fierce determination. I am just so proud of him. Hope he continues to play for and lead Indian team for few more years!

  • anu on January 17, 2008, 21:12 GMT

    Congrats Kumble!!! I wish you all success and I hope you can reach the 700, 800 test wickets too.


  • Saurabh on January 17, 2008, 20:35 GMT

    sambit, every time i read your columns it feels as if someone has peeked into my mind and unraveled my thoughts in print - and done it much better than i could have thought it! congratulations to anil kumble, i really think that of all 3 men who have 600+ wickets, he deserves it the most. Gentleman cricketer, gentleman captain and now gentleman champion.

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