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
17



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

  • jumbo 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_auzi 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

  • Karpentar 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.

  • Farce-Follower 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.

  • mangeshd 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.

  • crick8mania 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

  • Nampally 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.P 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!

  • anureddy102 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.

    Anu.

  • saurabh.somani 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.

  • jumbo 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_auzi 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

  • Karpentar 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.

  • Farce-Follower 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.

  • mangeshd 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.

  • crick8mania 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

  • Nampally 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.P 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!

  • anureddy102 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.

    Anu.

  • saurabh.somani 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.

  • Raman01 on January 17, 2008, 19:05 GMT

    Kumble is certainly one of the finest cricketers in the modern era and has won more matches for India than his more illustrious and glamorous batsmen. He is probably the most underrated cricketer ever. Congratulations to Kumble and hope he joins Murali and Warne asap.

  • Naresha on January 17, 2008, 18:52 GMT

    Nice article as always, Sambit. It is sad, but entirely in keeping with the script that another great milestone passed by Kumble has gone virtually unnoticed. I can remember the feet of newsprint devoted to Warne and Murali when they neared, and eventually passed 600 and 700 - with tributes from all and sundry. Even on the field, it was sad to see that most of the spectators in the crowd only realised that Kumble had gotten to 600 after he held up his hand to acknowledge their non-existent applause. Because of the efforts of those two worthy champions, it is perhaps no longer a big deal to get 600!

    Enough of negatives - Kumble has truly exploited the "other" dimensions to spin bowling - length and pace. Hats off to a wonderful cricketer!

  • WikiCrick on January 17, 2008, 18:33 GMT

    Kumble rocks! Not just for getting 600 wickets but getting them with dignity, humility and not even a whiff of controversy unlike Shane Warne who may be remembered more for his off-field antics and Muralitharan who may be remembered for lingering doubts about his bowling action. Laxman, Rahul Dravid and most importantly, Anil Kumble have always shown that nice guys do not necessarily finish last.

  • rajeshtom on January 17, 2008, 18:11 GMT

    The Unsung heroe of Indian cricket. Has never got the accolades due to him. The Indian Public has never been enamoured by him like Sachin, Rahul , Soaurav or even like Harbhajan. But he has soldiered on gamely taking all the seloctorial insults without even a murmur. A game fighter one cannot forget the day in the West Indies he bowled 14 overs with a broken jaw and he got Lara with a beauty. A fighter to the core and a game trier. One wishes we had more lik him in India. One wishes him all teh best and may he win many more matches for India.

  • Amosa on January 17, 2008, 18:01 GMT

    Completely in agreement with Sambit. His line "In some ways, that has been the story of Kumble's life: he has had to persevere till recognition and reward could be denied no longer " is perhaps sums up his career. What a Captain he has turned out to be. Wonder why he was not made the captain before the appointment of Tendulkar the very first time.

  • PratUSA on January 17, 2008, 17:50 GMT

    Congratulations Anil. You have been a great ambassador of the game and your country. Wish we see more of your kind but before that hope to see you on Cricket fields for few more years.

  • mehul1978 on January 17, 2008, 16:56 GMT

    Brilliant article for a brilliant man. Kumble has been one of the most quietest and genuine superstars over the years not getting as much media attention as the others. It is good to see him getting his 600th wicket as the captain of the team. In an ideal world, I would like Kumble never to retire. Hope he gets another 100-150 wickets before he calls it a day, well played Sir!

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  • mehul1978 on January 17, 2008, 16:56 GMT

    Brilliant article for a brilliant man. Kumble has been one of the most quietest and genuine superstars over the years not getting as much media attention as the others. It is good to see him getting his 600th wicket as the captain of the team. In an ideal world, I would like Kumble never to retire. Hope he gets another 100-150 wickets before he calls it a day, well played Sir!

  • PratUSA on January 17, 2008, 17:50 GMT

    Congratulations Anil. You have been a great ambassador of the game and your country. Wish we see more of your kind but before that hope to see you on Cricket fields for few more years.

  • Amosa on January 17, 2008, 18:01 GMT

    Completely in agreement with Sambit. His line "In some ways, that has been the story of Kumble's life: he has had to persevere till recognition and reward could be denied no longer " is perhaps sums up his career. What a Captain he has turned out to be. Wonder why he was not made the captain before the appointment of Tendulkar the very first time.

  • rajeshtom on January 17, 2008, 18:11 GMT

    The Unsung heroe of Indian cricket. Has never got the accolades due to him. The Indian Public has never been enamoured by him like Sachin, Rahul , Soaurav or even like Harbhajan. But he has soldiered on gamely taking all the seloctorial insults without even a murmur. A game fighter one cannot forget the day in the West Indies he bowled 14 overs with a broken jaw and he got Lara with a beauty. A fighter to the core and a game trier. One wishes we had more lik him in India. One wishes him all teh best and may he win many more matches for India.

  • WikiCrick on January 17, 2008, 18:33 GMT

    Kumble rocks! Not just for getting 600 wickets but getting them with dignity, humility and not even a whiff of controversy unlike Shane Warne who may be remembered more for his off-field antics and Muralitharan who may be remembered for lingering doubts about his bowling action. Laxman, Rahul Dravid and most importantly, Anil Kumble have always shown that nice guys do not necessarily finish last.

  • Naresha on January 17, 2008, 18:52 GMT

    Nice article as always, Sambit. It is sad, but entirely in keeping with the script that another great milestone passed by Kumble has gone virtually unnoticed. I can remember the feet of newsprint devoted to Warne and Murali when they neared, and eventually passed 600 and 700 - with tributes from all and sundry. Even on the field, it was sad to see that most of the spectators in the crowd only realised that Kumble had gotten to 600 after he held up his hand to acknowledge their non-existent applause. Because of the efforts of those two worthy champions, it is perhaps no longer a big deal to get 600!

    Enough of negatives - Kumble has truly exploited the "other" dimensions to spin bowling - length and pace. Hats off to a wonderful cricketer!

  • Raman01 on January 17, 2008, 19:05 GMT

    Kumble is certainly one of the finest cricketers in the modern era and has won more matches for India than his more illustrious and glamorous batsmen. He is probably the most underrated cricketer ever. Congratulations to Kumble and hope he joins Murali and Warne asap.

  • saurabh.somani 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.

  • anureddy102 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.

    Anu.

  • Sridhar.P 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!