Anil Kumble December 12, 2008

Exemplary to the end

He may have been the least successful of the great modern trio, but his worth ought to be measured by how he raised the bar for Indian spin

Kumble broke the mould for legspinners © AFP

The retirement of Anil Kumble was the second exit among what has arguably been the greatest trio of spinners to have played the game. He will be remembered for generations to come, having left a wonderful legacy.

Personally, I am extremely fortunate to have played in the era of Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne and Anil Kumble, true greats all. They varied in style, technique, turn, and tactics, but what they had in common was that they made an impact on the game and influenced its very fabric.

Of the three, Anil may have been last in the final wickets tally, but he was by no means less important than the other two. Ever since his glorious and heady entrance into Test cricket - he claimed 99 wickets in his first 20 Tests from 1990 to 1994 - expectations were high. Unlike many others who sparkled initially, burnt incandescently, or flickered and died with time, Kumble burned brighter and ever stronger.

He was not a classical legspinner by any means, and didn't have the slightly round-arm delivery arc, massive spin, and curved flight that deceives the batsman in the air and off the wicket, all tools of the traditional legspinner. Attack through flight and guile was not Anil's way. His style was more physical, direct and aggressive.

A tall man with a gangly run-up and a high-arm action, he bowled at a very quick pace, almost like a medium-pacer, and imparted more top spin than side spin. He rushed batsmen into playing their strokes, and frequently surprised them by getting the ball to skid towards them faster than they anticipated.

He relished attacking the stumps directly. His relentless accuracy and incredible stamina ensured there was no respite at all. Every delivery, he was aiming to burst through your defences or hit you on the pads. Once the batsman narrowed his focus to defending his stumps or avoiding an lbw, he was vulnerable to the slow, flighted legbreak.

Kumble was at his deadliest on a skiddy, low pitch or a crumbling wicket. On those tracks he could effectively use the variations in bounce. On most wickets he could get incredible bounce thanks to his height and biting turn. The energy and venom of his bowling at such times demanded batsmen and wicketkeepers wore helmets.

Many are the times that Sri Lanka prepared to face Kumble in a one-day international or a Test match, and we discussed the merits of playing him like a medium-pacer. The plan was to use the bat as much as possible. With time we learned to become more aggressive against him, using attack as the best form of defence.

In this regard, the likes of Aravinda de Silva, Mahela Jayawardene and Matthew Hayden played him superbly. Like his friend Murali, Kumble didn't like it when runs came easily off his bowling, and by pushing him on to the defensive it could become easier to survive.

Kumble evolved his strategies with time. His tactics from the early days, of bowling fast and straight and bursting through the defences of the batsman, were refined. He adapted to various conditions. His stock delivery was mixed in with slower legbreaks and a flighted or faster googly, which was signalled by the raised little finger of the bowling hand just before delivery. He also started to move his angle of delivery more often - and to great effect; he was unafraid to go round the wicket to left-handers and right-handers, to exploit the rough and the possibilities that a different line offered.

Attack through flight and guile was not Anil's way. His style was more physical, direct and aggressive

Anil was quite a cerebral cricketer, always thinking, talking to himself, reminding himself to stay ahead of the game. His intelligence and hardworking attitude shone through in his captaincy, especially during the last series in Australia, and also in India's first home win against Pakistan for 27 years, in 2007.

Some have argued that his captaincy style could sometimes be too defensive. However, considering he inherited the leadership after his 37th birthday, his tenure was too short for us to be able to pass fair judgment on his leadership skills. Had he more time in the job, with his intellectual capacity, unquestionable integrity and good personal skills, it seems like he would have been a fine leader.

Anil's greatest contribution to Indian cricket in my mind was not his superb on-field exploits - most memorably the ten wickets in an innings he claimed against Pakistan in Delhi - but the fact that he pushed an entire generation of Indian spinners out of their comfort zones, forcing them all to improve every day in order to have any chance of breaking into the national side. His example laid down a challenge to his fellow spinners that enriched Indian cricket.

Leaving aside his skill and work ethic - another similarity he shares with Murali - his mental strength was inspiring. He followed a courageous path, playing through injury, criticism, and enormous pressure. He understood only too well that he had a responsibility to millions of Indian cricket followers, and demanded complete commitment from his team.

He is a true gentleman, a wonderful role model and a great cricketer. I will miss his irritated muttering and chuntering from the non-striker's end. I will miss the battles we have shared over the years. I will always be grateful for having had the privilege to share the field with this living legend.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Srinivasa on December 14, 2008, 9:57 GMT

    Sanga , a very excellent article indeed . Two of the "greatest spin trio" ever to have played have hung their boots and it is really paining but all good things have to end and we can say that we all are very lucky to have watched all the three . The fact that Kumble has taken more wickets in matches won by India goes to establish the fact that he was India's matchwinner for a long time . A very brave and gutsy cricketer and more than anything else a true gentleman . Nice guys dont finish on the top always as it was the case with Anil also . What ever said and done Kumble's exit has left a big hole in the Indian spin bowling department which will take many years to be filled up .

  • DON on December 13, 2008, 8:14 GMT

    Another wonderful Article from a great lefthander. Anil is one of the role models and showed the world the way that one has to be extremely aggressive without been "wild". Great example for Gambihar, Zak, Irfan,Sree and even to Baji as with the emergence of them has created a attitude which couldn't be expected from a sportsman, specially an Asian based. Anil, Sachine, Rahul, Murali are great ambassadors and modern heroes like Shewag, Kumar, Mahela have exactly followed the correct foot path of them. I could remember great advise given by kumar to Gambihar in Sri Lanka "Learn to work when you edge", which showed by him earlier by an example during IPL semifinal. Briefly with the deteriorating qualities of New Indian Block have given more values to greats like Anil at present. Well done Anil

  • Jude on December 13, 2008, 1:37 GMT

    I love sanga's article and Sri Lankan cricket's true sportsmanship. However, I feel that this is one of the reasons why Sri Lanka could not do well against Australians (who are still the best team - but I think India will achieve that position soon). In my personal view, SriLankans have to put in more aggressiveness in cricket to win more games. That's said, hats off to the master spinner Anil Kumble and I always admire his way of playing batsmen.

  • Mohamed on December 12, 2008, 14:52 GMT

    Hi Sanga, i would like to thank you for your column in cricinfo. U give such gud articles and make me think how gud a player u r? The best thing abt u, is u dont shy in both praising or pointing out the mistakes of a player. As u hav said kumble is a fighter. How could some body forget his few over with banded head in Antigua. He was great in commitment. He is such a gud fighter and a tremendous character. above all he is gentle cricketer.

  • Imran on December 12, 2008, 14:44 GMT

    Sanga similar to Ranga-Sydney I too am confused. Not sure if I enjoy you more as the champion cricketer that you, are or the incisive and insighful writer that you appear to be. Whats more your writing seems to be improving each time - another quality you seem to have adapted from your cricket. Leads me to the conclusion that you are a very intelligent, cerebral and accute individual whose dual talents I look forward to enjoying for a long time yet. I think Michael Atherton has been de-throned and Mike Bearly will be too as well.

    On the field I have always admired how you perform your role as vice captain especially as you know you might just be a better captain than Mahela. However he is a fine one in his own right and you being the man you are perform your role to its best value add capacity. Always thought your sledging was hilarious and a sign of a smart man, now am sure.

    So along with Dhoni heres hoping you defect to Pakistani nationality, if not then pls continue to delight

  • Dimuthu on December 12, 2008, 14:32 GMT

    Nice one Sanga. Count me in as another Lankan who has tremendous respect for Mr. Kumble the cricketer, but arguably more for Mr Kumble the gentleman! Geography means nothing when you have the privilege of viewing (or in your case, also playing against) true talent. The SL players have more often than not handled this man's bowling quite well, but it was still a sight to see the likes of de Silva and Ranatunga , then later yourself, Mahela et al battling it out against him. As a neutral I was particularly impressed with the way he handled the aforementioned Australia series (esp THAT Sydney test). Anil Kumble the statesman emerged from it unscathed. World cricket is poorer with his retirement, and now only Murali remains from this golden age of spin bowling! No more harpoons :) only the yoyo

  • kapil on December 12, 2008, 14:21 GMT

    Yes Anil will be remebered for generations to come for his scarcely seen never-to-say-die attitude. Jumbo was a true fighter on the field. Remember his maiden century, crushing entire Pak side at Kotla or bowling with crakced jaw and then getting Lara. He was the last samurai carrying the legacy of spinning quartet of India. Whenever India was in trouble on field, Jumbo was thre for the last two decades. Thanks Anil bhai. Surely, Harbhajan is there but he has to win some more matches for India. But will anyone win such ample number of mathces as Anil did. Let's see who'll be the next? Nice article Sanga..

  • Sarith on December 12, 2008, 9:20 GMT

    I love the part where Sanga writes "slower legbreaks and a flighted or faster googly, which was signalled by the 'raised little finger' of the bowling hand just before delivery".

  • Tharindu on December 12, 2008, 8:52 GMT

    Kumar I love your tribute articles but why not write about any new zealanders, west indians, south africans or even english cricketers?

  • Andrew on December 12, 2008, 8:34 GMT

    Dear Mr Sangakkara - let me echo Ranga_Sydney's comment. Fantastic to hear from a bloke who has played against all these greats, and who is an emerging great himself. Riveting reading.

    Keep up the good work on and off the field - and very belated congrats on your outstanding efforts Down Under last year. You're one of the best bats to watch (and one of the best bats, full stop) in the world. Come back soon!

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