A smile, a rare expression of happiness, broke through the usually stony facade of Kumble at the mention of the milestone. "It is a great feeling. To think back, I started in 1990 and to have got this far," he said. "It definitely helps your confidence. It shows your sustained kind of performance at international level. It acts as a motivational factor."
Of current Indian cricketers, only Sachin Tendulkar with 124 Tests has played more matches than Kumble. Tendulkar himself will be equalling Sunil Gavaskar's tally of 125 matches. Kapil Dev, the former allrounder, has the most matches for an Indian, 131.
When he steps on to the Feroze Shah Kotla ground this weekend, Kumble will be on par with Mohammad Azharuddin, his former captain, who played in 99 Tests. "The team knows what I am capable of," he added during a team practice at the Palam ground on Thursday. "I have the respect of the team and the opponents as well, and the adulation I have received has been tremendous. So I have no qualms."
Kumble typically played down any suggestion of disappointment at having remained backstage throughout his long career. "I think it has got to do with the media. As a cricketer I have to perform, I have a job to do," said Kumble, 35. "I look at it as a profession and try to do best what I can. People writing and speaking about it is not in my control."
Kumble will have happy memories of this ground. The Kotla is the venue where he became only the second bowler in the history of the game to claim all 10 wickets in an innings, against Pakistan in 1999. However, Kumble politely dismissed any talk about attempting a repeat of the feat over the next five days. "It is the people who have been talking about the 10 wickets. Not myself or the team. As a cricketer we know it happens once in a lifetime," he said. "I don't think I have gone with that in my mind into any match. It is a good feeling, I don't deny that. And I know that the expectations are high and hopefully I will live upto that."
Kumble also said that a combination of factors have made things difficult for the slow bowler in modern cricket. "No matter what you do, there is lot of pressure at the international level. Even before you bowl the first ball, a debutant knows what you are going to do. He has studied your leg spinner, top spinner, what angle you are going to bowl. There is so much one gets to know from the media. The challenge is to adapt."
He added that it was not correct to say the present lot were better than those of the past merely because they have pushed the benchmark higher. "I don't think you can judge different eras. There have been better performers before. What you have to look at is the standards in that scenario, we have to judge them on the standards of that era." Kumble felt that whatever change that Indian cricket has gone through in recent times was for the good.
"You need different ideas and different people if you need to change. Change has been good. Having been there for 15 years, whatever happens, I have learnt to take it positively and focus on improving my game and better my performance."
Commenting on the rain-marred first Test at Chennai that lasted less than a day and a half, Kumble said Sri Lanka deserved credit for the way they played on the last day. He did add, however, that it was not a true indicator of the strengths of the two teams. "You should not read too much into what happened in Chennai. The groundsmen did a great job to get the match started. The whole city was under water, and to have a match in that situation takes a lot of hard work."