Anil Kumble getting his maiden Test century at The Oval in 2007 against England was a unique moment. He had a couple of opportunities before, especially in the Test against South Africa at Eden Gardens. When I walked in he was in the mid-80s but I got out and immediately he got run out on 88. He had only suggested that I "stay there", but I disappointed him. And when he got that hundred against England I was the happiest man. Undoubtedly he was a fierce competitor.
The moment for me was when Kumble came back at St John's, Antigua, with his jaw covered in bandages and bowled all those overs (14). That was courage personified. There are a lot of people who, if hit the way he was, wouldn't come back. He came back and bowled his heart out after that. As for his bowling, it was the way he adapted in Australian conditions which was special.
Kumble was my room-mate during my debut Test, against England at Edgbaston. In fact that was not the first time we were sharing a room as we'd been room-mates from the Under-19 days for Karnataka. On the eve of my debut he said, "Jo [Joshi], don't worry about anything. Just go out and perform. You are the best and that's the reason you are here." Unfortunately I suffered a broken finger and couldn't bowl through the game but even then Anil helped me retain my confidence. He was just keeping it positive and making me understand the pressure of international cricket. Those words still ring true even now and that's the reason I'm still playing first-class cricket.
I was the chairman of selectors when Anil got the record 10 wickets in an innings against Pakistan in 1999. The single most important memory was when he asked [Javagal] Srinath, who was bowling at the other end, not to worry about the record and go for the final Pakistan wicket. He just asked Srinath to finish it off. Finally Anil got it. But he never bothered about any records.
He was the Muhammad Ali of cricket. I kept to him the first ball he bowled in Test cricket. He was just awesome from the word go and he was the same all those years I kept to him, with the same attitude and the bowling style. But I will pick the game against England on an uneven Wankhede pitch. In the second innings, where he picked four wickets, he was the most dangerous bowler I'd kept to till then and even after that. He was always difficult from the third day onwards. The speed with which he bowled, the quick bounce of his top-spinners, and googlies which spat off the rough areas were really difficult to pick.
The most important moment for me was when he took 10 wickets. Why? Firstly, he was the second player to record such a feat, and secondly, he is from Karnataka. He made me proud. I always admired his personality: a strong-minded individual who was always a committed player.
It was my first day as Karnataka coach back in the 2006-07 season and we were playing Mumbai at the Wankhede stadium. Both Anil and Rahul [Dravid] were available for the first couple of games. They were pulling my leg saying, "Vijay has already retired, Venky [Venkatesh Prasad] has already retired, and both of them are coaches now but we are still playing." On our return to Bangalore, before our second game, Anil called up to check if it was fine to get a 16-year-old legspinner as a net bowler. I just laughed. I told him he didn't need to call me to get permission. But he knew the coach was important and didn't want to break protocol, so he wanted to check. He could've straightaway taken the decision himself because of his stature. He is a guy who gave importance to each and every detail.
Taking three wickets [in his final Test] with an injured hand spoke volumes about his commitment. He was the gentle giant of the cricketing world. Anil Kumble with the ball and Anil Kumble were two different people. With the ball he was a terror and without it he was a soft-spoken, well-mannered and truly lovable character. His commitment, his never-say-die attitude and his determination are hard to emulate. Cricket has always been about timing and again Anil got it absolutely right, even in his farewell moment.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo