Days of our Lives!

November 3, 2008

Farewell Jumbo

Filed under: Sports,Top Draws — Santhosh @ 11:30 AM

It is said that the memory span of the average Indian cricket fan is three balls, six if it happens to be about Sachin. In Anil Kumble’s case, that may not be such a bad thing after all. A year back, the last ball he bowled in one-day cricket was a Jumbo rocket. Bermuda’s Malachi Jones stood stupefied – better batsmen have suffered worse – as the ball pitched in line, hurried inexorably on, and crashed into pad, trapping him plumb in front. Yesterday, the penultimate ball he bowled in Test cricket was also a quintessential Kumble special – it pitched on middle and leg, kicked up from a length from the rough, climbing past a bemused Hayden and a helmet-protected Dhoni had to fend it off his head. It made everyone forget the last few games, the worn shoulder, the tired fingers, the cut webbing, the relentless media scrutiny, the shocking wickets columns, the bite off the pitch evident by its absence.

His career can be divided into three parts – that wintry day in Manchester in 1990 to till his rotator cuff gave way in 2000, from 2001 to 2003-04 and from 2004 to 2008. Kumble spent 339 days in surgery, post-operative care, physiotherapy and rehabilitation. When he came back in 2001, he had lost his most dangerous weapon – his flipper. His reset shoulder just couldn’t generate the zip it once had, the ball didn’t grip as much, the wickets came slower. He still bowled accurately, still was as determined and willing, but he had turned from lethal and unplayable to merely threatening and respected. Between 2001 and 2004 he was in the wilderness. Bhajji was the spinner of choice for ODIs and Kumble played only when two spinners were required in a Test. And then he fought back, reinventing himself like not many before him have to set off on his most productive run yet. It started in Adelaide when Bhajji was injured and he got his break. Over the series, he once again became India’s premier spinner and with India’s batting starting to run up scores overseas also, he started clearing his CV of sporadic blemishes – wickets overseas, series wins, a Test Century even. Therein lies his USP – humble enough to accept change, determined enough to never give up, willing enough to reinvent himself.

A lot of my memories of cricket while growing up involve Kumble – he just seemed to always be bowling if India was. In the 90s, at a time when Kumble was sometimes the fastest bowler in the side, with Venkatesh Prasad at Mid On and Navjot Singh Sidhu at Cover to call as fielders, when our bowlers used to push the speed barrier only in getting back to their short run-ups, it was Kumble who so often kept us in the match. Back then, he was relentless, pinning the batsmen down with fast deliveries, working them over, drying up the runs, building the pressure, denying them the chance to attack for fear that the ball might skid or leap, that the temptation was a trap. He was accurate, relentless, and mean and hated giving away runs. His top-spinners bounced more than anybody else’s, his googlies spat off the rough, his flippers screamed through to the stumps when the bat was still coming down.

We could almost plot the batsman’s dismissal ourselves when Jumbo was setting them up. Four deliveries pitched up to draw him forward, with a top-spinner thrown in to keep Silly Point interested. The fifth would be the flipper – fast, straight, pitched on a length and skidding in, the batsman caught on his back foot, his mind willing his bat to come down faster. It seldom did.

He never caught the imagination of the world along the lines of Warne and Murali, something similar to the way we now feel about Ponting – good, but never to be spoken in the same breath as Sachin and Lara. He was the top wicket-taker in the 1996 World Cup, outperforming Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan in the subcontinent. He has claimed more LBW victims in Test history than anyone. He’s got wickets all over the world, including a tenner. And yet… Maybe it was because he didn’t burst on to the scene but rather slowly imposed himself on the game. Maybe it was because he debuted as just another spinner during an age when India had world-class exponents by the dozen. Maybe because his bowling didn’t have the natural beauty of a spinner like Mishra over the last week and Warnie for years, have. The ball was never thrown up, it never had that drift in the air towards the batsman’s legs to grip the surface and spit and turn past the batsman’s bat. He had his own methods and with the precision of a surgeon, set to work with his tools. Like he said, “The difference between the middle of the bat and the edge is one inch.”

We were with him when his 6 for 12 ran through the Windies in the midst of the torches that 100,000 Kolkatans held aloft at the Eden Gardens; when he and Srinath won us that Titan Cup match against Australia in their hometown, with their mothers screaming and cheering at the Chinnaswamy stadium; when he took all ten at the Kotla; when he had his arm in a sling and mentored Bhajji to 32 wickets in the epochal 2001 series; when he came out with a broken jaw and bowled 14 straight overs, appealing with his eyes to the umpires, before finally prising Lara out; we have been with him when he reinvented his bowling, and with the Fab Four set out on a golden period of overseas wins; we have been silently roaring with him every time he and More, Mongia and Dhoni have gone up; we have been jumping out of our seats every time the ball was edged just short of Short Leg or an inside edge just managed to keep the ball out; we have been with him right through the bespectacled days through the rotator cuffs and the broken jaws till yesterday’s split webbing (when, after eleven stitches and general anesthesia for half a day, he returned to take three more wickets).

I’m sad, yes. Very. Had a lump in my throat when Sachin collected his cap to hand it to the umpire one last time. But happy for him. Happy because of him. Happy for having witnessed what he was and what he did. Thanks Jumbo, for all those Sunday afternoons and whispered updates during class, for making us run home from school and keeping our mobiles switched on in college, for the wonderful memories of hope, triumph and inspiration, for showing us that it is neither talent nor predisposition but choice and will that matter more, for reminding us that it is important to fight even when hope seems lost, for showing us that aggression and attitude are not about sledges, glares or brave statements in the press, and yes, many thanks for having been a major part of our cricket lives!



  1. Excellent write up on the great man!I still can’t believe that this man has not once gone overboard that he had to go knocking on the match ref’s door; other than until he turned captain.Just as every time we talk of how much the Aussies is McGrath and Warnie, the Indian team will miss this man’s presence.And oh yeah – how many times have we seen Indian Captains both in ODI’s and in Tests turn to Kumble when the going has been tough. When Prasad and Srinath were hit out of the attack, invariably Kumble would be called to step in and he did like no-one else could do.Cheers to the nerd Engineer who made it this far!

    Comment by Bhavesh — November 3, 2008 @ 1:48 PM | Reply

  2. beautifully written. strikes a chord so well.

    Comment by patni — November 4, 2008 @ 1:55 AM | Reply

  3. Well portrayed!

    Comment by Arun Ponniah Sethuramalingam — November 10, 2008 @ 8:05 AM | Reply

  4. @bhaveshSachin just told the same in a tribute – “When too much was happening, I turned to Kumble. When nothing was happening, I turned to Kumble”@patnihmmm…@sapsolra america party!

    Comment by santhosh — November 11, 2008 @ 2:54 AM | Reply

  5. Why dont u submit this to cricinfo’s inbox? is better than other tributes there.

    Comment by praveen — November 13, 2008 @ 2:01 AM | Reply

  6. Ganguly! Ganguly! Ganguly!We want Ganguly!Post the farewell soon buddy

    Comment by Pugazh — November 17, 2008 @ 7:28 PM | Reply

  7. @praveenMaybe i will the next time i write on cricket. Thanks for the suggestion :)@pugazhIt’s in the drafts section right now. Should get to it sometime…

    Comment by santhosh — December 20, 2008 @ 1:28 AM | Reply

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