Amritbani: Kumble at the top
Somehow we think only those persons are true sporting heroes who remain disarmingly modest despite their high achievements. Other countries accept champions who blow their own trumpet but we, uncomfortable with brashness, would rather the guy does his stuff and then quietly bask in the glory. That is why Gavaskar and Prakash Padukone are such abiding favourites, as are Sachin Tendulkar and Col Chilly Rathore. Another person who fits this stereotype perfectly is Anil Kumble. Judged on the achievement yardstick he scores full marks. In 130 years of Test cricket only five bowlers are ahead of him, only one other has taken all ten wickets in an innings. In the Indian context he is something of a Mt Everest, towering above others with 465 and what is most significant: in 16 years and 96 Tests, he has won more matches for India than anyone else.
Assessed on the modesty index, Kumble’s record is equally stunning. Low profile to a fault, he stays in the background, never pushes himself into the glare. While others are quick to point out their stats, advertise their achievements, remind you about their hundreds, strike rates and averages, Kumble will not utter a word about his accomplishments. In cricket, bats are supposed to talk and performances to speak, nobody follows this better than Anil Kumble. He, it would appear, has no tongue, he never shrieks about what he has done; instead, like a rishi at peace with himself and the world surrounding him, Kumble believes in selfless karma.
Over the years, this ability to stay unruffled has been severely tested. Critics rubbished him unfairly, said insulting things about his (missing) leg spin and (unspectacular) overseas record. But Kumble took this in his stride, shrugged off the offensive remarks, and if he got angry it was only with himself because he set exceedingly high standards. Bowling, to him, is about precision and putting ball after ball in the right area, which is why sliding down leg is sin, a square cut boundary a major mistake. Kumble’s craft rests on creating pressure, cutting off the oxygen of runs that every batsmen needs.
After 16 years on the circuit he now prepares for the season ahead, starting with the Test match next week. A back strain kept him away from action the past few months but that only hardened his resolve, reignited his hunger for cricket. He bowled 40 overs against the Railways, his first Ranji game in six years (and only the 32nd of his career!) and is ready for Sri Lanka, then Pakistan, then the West Indies and even talks excitedly about the possibility of playing for Surrey in the summer. Of course he will say nothing about reaching 500 Test wickets or playing 100 Tests. When it comes to milestones Kumble will only maintain a dignified silence. Amrit Mathur is the former media manager of BCCI