He separated the men from the boys

November 3, 2008 at 3:30 am

Since the day I understood cricket and began following the sport, this man was always an integral part of it. Today when they say he has retired I find it strange. How can there be cricket without this man I wonder? Despite fully knowing that he was just one of those to have played the game and that he had to stop somewhere. And maybe as some say it was the ‘right’ time. I still wonder what that means. If a broken jaw could get Lara and a 3 finger palm could get three Australian wickets imagine what he could still do with every part of his body in condition. But according to the man himself, it was his body that gave up on him.

The man was defined by his spirit and not by his body. Whenever anyone from Azharuddin to MS Dhoni wanted a breakthrough there would be only one man they would resort to. He never gave up. Not once. And do you know that he is retiring from the game as India’s ‘highest’ wicket-taker and the third in the all-time highest wicket-takers list? Even if you knew about it chances are extremely high that you don’t understand the magnitude of that achievement. Here’s why: When Richard Hadlee retired, the record stayed on till Kapil sighed, coughed, huffed-puffed and crawled past it. Then came a man called Shane Warne, whose claim to fame was ‘the ball of the century’ and his ability to generate wrist spin apart from a host of other associated not-so-reputation-enhancing stories. Then it was Muttaiah Muralitharan who can spin the ball even on a marble floor but who was in the limelight more for his action than anything else. The problem with Kumble was he was always described as ‘not-such-a-great-spinner-of-the-ball’ and yet managed everything that these guys did without a sound. And since he was more of a not-this and not-that nobody ever saw what he actually was. He went about his business with amazing clinical precision. I quote these lines from a Cricinfo article: Kumble was comfortable with angles and understood that the difference between a good delivery and a bad one is only a matter of inches

And he always concentrated on the finer details. For him, nothing was a result of luck – everything was a result of dedicated hard work and astute planning. The only thing, perhaps, that did not go by plan was the timing of the captain’s hat. Not that he secretly planned but just that India would have done well to have Kumble leading the side longer than he has currently, to dethrone Aussies from being the Test World champions’. Right now the onus has fallen on his heir apparent who is probably more confident than certain about doing it. That Kumble chose a competent predecessor to hand over is yet another hallmark of a true leader.

This tribute will be incomplete without talking about this special aspect of the man. He is underrated, unassuming, humble, modest and to the point as a person. Put a cricket ball in his hands and you would see that he was fiercely competitive, fighting to his teeth, expecting his players to give him 100% every moment on the field as he would and never ever did he get involved in anything ugly on the field. In fact he would be one of those players who accorded dignity to the game in times when shouting expletives at the opposition is considered ‘playing it the hard way’. And show me one person who played it ‘harder’ than Kumble did!

There is some special connection I have with this man apart from him being a foundation to my intellectual edifice of cricket. He makes me feel proud of belonging to the state of Karnataka. He said to Dravid “Covers nalli yaaru beda, mid-off ge hogu” and I heard that over the stump microphone and got those goosebumps! A proud son of the soil. He separated the men from the boys.

PS: I would love to see him back in cricket as a commentator.