It seems like I have known Anil forever. We come from the same state, from similar backgrounds and have more or less grown up together. We played our cricket together, were part of the same team in the under-19s and under-23s, right through to international cricket.
We have shared rooms and we have shared secrets, have celebrated the good times and consoled each other in times of disappointment.
We have also had some of our moments of enlightenment together. I remember once, in our early days, as a pair of excited newcomers to international cricket (in the times when players still shared rooms), we used to spend endless hours discussing the game and the people who played it. We both had tremendous expectations from our seniors — we thought they would teach us, hear us out and generally be supportive. It did not work that way in an intensely competitive world, and we were both often terribly disappointed.
So we sat down and analysed our attitudes. We realised it was important to keep our expectations rational. We did so, trying thereafter to manage on our own.
Anil was instrumental in shaping my career at the international level at its most nascent stage. I learnt a lot from him, essentially that however great the odds, one should never give up. I learnt that no matter the state of the wicket, the level of the match, or the state of the game, one should never mentally surrender. The intensity with which he played rubbed off on everyone who came into contact with him.
I think the greatest lesson anyone can take from Anil's story is to never quit trying. Anybody who has ever had a lean patch and wants to bounce back should look at him. He has done it so many times. No one has more fighting spirit than Anil Kumble.
Across the years, I think Kumble's greatest disappointment has been the way he was treated despite being the country's highest wicket-taker. Time and again, he has not been given due credit for his performances; he has faced immense criticism despite his best efforts, and has had to come back and prove himself again and again.
It has been unfair to him and is a shameful reflection on those who judged him. I think one big factor was that Anil Kumble never had a godfather. He is completely self made, unique in many ways.
What made him a great bowler was there was no parallel (in the way he bowls) in Indian cricket, perhaps Chandra being the closest. The rest are more traditional bowlers. But his uniqueness was as much an insecurity (to him) as a strength. What worried him early on was that people would think him predictable, say that he would be read very well by the opposition. Whenever he was compared to Warne and found wanting, it really worked him up. It was only around the late 90s that he came to terms with it, realised that his uniqueness was his strength, figured what he could work on and what he could not.
The Anil Kumble you see in public, is also the Anil Kumble you see in private. He is a quiet, reserved, deeply intense man who doesn't open up with people he doesn't know, but is extremely sociable with those he does. He loves to talk, to sing.
We have a wonderful relationship. It is a relationship I cherish, despite the fact that we had our fair share of differences and arguments. Through it all, our friendship has endured. One thing that we understood early in our cricketing life is that you have to find your own footing without depending on someone; the people you know doesn't matter, performances do.
As the curtain comes down on one aspect of a fantastic career, I suggest we enjoy watching however much we can see of Anil Kumble. History is a harsh judge but I am wiling to bet that in the years to come, he could well be deemed incomparable.
(Javagal Srinath is a former India cricketer)