Crisis man continues to cast spell
It was 16 years ago that I first met the bespectacled young lad called Anil Kumble. We shook hands to introduce ourselves in the Karnataka under-23 camp. Karnataka emerged champions, trouncing Kerala in the final. Roger Binny, our senior state captain, wanted to blood youngsters and immediately picked four players from the junior side to the Ranji Trophy team.
The same year, Anil played in the Ranji Trophy, WillsTrophy, represented India under-19 and was picked for the senior team's tour of England. During the first year of playing first-class games together, I noticed a phenomenon — every time the team looked to break a partnership, the captain's gaze fell on this silent spin assassin.
The phenomenon continues even today with captains turning to Anil to bail the team out of a crisis. After his maiden tour of England, I was understandably keen to get a first-hand account of his international experience. I visited him at his residence and was surprised by a gift of a pair of bowling boots.
In the little time I spent with him, he told me that I was not far from joining the India team. I returned home dreaming of playing for my country. It was Anil who made me believe that I am good enough for the national team. He was the inspiration for many Karnataka players and that resulted in seven from the state representing India in a span of five years.
We were roommates during my formative years in international cricket. Anil was already an integral part of the team in both forms of the game. It wasn't easy for me to miss out on a good amount of cricket inthe initial part of my career.
Senior players then seldom had time for a youngster's plight. Although younger by two years, Anil was as good as senior player who advised and discussed the realities of cricket with me. It's unfortunate that a complete cricketer, inherent with strong values, has never seriously been considered for captaincy.
The best part of Anil's cricket is the way he conducts himself under challenging circumstances. Being excluded from the playing XI in last year's World Cup was the biggest disappointment of his career. I am sure quitting the game was an option that crossed his mind. Piercing insight and ego-less clarity in the assessment of his own future reinstalled his cricketing career once again.
Anil is a master of his own art that is unique and far from orthodox leg-spin bowling. On hitting a rough patch in his career, he got more criticism than help from the famous Indian spin fraternity.
Anil has confessed that the only man who could have been of help was BS Chandrashekar, had he not been confined to a wheelchair.
I can think of many games where Anil has engineered emphatic wins for India. The seven-wicket haul in the Irani Trophy game against Delhi in 1991 gave his prospects a fillip. The one-man demolition act in the '93-94 series in India, getting six wickets in the Hero Cup final, the 10-wicket effort against Pakistan and the astonishing performance Down Under are some examples of Anil's brilliance.
The recent feats in Australia and Pakistan will put one of the greatest critics of the Indian team, who wanted Anil to hang his boots before the World Cup, to shame.
Anil's personal goals are always aligned with the team objective. He has a good three years of cricket in him now and one of the motivations should be to breakKapil Dev's record.
Anil has flown back to Bangalore to be with his wife for sthe birth of their first child. The couple has been blessed with a baby boy. A joyous Anil can't ask for anything more in life. (Chivach Sports)