Monday 13 March 2006
Scaling a new peak
(I am not a great cricket fan but found this editorial in today's The Hindu moving. -3vkrm)
Scaling a new peak
Few cricketers have combated adversity, willed themselves to heights previously thought unscalable, and courted success with the single-point focus and understated ardour that Anil Kumble has showcased in his richly decorated 16-year career. When he claimed his 500th Test wicket, against England in Mohali, he joined an exclusive group of modern-day greats: Shane Warne (659 wickets), Muttiah Muralitharan (600), Glenn McGrath (542), and Courtney Walsh (519). The first Indian in this quintet, the 35-year-old from Karnataka has time and again proved detractors wrong and emerged India's greatest ever match-winner. "I have persevered," he said after his monumental feat. "Even today, people question my bowling. They ask the same questions they asked 16 years ago ... It's a little strange." A man less gracious would have chosen the occasion to thump his chest and proclaim `I told you so.' Lesser bowlers have been treated more kindly than this warrior of iron will; through it all he has remained stoic, never one for grandstanding. Dismissed as one-dimensional and as someone who couldn't turn the ball, the leg-spinner today stands atop a peak of lonely heights in a land rich in the tradition of spin. He has meticulously stacked achievement upon breathtaking achievement, and reached a stage where no one can deny him his place among the pantheon of all-time greats.
It was fitting Muttiah Muralitharan, another spin maven from the subcontinent subjected to criticism not always fair, reached 600 the day before Kumble breached 500. The Sri Lankan is the only bowler to have taken 500 wickets in fewer Tests than Kumble. The Indian's other great rival (and good friend) of this era is the flamboyant showman Shane Warne. Though both Muralitharan and the Australian possess skills that are more readily recognisable because they are so outrageous, Kumble is no less deadly. His strike rate in wins at home is a stunning 45.2, eight balls fewer than Warne's (53.9) for the same category. Much of the criticism centred on his inability to run through sides abroad — a feat he accomplishes with such ease in India — fails to take into account that he was often used as a stock bowler to dry up runs after poor batting performances. While his overall record abroad is not as impressive as his record at home, he averages 48.6 balls between wickets in nine wins overseas — better than Warne (50.3 from 35 wins outside Australia). But, what even such impressive numbers don't reveal are his great heart, his character, and his ability to tide over physical pain thanks to his vast reserves of confidence and self-belief. In Antigua against the West Indies in 2002, he bowled with a fractured jaw; he made a stirring comeback after a shoulder injury as a more potent force improving his strike rate. His perfect ten against Pakistan in the New Delhi Test in 1999, his 24 wickets in Australia, and his series-winning efforts in Pakistan are the stuff of legend. India is unlikely to find another Kumble in the foreseeable future.