London: Most people only seem to remember that Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid made their Test debut in England. Yet, six years before their maiden appearance, Anil Kumbleís first Test was also in England.
This tour-about-to-end, then, hasnít just been like any other for Kumble ó only the second bowler to have got all ten wickets in a Test innings. Kumble, who is reluctant for one-to-one interviews, did speak to The Telegraph on the eve of The Oval Test.
The following are excerpts
On a dozen years of Test cricket (debut at Old Trafford, 1990)
Itís been a good 12 years... Back in 1990, I didnít expect to be where I am ó with well over 300 wickets in Tests and close to 300 in the ODIs... Feels nice, certainly. At the same time, one or two ambitions are yet to be achieved.
On whether he has sights on anything in particular
Well, yes... I would like to be part of a World Cup-winning team... That we lost in the semi-finals, in 1996 (to Sri Lanka, at the Eden), still hurts.
On the experience factor
Every game teaches something new, one can learn from every situation... Actually, Iíve had to learn from my own bowling because there havenít been many bowlers like me. For instance, itís been difficult going back to someone and checking whether what Iím doing is right... I donít see myself as an orthodox bowler.
On those he is indebted to
Quite a few, in fact... Plenty of former cricketers... Chandrasekhar, Bedi, Prasanna... Viswanath... Even many teammates... I would even say that interacting with outstanding contemporaries like Warne and Murali has helped. Itís nice to exchange ideas, share thoughts.
On the phases in his career
Let me answer this generally: Iíve never shirked responsibility, have never ever thought I canít do it... Iíve been pretty consistent and have always been positive.
On how many marks would he give himself on a scale of ten
(Laughs) Back in 1990, probably four-five... One is wise after an event but, yes, I was absolutely raw... Today, Iíll probably give myself seven... One learns with experience, learns from mistakes... In any case, nobody can ever give himself ten on ten.
On whether he agrees the learning process would have been expedited had he been picked for the 1991-92 tour of Australia
(After a pause) Though people do say that, itís difficult for me to answer... Even otherwise, being the positive sort, I donít look back and say I should have done that or I ought to have been there... I didnít brood, but worked hard at everything ó batting and fielding included. It helped that Daljit Singh, who was then working with Karnataka, gave a number of tips (fielding, fitness)... However, itís a fact that Iíve been to Australia just once in 12 years.
On criticism that, overseas, he is only half as good as at home
Iíve always given that hundred per cent... Moreover, if you scan the teams I played in throughout the Nineties you will find we often missed a fourth bowler... It would invariably be Srinath, Prasad and me... My role would be both to block one end and try to take wickets... I wouldnít be wrong in saying I often ended up bowling around 30 overs on the very first day of a Test overseas... I donít think statistics always reflect the true picture. To cite an example, people talk of batting averages... Forty-plus, 45-plus... The question is: How effective have the runs been' To what extent have they contributed to the team winning'
On whether the criticism has affected him
On the contrary, thatís given me confidence... Somewhere, at least, Iím a good bowler. Iím, at least, given credit for wins at home.
On the about-to-end England tour
Ever since Iíve come back from injury and surgery, there seems to be something working against me... I got injured in the West Indies and had to return home, then I had to miss the Trent Bridge Test (owing to a left calf muscle strain)... The last injury, which first surfaced during the NatWest, came at such a wrong time because I was feeling really good about my bowling... I think I did well at Headingley and, now, itís all about trying to end on a high. Rhythm helps, as do results...
On missing international cricket for almost a year, from mid-October 2000
Yes, negative thoughts did crop up... There was that fear I may not return the same bowler, that I could... Even three months after surgery, I was trying to lift my right hand and, so, it really was a tough period. But, then, the family ó especially my wife (Chetna) ó gave plenty of support and Srinath was an inspiration. That he could come back so well after surgery is what helped me drive away negative thoughts.
On the batsmen who have made him work harder
Look, every wicket is important and every batsman can be difficult to dislodge... The Waugh brothers have been very fine players of spin, Aravinda, Kallis... Lara as well... The conditions, too, play a part.
On how he psyches himself
I Ďpictureí the wicket, think of what my role could be and, in the mind, work out ways to get all ten wickets... I think of options, of the field placements... Indeed, while preparing, I assume we will be bowling first... Thatís because, honestly, Iím a bit nervous the previous evening and that nervousness remains till the toss... After all, till the coin is flipped, you donít know whether the team will bat or bowl first.
On being regarded as a thinking cricketer
Well, these labels get stuck... Even if I perform overseas, Iím still seen as somebody who can only help win at home...
Till you told me, I wasnít even aware Iíd crossed Willis (325) and Donald (330)...
On whether he envies any bowler
I would love to have Warneís variation, love to get the amount of turn he extracts... While you definitely canít be somebody else, there will always be something to learn. Itís important to try and be one-up on the batsmen. If I may add, bottomline is creating a doubt in the batsmanís mind... Currently, Iím trying a different grip.
On what makes a complete leg-spinner
(Laughs again) Donít know... Donít think anybody can be complete... If somebody does come close, itís Warne. Generally, while experience helps you to improve, it also makes you aware of limitations.
On his courageous act in Antigua, earlier this year
Look, if your mind says you can do it, you shouldnít move away from the firing line... So, despite the broken jaw, pain and that bandage, I decided to bowl... The only time I havenít bowled all these years is when I had that shoulder injury...
Finally, on bowling in tandem with Harbhajan Singh
Itís great... Heís aggressive, is very talented... At the same time, heís young and should be allowed to mature. Itís not always easy and people must continue to have faith in him... The expectations shouldnít become unreasonable.