Lahore: Sachin Tendulkar has completed 16 years at the highest level; Anil Kumble is on the verge of doing so. In fact, Indiaís most successful bowler (and only the second in history to take all ten wickets in a Test innings) is a mere 15 away from becoming the fifth entrant to the 500 club. Besides, he has 329 wickets in ODIs... Kumble, 35, spoke to The Telegraph in the lead-up to the latest Test series, which gets underway here on Friday.
The following are excerpts
Q Come April and youíll complete 16 years of international cricket. How do you reflect on this journey'
A It has been very satisfying... Of course, when I started off (in Sharjah), I didnít realise I would get this far...
Is there a regret ' perhaps, that you werenít picked for the 1991-92 tour of Australia'
Itís not a regret... Getting dropped or selected isnít in my hands, performing is.
Conventional wisdom suggests spinners mature with age. How long did it take you'
(Grins) Iím still learning... On every tour, in every match... I continue to learn about myself, about the way I can bowl (better)... I continue to analyse my bowling... I needed about three years to find my feet and, in that period, there was a time when I wasnít in the team... Looking back, it probably was a blessing in disguise.
What does it take to flourish, not just survive at the highest level'
One needs to perform... One needs to be fit, to be positive and be analytical about oneís game... Itís also important to enjoy the cricket... Obviously, there are going to be ups and downs when the journey is so long. (After a pause) Besides being positive, I learn from both success and failure.
As a turning point, would it be the first tour (1992-93) of South Africa, when you got recalled'
Yes... If I hadnít got wickets there, I may not have been retained for the home series against Graham Goochís England...
Over the years, has your take on life changed following something you learnt out in the middle'
The process of evolving doesnít stop... I try and learn from the people I interact with... Itís difficult, though, to put a finger on one thing... I mean, even my first exposure to County cricket (1995, Northants) helped develop my personality... Helped me Ďgrowí as a person.
The early influences apart, has anybody made a huge impression in the past 16 years'
Iíve watched Shane Warne closely and tried to learn from him... I canít manage his level of skill, but Iíve followed the way he preys on batsmen... Sets things up... Iíve tried to learn from Steve Waugh, too... He had his share of critics, but continued to perform... He was amazing... Then, in our dressing room, Iíve watched Sachin closely... The manner in which he continues to carry the burden of a billion is remarkable... I learn by watching and, so, itís not necessary to actually sit down with somebody and have a conversation.
Your intensity is exceptional...
Iím at my best when Iím really intense... At the end of the day, one has to contribute and in a manner whereby everybody takes notice. (After a pause) When I made my debut, there were many who said I wouldnít last because I didnít spin the ball or... However, I remained positive and never thought I would fade away after a few matches. Failure is part and parcel of a sportsmanís career and Iíve never worried about it.
Did you get upset when people Ďaccusedí you of not turning the ball enough'
Some still say that... My determination has never been to prove a point, but to perform... Iím happy if, at the end of the day, I return to my hotel room convinced that Iíve given my best.
Early on, there was talk that only designer pitches (at home) suited you...
I donít think the pitches were any different in the Sixties and Seventies... So, why make an issue after I started playing' Why didnít people focus on the pitches before I made it to the Indian team' Not once have I ever asked anybody to provide a certain pitch and, never, have I said that the pitch provided wasnít the one I would have liked... Iíve never, for instance, complained about flat pitches... Without my consent, people could have said things on my behalf.
Youíre on the threshold of a fantastic achievement... Are you very conscious about being close to 500 Test wickets'
It will be a milestone to reach and, then, move forward... People do keep reminding me about it, but I donít have to get those 15 wickets in two or three or... Tests... Hopefully, Iím going to get there sooner rather than later.
Arenít you under more pressure, though'
Thereís no extra pressure or burden. People forget that cricket is a team game...
How do you handle pressure'
Pressure canít be wished away... Itís the external factors which add to what already exists... My way of not getting overwhelmed is by sticking to a routine ' whether Iím playing for India or South Zone or Karnataka.
Having the (right) shoulder operated upon, five years ago, turned out to be a good decision...
(Grins again) But, then, I had run out of options... I couldnít have done anything else... Iím thankful to everybody, particularly my wife (Chetana), who kept lifting my confidence during the many months I was off cricket... The rehab programme was excellent and enabled me to return stronger... Of course, I knew I had to fight back and prove that I was good enough for many more wickets. I did.
Are you reconciled to not playing ODIs'
I donít worry too much... Iíve played international cricket for 16 years and want to enjoy the cricket that comes my way. But, yes, it was disappointing getting few opportunities in the 2003 World Cup... I could have made a bigger contribution, but played just three (of the 11) matches.
Is it shattering to be in the 14/15, without making the 11'
Waiting for opportunities is tough, but also a challenge.
Despite being an outstanding achiever, you donít seem to have got the recognition you deserve. Do you agree'
At times, Iíve thought things could have been different... However, I donít carry a hype... Iím pretty clinicial... Scientific in the way I get wickets... Iím not a magician who weaves a web around batsmen... My manner, perhaps, doesnít appeal to many... One day, people will realise I must have been a decent bowler to get the wickets I have... Bottomline is that Iíve had my share of success and, hopefully, that's going to continue.
Sixteen years ago, you were a rookie. Today, only Sachin is senior... Whatís the change in the dressing room'
The present-day debutants are much more confident... I accept I didnít have the same confidence... At the same time, the current players have more opportunities and are exposed to better facilities. The paraphernalia adds value to the player... Also, given our success in recent years, newcomers know they have to deliver.
Your one stand-out performance...
Difficult to answer... Probably the way I bowled in the big back-to-back seriesí in 2003-04 ' in Australia (24 wickets) and in Pakistan (15 wickets).
How would you describe yourself'
Competitive on the field, relaxed and casual off it... (Adds laughing) Iím a typical South Indian Brahmin!
Finally, John Wright felt you were good captaincy material and ought to have led in more than a single ODI...
I do feel Iíve got leadership qualities, but I donít decide on who captains... So, itís not something that has bothered me.