March 30: As India lost to Sri Lanka and moved towards exiting from the World Cup a week ago, few could’ve missed Rahul Dravid appearing to wipe a tear from his left eye.
Equally, few could’ve missed Anil Kumble comforting the captain by pressing his left shoulder.
It said everything about an exceptional team man.
Despite three wickets in the previous match (against Bermuda), Kumble wasn’t in the XI that day, but felt for his captain and his team.
There’s been no change over 17 years.
In fact, Kumble had been around for six years or so when Sunil Gavaskar pointedly noted Sachin Tendulkar and he were the only ones “affected” by defeats.
Kumble may not be the best mover on the field and has never done enough with the bat to be bracketed with allrounders, but we could be a real force had more cricketers been as passionate.
His being in the XI guarantees a greater degree of respect from the opposition.
Before leaving for the World Cup, Kumble had indicated that the showpiece event would mark the end of his one-day career.
This evening, Kumble confirmed that in home town Bangalore. Incidentally, no Indian bowler has been more successful, be it Tests (547 wickets) or ODIs (337).
For somebody seen as a Test specialist for some years, Kumble continues to possess India’s best figures in ODIs — six for 12 versus the West Indies in the Hero Cup final at the Eden nearly 14 years ago.
Despite being a cerebral cricketer (there aren’t many around) and exuding leadership qualities, Kumble has got to captain just once, standing-in for Sourav Ganguly at the Chepauk (against England) in January 2002.
He could’ve brought a lot to the table, but the selectors never quite looked at him as captaincy material.
Indeed, Kumble led at the Chepauk because the then regular vice-captain, Dravid, was undergoing shoulder rehab in South Africa.
On the eve of his last day in office as Team India coach, two years ago, John Wright went to the extent of proclaiming Kumble and not Dravid was best suited to take over from Sourav.
Months later, on a bitterly cold evening in Lahore, a phlegmatic Kumble didn’t offer a ‘no comments’ when one sought a reaction.
“I do feel I’ve got leadership qualities, but I don’t decide on who captains… So, it’s not something that has bothered me.”
Even if the question touched somewhat of a raw nerve, Kumble’s demeanour gave nothing away.
Typical of him.
Years on, though, somebody is bound to assess the difference Kumble could’ve made. Ditto for what Ravi Shastri could’ve done in an earlier period.
What’s comforting is that Kumble (credited with all ten wickets in a single innings) still has the hunger to add to his awesome Test tally.
Of course, he didn’t commit himself while announcing that he was quitting ODIs. “I don’t know whether I would quit after 600 or 700 (Test) wickets…”
Kumble, perhaps, will decide after next season’s tour of Australia. Much could also depend on what happens in the post-World Cup shake-up.
Because of Kumble’s profile, hardly anybody has ever talked about the number of years he has put in. Bottomline is that his April 1990 debut was no more than five months after Sachin’s.
And if Sachin has been the perfect role model on and off the field, so too Kumble.
Being humble isn’t the only similarity. Both, for example, guard their privacy.
If Sachin enjoys getting lost in the crowd at a Formula One GP, Kumble (a compulsive shutterbug) can be counted upon to freak out amidst wild life.
“I’m not a magician who weaves a web around batsmen… My manner, perhaps, doesn’t appeal to many… One day, people will realise I must have been a decent bowler to get the wickets I have,” is what he’d said in Lahore.
That realisation has never left the cognoscenti.