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    November 02, 2008

    Anil Kumble retires

    It was a piece of news that I'd been dreading for the last couple of days. Anil Kumble was clearly not going to play at Nagpur, given that he was coming back from one injury and ended up suffering another. The final test was beginning four days after the Kotla one ended, which meant time to recover was almost non-existent. His days as a test cricketer were also coming to an end, and playing the series against England was highly unlikely since for today's Indian cricketers, the satisfaction is when you retire after winning against Australia or Pakistan, compared to doing so after an England series.

    So in a sense, I was quite prepared for the retirement announcement when it came, late on day five of the test. Yet, that didn't prevent me from choking up, shedding a tear or two, and feeling quite emotional. I didn't quite feel this emotional when the news of Sourav Ganguly's retirement trickled in.

    For starters, Ganguly's been a regular for 12 years. But Kumble has been part of the furniture for nearly two decades. Two decades accounts for 80% of the time that I've followed cricket with any degree of seriousness. Also, I'd always felt that Ganguly would be the first to go. It's not as though Kumble had a couple of years more left in him, but it is much more easier to replace someone with 7000 test runs than someone with 600 test wickets! Think about it - 600 wickets is about the same as 12,000 runs (if you assume that a 5 wicket haul is about the same as a century) while 7,000 runs is like 350 wickets. They're both tough acts to replace, but match winning bowlers (& especially spinners) are harder to come by because pitches are so much more flatter nowadays.

    To me, as a cricket fan, the emotional bonding with Anil has been different from what it was for Sourav. Although both had similar traits (enormous pride, refusal to take a step back, relentlessly aggressive, incorrectly tagged with labels such as "can't spin" or "can't play bouncy stuff", both made spectacular comebacks, both did a wonderful job of helping/grooming youngsters, etc.), they were as different as chalk and cheese. I don't think Anil Kumble has ever turned up in the match referee's room charged for an offense that he committed. In contrast, match referees would, especially when Ganguly was captain, block a half-hour slot in their calendars marked 'Code of conduct hearing with Indian captain at the end of the game' as soon as they had confirmation that he was leading the side.

    In any case, this isn't the forum to analyze and contrast Ganguly & Kumble. Let me stick to Kumble.

    Anil, you've been an inspiration to an entire generation of cricketers in India. You've symbolized the adage of giving 100% and playing for the team, regardless of fitness, form or match situation. When Harbhajan was picked as the main spinner for the 2001 series, I've seen you at the nets, arm in sling, mentoring him. Yet, when he was continuously picked as the first-choice spinner, you manage to reinvent your bowling almost completely, to ensure that even if the average went up marginally (27 to 29), the strike rate reduced (70 to 65). Yet, there're a few folks (admittedly myopic Aussies) who bizarrely rate Stuart MacGill higher.

    The batting has improved by leaps and bounds in the recent past. There was the test century at The Oval. Later, at Sydney, during the final stages, you were the only one holding up the fort. At Adelaide, there was another superb effort to help the side go past 500. As for the fielding, maybe now we'll have to look for a specialist gully fielder, or agree with Gavaskar's frequent rant and stop putting in a fielder there!

    As a result of you not having featured in ODIs consistently from 2003 or so, people with short memories have probably forgotten that you are in the top 10 ODI wicket takers list too. Whenever the opposition batsmen had taken a special liking to the medium paced stuff doled out, the captain would always throw you the ball by the 10th over, expecting you to take wickets and control the flow of runs. He'd also need you to take wickets between the 20th and the 40th over. Oh, and he would also need you around during the slog!

    Let's just say the captaincy wasn't quite your cuppa, and I disagreed with appointing you ahead of Dhoni.

    It's been a privilege watching you play. I really hope the BCCI doesn't waste a wonderful opportunity to ensure that the leg-spin successors (Mishra, Chawla, etc.) continue to gain from your gyaan.

    Previous posts on Kumble: 50+ caught Dravid bowled Kumble dismissals, 1000 first-class wickets, India v Pakistan at Eden, 2004 - a year of plenty, going past Kapil's 434, ODI future, Can he go past 500?, 7/48 on day one & 400 test wickets.

    As for the game per se, I think the turning point was the defensive declaration on day two. India should have declared at 550. When it became apparent that there was no declaration at that time, my jaw dropped. Those extra 50 runs were actually quite meaningless. The pitch wasn't helping the bowlers at all, so India could have actually bowled another hour at Australia's batsmen. Instead of ending the day at 50/0, they could have been 2 down. Defensive declarations seem to be a favourite with Indian captains, at least in the recent past, - Sydney 2004 and Oval 2007 come to mind.

    All of Australia's batsmen have now scored runs. That's not a good scenario for India who're still missing out on runs from Dravid. Australia's bowlers still haven't got their act together while India's were totally ineffective at Delhi. The pitch has had a significant role to play - it was totally flat. If 22 wickets fall over the course of 5 days, 5 on the last day & 8 being the most wickets to fall in a day's play, then there's a serious problem with it. Nice 'retirement gift' from the curator!

    The Nagpur test is at a new stadium. With new stadiums, pitches can behave unpredictably - either assist spin because of being underprepared, or assist batsmen throughout because of being overprepared. If it's the latter, I wouldn't be surprised if Australia sneak in a win.

    To end on a statistical note, Laxman became the 5th player to score a double century and a fifty without being dismissed. So far, Anil Kumble and Shane Warne are the only ones to take 500 wickets and score 2000 runs in tests, and Kumble is the only one to take 500 wickets and score a test century! Kumble is #2 on the list of most balls bowled in internationals and has conceded the most runs.

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    4 sledge(s):

    i definitely had tears in my eyes. but its the same with gangs and anil for me. as msd rightly said, you just cant replace those 2 men. u can get guys who can score you 7000+ runs (infact, thats not easy, as you have just 3 others from india who have done it), but not anyone of ganguly's stature and guts who is definitely responsible for making opponents (esp. aus) not to take india lightly. even the god-send srt cudnt do that inspite of being the cricketing genius he is.

    By Blogger Ganesh (03-Nov-2008, 8:48:00 AM)  

    Yes I agree,with whatever U have said about Kumble and a late declaration.
    India kind screwed this match. I think more over with such defensive field settings,it seemed India allowed the game to drift away.

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