The competitor: Anil Kumble has mastered the science of spinWhen this generation of cricketers has passed into the shadows of a distant pavilion, what will be made of Anil Kumble? In a country that dotes on the deeds of its starbatsmen what is to be done with him, neither batsman,The competitor: Anil Kumble has mastered the science of spinWhen this generation of cricketers has passed into the shadows of a distant pavilion, what will be made of Anil Kumble? In a country that dotes on the deeds of its starbatsmen what is to be done with him, neither batsman nor star?Dress things up, talk them down, Kumble won’t be fussed. As the invisible man in the manic market of Indian cricket, 400 Test wickets is the only endorsement he will ever want or need. It is his handshake with history, his pact with yesterday and tomorrow.Already, Kumble is the man to chase, India’s most successful spinner ever. He is only the third slow bowler to get to this exhausting milestone, the third fastest to 400 Test wickets after Mutthiah Muralitharan (72 Tests)and Richard Hadlee (80), a full 30 Tests quicker than Kapil Dev. No Indian has taken more bags of five wickets in an innings (24 times) or 10 wickets in a match (five times) – in batsmen’s terms it is like scoring hundreds.Before they even realised it, the legendary Spin Quartet had company. Kumble gave Indian bowling its Fifth Dimension. If the Quartet were magicians who held the ball on a leash, creating optical, oriental illusions, Kumble is a student of science; a physicist who understood and mastered the correlation between accuracy and pressure.He is a man of economy and depth, sparse words and hidden strength. Through the 1990s, Kumble, all jaw-jutting purpose, became the centrifugal force of India’s bowling.advertisementSpin bowlers record of IndiaHis spells were the drip-drip-drip that eventually bores a hole into the rock of resistance and cracks it open. All he asked of the batsmen overseas was runs on the board and he is a man of his word. In his last nine overseas Tests, Kumble has taken 53 wickets and India has won four of those Tests.In a team full of stars, real and imagined, he moves unnoticed, but makes a deep impression. He has returned from shoulder surgery leaner and meaner, his bowling taken apart and put together again, still demanding the highest standards of himself and others.During a TV recording break earlier this year in Sydney, Sachin Tendulkar did his version of the Doosra Kumble: the trademark whip around to an errant fielder, hands on hips, snarl on lips. The Glare being mimed was actually abruptly terminated on the field, as the target had turned out to be the normally reliable Tendulkar himself.Though Kumble tries to keep a lid on it, behind the responsible citizen, committed doer of quiet charity and donor of organs (yes all of them, pledged to the Foundation for Organ Retrieval and Transplant Education) is a bit of a character. At times even a bear with a sore head. When he is mad not even Sourav Ganguly hovers for chit-chat.If there is a message to be conveyed, the messenger nominated is the team’s Kofi Annan-at-large Rahul Dravid. For the rest of us, only when this quiet, urbane stoic turns into a pouting, barking, head-tossing grumbler do we get a glimpse of his tight, competitive coil. The moment passes, the emotion fades and hereturns to the top of his runup.In that instant of splitsecond stillness, shoulders hunched forward, ball about to be tossed up from his palm, partner, under study and rival Harbhajan Singh sees Kumble at his finest: “Anil never wavers, no matter how much a batsman goes after him. He knows that it is only a matter of one ball. He shows that it is only a matter of one ball.”So is Anil Kumble India’s greatest ever bowler ever? No need to rush to judgement. He’s not finished yet.
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