I was languidly watching the test match wither away into a draw when suddenly the news flashed that Anil Kumble has decided to retire. We knew it was coming. In fact, some were even giving blatantly subtle hints about it. But regardless of how much we anticipate the retirement of a great cricketer, it still leaves a sense of disbelief when it actually happens. There is a sense of loss that we won’t see that famous run up again. So while the news channels are quickly making edits of “Chak De India” to play tonight with visuals of his ten-wicket haul, while ex-cricketers are hastily sheathing their barbs and polishing their tributes, and while Mallya is wondering if he will save some money on the Royal Challengers budget, here is my piece on a man I admire.
All great players have their trademarks. The image we remember them by. Like Lara’s backlift, Kapil’s leap, and Sachin’s lofted drive. The image that will always come to my mind when I think of Kumble is his walk back to his run up. The moment when he tosses the ball a couple of times and gets ready to try yet again. And his unbounded joy when he got a wicket. Even his 619th one.
Kumble never enjoyed the adulation that we Indians reserve for geniuses. Ours is a culture which values flamboyance over grit, elan over hard work, Boris Becker over Ivan Lendll, ease over persistence and looks over character. So we have always downplayed his achievements, ridiculed his skills and ignored his greatness. Kumble never enjoyed the mob frenzy that others got. No one burnt effigies when he was dropped. He never told us which soft drink to consume or which shaving cream to use.