The Indian Icarus

by Ashish

He’s not playing in this series, of course.

But that doesn’t stop me from hoping, dreamer that I am, of a miracle comeback for the Bangalore Test. A returning, avenging hero, who should by rights have been allowed to bow out at his home ground, gets the chance to do just that. And for good measure, he takes ten in the second – again.

If you’re dreaming, you might as well dream big.

If you are Anil Kumble, though, you don’t just dream big, you go out and actually do something big. Something truly awesome.

And you do it against all odds, and in typical Kumble fashion, by defying all expectations.

Hardly anybody would have predicted in 1991/92 that the eager young bespectacled spinner with a quirky, bouncy run-up would metamorphose into one of modern cricket’s all time greats. Hardly anybody would have guessed that a bowler who was held to be near lethal at home, and near toothless abroad would somehow transform himself into India’s go-to man when it came to crisis points in Tests. That Jumbo made people eat their often-cruel opinions time and time again is, in retrospect, not remarkable – it’s exactly what one would expect from the man.

Because Kumble, you see, was not to the manor born. In terms of natural talent, he’s not up there with the other modern Indian greats. Sourav Ganguly had timing that can only have been bestowed by the heavens, because by rights, nobody can hit the ball at just that perfect moment as often as he did. Rahul Dravid honed his technique for years, of course, but that spark of technical correctness seems to lie within all the time. Laxman is magic personified, while Sachin Tendulkar is unparalleled genius.

Kumble is plain, pure grit. And for the better part of two decades, Kumble spent countless hours in transforming that grit into greatness.

That grit was in plain sight for years, but was acknowledged by one and all only in that memorable match in the Caribbean. That, more than the ten wicket haul at the Kotla, made people sit up and recognize Kumble for what he was – India’s fiercest, steeliest competitor.

On the field, of course. Off the field, a reserved, refined gentleman.

Kumble throughout his career (and especially towards the end) was a no-quarter-given-and-none-asked-for player when in cricketing whites. He just wouldn’t know when to stop and give up on a lost cause.

To be fair to him, he had plenty of practice at the not giving in bit. We’d go in to bat, collapse by lunch and Kumble would be bowling by the 11th over of the innings. With instructions to keep it tight, of course. Shane Warne may well have been a more talented bowler than Kumble, but bowling second change after McGrath, Gillespie and Lee have left the opposition in tatters is a far different matter. And bowling while defending 500 plus isn’t exactly the same as defending 150 either.

Forgive me for sounding almost defensive, but it gets my blood on the boil to hear people talk about Kumble being a better bowler at home. I place such impeccable logic at par with that carefully thought out argument about Sachin not having won enough matches for India.

But he never complained, did Anil Kumble. He would go back to his mark, twirl the ball, think his plan through, and plug away. Over after over after  frustrating over, match after uncomplaining match, series after dispiriting series. Until the Indian batting line-up finally did what it was supposed to, and scored runs.

And in the last four years of his career, Kumble was finally able to bowl the way he wanted to, rather than the way he had to. Which was when you saw the real Kumble, the real bowler. Not the restrictive, churlish run-guarder, but the lethal, accurate wicket-taker. And that is how he should be remembered.

Kumble wasn’t a great who lived up to his potential and became a legend. Kumble was a mortal who tried to fly ever closer to the heavens. The pantheon of the gods tested him awhile, but this Icarus didn’t fall at the end.

He soared ever higher, and how.