Tag Archives: cricket

Dear Rahul (Dravid, not Gandhi)

Dear Rahul,

Yesterday you retired. You handled it like you did your batting –  direct, to the point and with all your heart. You answered questions on your future, the team’s future and your feelings like only a true gentleman could. You said you were sad to leave but proud as well. You have no idea how sad you have made us yesterday. You have not idea how proud we are of calling you our countryman.

I heard about you in the early 90s. Read about you in the Times of India, the only source of news to me during the pre internet times. I saw you for the first time on ESPN. They were showing highlights of a Ranji match you were playing for Karnataka (this was the time when ESPN used to show Indian first class cricket. Harsha Bhogle used to travel all over India to bring us these matches. Compared to it, the current Ranji coverage can be safely called rubbish). I saw you toying with the first class attack and thought, “another of those flat track bullies.” But then I heard Bhogle raving about you and calling you India’s future. Something I heard a lot of times during that period.

Your ascent to international cricket was slow as per your die hard fans. Neutral fellows like me were kept wondering what the fuss was about. To the relief of your fans, you were finally picked. However you were restricted to the coloured clothing variety of cricket for the time being. You played your first match against Sri Lanka in Singapore of all places. You had developed a bushy moustache at that time which made you look older than you were. Your first scoring shot was a fine cut against one of the SL spinners. A cut so precise that it led to considerable praise from the commentators, praise too high for a single. You were out for 3 and India won a close match by 12 runs. However what stayed with me was that cut.

You then came to notice in England where you made 95 runs in your debut Test inning. You may have got overshadowed by Ganguly. You may have played a bit slow. I do not know as a stupid dispute between ESPN (which chose the England series to become the first ever paid channel in Indian history) made me miss that series. The highlights do come but your innings are best seen in full, not in precis.

You then made your presence felt in Canada (India played too many useless ODI matches in non Test playing countries during those pre IPL days.) You made 39 runs in the first ODI in challenging conditions. The second ODI saw you build a big partnership with that flawed genius Azhar. Both of you exhibited contrasting but no less alluring wristplay. It was lovely. That India lost due to the wristplay of another flawed genius Salim Malik was not important. You then played a brilliant inning in the 3rd match where the pitch was at its dirtiest. You made 46 of 93, a tally which in today’s hyper charged times would invite boos and catcalls. In those circumstances, it invited a Man of the Match award and high praise from His Awesome Highness, Sir Garfield Sobers. That recognition did it for me. I was your fan. 

You next shone in South Africa, the first overseas assignment as captain for SRT. The South Afrcan side, bruised by the defeat inflicted by India in India a few month earlier had let loose their fast bowlers on you and your team mates, helped by the green pitches prepared there (not complaining since the earlier series had seen spinners’ paradise). You showed your mettle by making 27 not out out of a total team score of 66 in the 2nd inning of the 1st Test. You showed even more skill by belting a magnificient century, your first, in the 3rd Test. You contributed to India’s finest performance in an overseas Test in a long time. You were to make that a habit. That tour also featured a brilliant sixer off a Donald rocket from you. A shot which stunned the normally silent White Lightening into becoming a South African version of Glenn McGrath.

You continued with your merry ways, battling adverse conditions with the straightest of straight bats, playing with zen like patience in the most challenging of situations and behaving like a gentleman while going though all this. You had your bad days. You were dismantled by the Aussies in 99/00. However we all still had faith in your abilities.

You had a second coming in THAT Eden Gardens match. You silenced your critics by forging with VVS a partnership that was a longer uncut version of those partnerships with Azhar in Canada. And million times more valuable. When you reached your century, you showed a bit of outward aggression for the first time ever by pumping your fists and pointing towards a section of the crowd. You have always been an inwardly aggressive type. A type seen just by looking at your eyes when you were batting. An aggression which must have sent a chill down the spines of your opponents.

You were a committed team man. You took up wicket keeping in ODIs when it was required to maintain balance. Your selflessness was the main contributor to India’s dream run in that period which culminated in a fine performance in the World Cup of 2003. You were the unsung hero for me then. Again.

You excelled in overseas Test after 2002. You led the Indian charge in England with that 148 in Headingley. You followed it up with a double at the Oval. You then dismantled the Aussie bowling in Adelaide. You were a fixture of those path breaking wins. You were awesome.

Your 270 in Rawalpindi was an example of grit overcoming any odds. You were scrappy during that inning. But you had a job to do. And by God, you did it. You were Godlike.

You took up captaincy during the Guru Greg phase. You went along with his ideas. You were hated by many Indians for the first time in your life. You took it in your stride. You led a disastrous WC 2007 campaign. While we may fault your tactics, we never doubted your sincerity. Your expressions during the loss to Sri Lanka were heartbreaking. You took the loss a bit too personally.

You led India to series wins in England and West Indies, the first wins in many decades. You led India to the first Test win ever in South Africa. You then chose to quit captaincy. It takes balls of steel to relinquish power. You had them. 

 Even after leaving captaincy, you gave your all. Chinks were developing in your armour. You slip catching became a bit dodgy. You found runs a bit harder to come. But you still carried on. There was a job to do. A fortress to protect. You kept giving your 100%.

You excelled in England (again) in 2011. While the rest crumbled around you, you kept on standing. You handled your return to ODIs and selection for the T20I with a dignity only you could show. You showed us what a role model should do.

Australia 2011 was like the worst nightmare. The team failed. And you too. The chinks in the armour had become more prominent. And they were magnified by some great bowling of Siddle and Co. We knew that you knew your time on the field was coming up.

As you sat in that press conference being yourself, all these thoughts kept swimming in my mind. The journey you undertook and which I had the privilege of witnessing, initiated by that Ranji match highlights, started when I was a boy not yet in my teens. I grew up as you grew up in international cricket. You have been the role model I have always wanted to emulate. Your absence on the field will always rankle me from within. Test cricket without you is unimaginable.

Anyways, now is not the time to worry about the future of Indian cricket. It is the time to celebrate you, dear Rahul. You have given me enough joy, enough lessons in life and enough good memories to last a lifetime. For that, thank you sir. 



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Controversially Yours – More like “Potrait of the Express”

Spot the differance One always pictures ghost written autobiographies going through a particular development process – The subject gets one draft ghost written and submits to the editor to go through. The editor goes through the draft and sees if there is adequate material which if leaked can cause enough uproar to
1) Generate free publicity to make genuine readers know about the book
2) Make the non readers curious so they buy it just to see if there is more such baring of the soul.
If not, he must ask the subject to add some masala, some hook to attract more sales.

We saw this with Adam Gilchrist’s book. Selective passages related to the Indians were leaked in India, caused uproar and must have spiked the sales. Fair enough. Here the process must have been different. The editor on receiving the draft instead of suggesting additions must have requested, nay, pleaded to the Speedy One to REMOVE certain objectionable content so as to not attract a case of libel. For Shoaib has written this book as he used to bowl – In your face with the intention to hurt.

To his credit, Shoaib starts the book with a very nice and sensitive retelling of his childhood days. He talks about the poverty and the compromises his family had to do to make ends meet. Here we find a very humble Shoaib describing his childhood with a lot of respect given to his parent, siblings and friends who never ceased to support him. Even in this phase we get glimpses of our preening peacock with exclamations of “I’m gonna be a star” and his long sessions on “Shoaib’s thinking stone”. But it is lesser and leads you to think of an additional dimension to the personality of this enigma.

He talks of his struggling days in a filmy manner – after all for him, this is the first act of a Hindi film, the struggle of the star. He thinks of him as a hero in the film. Heck, he even compares his eyes to that of Salman Khan. He talks of sleeping on the footpath before the trials for his first employers. Here we are supposed to go “Oh, this guy has slogged to get what he has!! Applause.” but again the cocky manner in which he goes through this passage puts you off a little.

On getting his first job, Shoaib loses whatever humility he has mustered while narrating. Here he turns into a pissed off snake and starts hissing and spitting and lunging towards all his enemies, real and made up. He blames his employers for not supporting him during the Karachi riots. He talks of unpaid dues and non selection to matches. He talks of the angst of being wronged. He goes melodramatic. He leaves his job, gets selected to represent a Rawalpindi team and unleashes hell on his ex team members by yelling at them. And his international debut is yet to come.

He talks of his debut and the poisonous atmosphere in the dressing room. He fires his first shots against Wasim Akram by implying that he was threatened by his presence. He does not spare the rest and gives the feeling that from the beginning he was his own man in the dressing room. He talks of being dropped, then being bought back due to Waqar being dropped. Here too he burns Akram by crediting his politics for getting Waqar out. Not that he spares Waqar. He gives Waqar the treatment later. He talks of Eden Gardens and his head turning two deliveries. he then goes into 1999 World Cup calling himself the MVP even though Saqlain, Akram, Razzak and Mahmood took more wickets and conceded lesser runs. He strangely does not give his wicket tally.

He talks of being banned for chucking, the entire machination which led to him being recalled and the testing process on Australia. He blasts the PCB for almost giving up on him. The testing process is a good read and gives some great insight on the entire throwing issues.

Shoaib has targeted everyone who came his way during his international career. He has this schizophrenic way of first belittling someone and then praising him. He talks famously of SRT not being a finisher and then praises him by saying he has developed his finishing game in the last 3 years. He disputes Dravid’s match winning skills ignoring the 2002 – 2004 phase where every Test win had a Dravid masterclass behind it.

Even in the games he played, he displays selective memory. During the 2004 ODI series he says that the bowlers did a great job in the 1st ODI. 344 runs in reply of 349 runs is not the result of a good job by the bowlers. He barely mentions India’s historic victory but whinges about being accused of faking injury in the 3rd Test match. He claims of not being able to bat in the match. However everyone saw him hitting sixes in that match showing no discomfort. Only discomfort was in the eyes of a visibly furious captain Inzamam Ul Haq. Maybe our eyes were deceived.

In fact in the entire book, the only stats mentioned are his bowling figures when they were good and the blasted speed gun. Ahh, the speed gun. I have never seen so much ink being spent on describing the speed gun and its results. The man is obsessed with it. More than 70% of his coverage of the 2003 World Cup is spent on that delivery bowled to Nick Knight which clocked 100 miles. The fact that Pakistan lost the match is glossed over. He even gets a quotation from Knight where he says he was scared like shit while facing the ball. Funny, I saw that match and Knight had played that ball with the minimum of fuss. In fact some of the quotes of opposite players that Shoaib comes up with are unintentionally hilarious.

He then reaches the phase where he used to be rested more than played. He plays the wronged hero again and again. At this point you want to yell, “Enough of it!! Who told you to bulk up like a mad man and put more pressure on your brittle bones?” He offers explanation for that too saying the muscles supported the bones. If that is the case, bodybuilders should be able to bowl 100 miles all the time.

He has some good words for Bob Woolmer and explains his entire pushing saga as a misunderstanding. He evidently has respect for the man and credits him (a little) for his good show against England in 2005. Here too he whinges at not given the Man of the Series forgetting the awesome display of batting by the actual winner.

He then whinges more, does some politics and tries to get in the team. He gets picked for the final phase of his career, gets dropped for doping and then hitting Asif and then, more whingeing.

He witnesses the spot fixing from a distance, expresses disappointment over the juniors and brands Asif as a criminal. Then comes the World Cup 2011 and his announcement to retire. He then expresses disappointment at being benched forgetting the awful bowling against NZ. He gets piqued over sitting out for Wahab Riaz against India. He sees Pakistan lose and declares grandly that result would have been different had he been picked. Forgetting that Wahab took 5 wickets. Forgetting the 2003 shellacking. Forgetting a rampaging Sehwag. Forgetting…forget it, you get the picture.

His last chapters are over miscellaneous thoughts he could not talk about earlier in the midst of bashing all and sundry. Here we see a grown up side of him. His thoughts on handling fasties are more an open application for a fast bowling coaching job. Even then there are some candid thoughts. He admits of being a rebel without a cause, of being a maverick. not in these words. Because what is Shoaib if he starts owning up.

I genuinely feel that reading this book gave me a great insight into the mind of this unique person. This book showed the vulnerability, the megalomania, the insecurities and the bravado of the man we know as the Rawalpindi express. Read it just to get a peak into his mind. What you read may not be 100% accurate. However it serves as a mirror to the mind of Speedy One.


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Random Thoughts

1) While Arundhati Roy grates on the nerves and has views which are half baked and diisturbingly anarchic, threatening her with the Sedition Act is not done. We are a democracy and freedom of speech, however idiotic, disturbing and perversely funny the speech may be, should be protected.

2) The great thing about India’s performance in the CWG was the success of the women, specially those from Haryana. What was not great was the utterance of the father of one such winner about killing her if she deviated from “tradition”. Listen you bloody chump and those from your ilk – your daughter has achieved more than you and a thousand sons of your bloody “biradiri” have and ever will. Wake up from your tradition fueled sleep, take off the “izzat” tinged blanket and for God’s sake, fucking grow up.

3) In my home state, a curious little scam involving allocation of prime real estate at a pittiance to influencial parties is being unearthed. What is significant is the name of dear ol’ Ashok Chavan, the Maharashtra CM being taken as one of the beneficiaries. This following the sting operation where it was alleged that CM Chavan “raised” Rs. 2 crores for a rally being addressed by adarniya Soniaji. Talk about good fortune!! Foul play, doesn’t it look like?

4) My current hobby before sleeping is browsing the Pakistani news sites for their opinion pieces related to India and the US. The vitriol being spewed in the name of unbiased editorials is funny in a perverse way. The country is a tinpot “democracy in name only” running via remote control which is in the hands of the uniform wearers. Its financials are in doldrums and its economy is in a precarious state. It relies on the US for survival. The US in turn does its typical dadagiri. The editors forget the US aid and focuses only on the dadagiri. The tone of these US related articles is such that the aid portion takes one or two lines while the “jyaagti”, the “imperialism” portions take thousands of lines. Hey people, you invited Uncle Sam in your territority in return of roti, kapda and makaan. Now do not complain what they do to you in return. Then there is the India bashing. Anything and everything is blamed on India, specifically RAW. The name of RAW is invoked with sheer disgust. Never knew our faction ridden intelligence agency is this good.

5) The Ashes beckon. THe English are overly confident of their chances. They have had a string of good result. Conversely, Australia are in a relatively bad portion. The English say that the Aussies are at their weakest having lost 3 Test matches in a row. However if one looks a little more closely, it does not seem that simple. England’s successes have all come at home. Australia’s defeats have all come overseas. Australia has lost only one series at home in this decade. That loss was against South Africa with the scoreline of 2-1 in a 3 Test series. The teams had then played another 3 Test series in South Africa where the Aussies whacked the Springboks 2-0. So, I would never bet against the Aussies in a 5 Test series at home.

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New post for Bored

A senti post on today’s sad happenings in the cricket world for Bored

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The inscrutable bunch

– A player who has made retiring and unretiring a hobby of sorts.
– A player accused of tampering the pitch / ball / both who is appointed captain.

Read the rest here.

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A post for the BCCI (after along time)

After God knows how long, a post for the BCCi. In fact am surprised, I still am able to post for them:)

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Some questions to ponder over.

Is each and every little snag occurring while takeoff/landing of aircrafts been blown into a “Major disaster averted” headline by our media? Is the media actually wanting another Mangalore to happen?

What are the odds for the Congress being behind the leaking of information on the Sharad Pawar backed bid for an IPL franchise?

Is the recent coverage on Rahul Gandhi (Link1, Link2) an indication that 7 Race Course may see a change in resident in a few months?

Has the media forgot amidst the euphoria about Mamata Didi’s tremendous win in Bengal, the horrific train “accident” and Didi’s ridiculous oppurtunistic theories about it?

Isn’t the meaningless, inconsequential string of limited over matches killing interest in cricket? Are the cricket administrators not understanding this?

Did you know that our women boxers rocked in the Asian Boxing Championship? Or that the hockey team were joint Azlan Shah Cup winners? What’s that? India lost to Zimbabwe in cricket? Again? Such a shame!!

Why is love such a bitch?

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Some questions for Mr. Dhoni

Some questions for Mr. Dhoni after today’s brilliant performance against a mediocre West Indies.

1. Why did your Holiness deem it fit to go with just 3 frontline bowlers (one of them not 100%) after the fantastic bowling performance of the part time spinners especially the esteemed Ravindra Jadeja (Someone was whispering the theory of Jadeja being banned from IPL3 just so that he would spring one hell of a surprise in the West Indies. What a wonderful surprise for all of us!!) against the Australians just two days ago.
2. Even after going with just three frontline bowlers (one of them not 100% fit), why did you, o drinker of buffalo’s milk by the litre, elect to frigging bat after winning the toss….again!! Wouldn’t your awesome part time spinners have been a little more effective after some wear and tear of the pitch i.e. in the second inning.
3. You made Harbhajan, the only effective bowler bowl 75% of his quota in the first 5 overs. Who do you think was going to bowl in the last overs. Jadeja? Oh yes, you did think of that. He bowled so well that he conceded just 13.5 runs an over, a marked improvement over day before yesterday where he conceded 19 runs an over.
4. Speaking of Jadeja, what was the wisdom (no doubt profound) in picking him if you are going to send Harbhajan before him? Wouldn’t a Vinay Kumar or an Umesh Jadhav have been a better bet. You see, they bowl a little quick and this pitch was supporting fasties like Shashi Kapoor used to do to Amitabh Bachchan in the 70s. Must say, your support for Jadeja is unwavering. Pity, you do not reserve it for chaps like Ojha.
5. You have Chris Gayle batting like, well, Chris Gayle. He hits a skier. You run to catch it. So does Yusuf Pathan. The ball is in the air long enough for both of you to play rock, paper and scissors let alone just cry “mine” to decide who goes for it. You do not do so instead doing a perfect impression of people getting into a 8.15 Churchgate fast. No doubt, you were giving Gayle a chance to make a match of it. Pity the West Indians did not reciprocate and in effect out fielded your team, a feat so rare that they themselves must not be believing it.
6. Your batsmen are out to bat. The West Indians are bowling. It’s a bouncer. Followed by another one. And another. Then, surprise, another. You must have had a flashback of another such match. Same opponents. A year ago. In England. This same tactics was used against your eswashbuckling batsmen by the West Indies in the last T20 World Cup. Then you had the excuse of not being used to it. What now? You had a full year to prepare yourself against this same line of deliveries. You had the company of greats like SRT, VVS, Dravid. Hell, even Ganguly knows how to tackle short pitched deliveries. You had them in your dressing room. Your bloody coach was a fantastic player of hostile, short pitched deliveries. What did you do this entire year? Of course, you must have been busy finding your lost Maxx Mobile and carting the innocent namby pamby deliveries offered to you in the IPL.
7. You are batting in the company of Harbhajan. Asking rate is 16. He hits a straight drive. You insist on going for a risky second. When boundries are required, you are more hell bent on stealing an extra frigging run. Aren’t you, the only recognized remaining batsman supposed to take the responsibility of hitting boundries. That you got run out taking that stupid run just makes it worse.

I am not one who is into knee jerk reactions. Neither am I one to take a T20 tournament that seriously. What pisses me off is the sheer thoughtlessness shown today by the Indian team. I hold Dhoni personally responsible for today’s shoddy performance against a really mediocre West Indies. Why, you ask. When India won the inaugural T20 championship, he was the one lauded for extracting such a great performance from a team which did not include the holy troika. The successes that India has earned in Tests and ODIs under him have been attributed, at least partly (no doubt deservedly) to his fearless captaincy. If he gets the bouquets, so shall he get the brick bats. What is more a matter of concern is that if this same pigheadedness by Dhoni continues, India could suffer more just like it did in 2004 after the success of 03-04 got into Ganguly’s head. We do not want that. Especially with Aussies coming for a Test series in the future with revenge in their mind and a Border Gavasker trophy to win. The rot has to be treated. Now!!


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Some observations about the T20 WC

The tournament as such
It is a huge relief hearing a hit over the boundry being called a “six” and not a “maximum” and not been shown umpteen glimpses of the f’n blimp.
The contest between bat and ball is more even than before in a T20. 190 is looking genuinely unbeatable. Nice to see bowlers getting to shine and win some MoM awards.
Duckworth Lewis in T20s is to put it mildly, rubbish. If you are not changing calculations, at least increase the minimum overs required for a match to 10. Watching a six over match deciding the fate of sides in a goddamn World Cup is very embarrassing.
ESPN Star Sports have caught the Set Max bug when it comes to pre math shows. Cyrus has never been this irritating. He needs a Bhogle by his side. Shonali Nagrani or whatever is a pain to the ears.
One understands that due to the time zone issues, the matches have to be played early in the morning. But isn’t it leading to lower turnout? Has the ICC not learnt its lesson from the debacle that was WC 2007 (50 overs) when it pissed off the locals so much that it led to a pathetic atmosphere which contributed to the mega event being a flop?
The cheerleaders? Hott. The fat bare chested white tourist flaunting their tattoed wares in the pool and all over the stadium? Repulsive.

The Teams (that are left standing…just)
The Indian team is looking like it is going through the motions. The drive is not there. The only standout performer was Sharma who has a point to prove. I like the IPL. However the timing of the same has definitely led to the under performance of the men in blue.
The Pakistanis have been themselves. Self destructive to the core. Cannot wait for the post tournament shenanigans to start. What are the odds of Mohd. Yousuf being the next captain with Mr. Sania Mirza being his deputy?
The Saffers seem to have taken their time to fire up. Nothing other than this explains a loss to the Indians. Now, they are in the zone and only a “South Africa special” choke can stop them from being in the final.
The Aussies have been on the game since day 1. Their bowling looks badass being led by the wild man Nannes. Front runners for the trophy inspite of Micheal Clarke playing like shit.
The Poms have somehow got into the Super 8. The English weather has followed them with rain paying them a visit every time. Still they are here and have even benefited a little from the self destroyers. Do not think they will go further.
The Kiwis have been their usual dilligent selves. Jesse Ryder is waving the flag on behalf of all pot bellied belters of the ball. Vettori is as usual doing the multi tasking. They have found a match winner in Nathan McCullum which is a pleasant surprise. Good chances of reaching the semis but not further as usual.
The Sri Lankans have like the Saffers started slow. However led by the turbo charged batting by Jayawardhene (what is with SL middle order batters metamorphosing into badass openers – Jayasuriya, Dilshan and now Jayawardhene?), they seem a sure semi final bet.
The Windies have blown hot and cold. Their batting remains attractive. In the field, however they are crap.

Special mention of the Afghans. They have risen very quickly from division 5 of the ICC championship to qualifying for this tournament. They are a team worth following and cheering. It is stories like theirs which makes one believe in the power of sport in spite of all the rubbish around it (I am looking at you, BCCI, and you Lalit Modi, and you, Mr. Pawar and so on and so forth).


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A tribute to Anil Kumble

November 2, 2008. Australia in India 2008. 3rd Test. The match is heading for a draw. India is 1-0 up with one more Test to go, meaning that India will not lose the series. All is good for the Indian fan. Then we hear about it. Anil Kumble is retiring after this Test. Some said that it was due. He was getting ineffective. Some said that his absence will not be felt as the new generation was taking over smoothly. I almost cried.

When I first saw Kumble, he was 21 years old, bespectacled and gangly. The prototype engineer nerd (he is an engineer), most of the Indian cricket fans must have undoubtedly thought. He played his first Test in England, a disastrous tour where Graham Gooch seemed to take out all frustration built up over the years (Gower, South Africa adventure, et al) on the hapless bowlers, Kumble included. It was a horrible time for an Indian cricket fan especially new ones. I was eight then and got put off by the pathetic display. So much that the next international cricket event I properly followed was the World Cup of 1992 just because of the colored clothing and Martin Crowe’s batsmanship (Thank you ODIs and Crowe). By that time I had stopped following our young “engineer”. Then the South African tour of 92/93 started. Again, it was a disappointing performance. We lost miserably. However, the Proteas were flummoxed by our bespectacled leggie. They were so confused with his straighter ones that they played all around it. He was the saving grace. And finally he got noticed. People thought that this guy is good. Then the Poms came to India and the real fun began.

On admittedly underprepared dustbowls, Kumble backed by the finger spinners took out all the frustrations of 1990 on the English batsmen, making them look stupid and destroying some careers (anyone remember the wicketkeeper who went by the name Blakey). He seemed unplayable, which was unexplainable to some purists because he hardly turned the ball. After that, there was no stopping. The wickets came, batsman kept on getting flummoxed by the ball which just never turned. They were also awed by his non stop bowling. The man could bowl all day long without losing any accuracy. Ian Chappel once called him Duracell. At one point the man had one of the most stinging yorkers which he used for taking care of the tailenders. This bowler was unique. His bowling style seemed very similar to the great Chandra. The same high arm action, fast (for a spinner) pace and that damn flipper. However Chandra’s bowling looked freaky. Many times it looked as if the man himself did not know what he was bowling. Kumble on the other hand seemed to know what he bowled. Which made him one of the most dangerous bowlers in the early 90s.

However his salad days were numbered. As he bowled more, the more the opposition learnt how to cope up with him. The Sri Lankans were the fastest learners. First, they had a lot of southpaws. Kumble for some reason did not like lefties. The Lankans also started playing him like a medium pacer. Post 1996, the man started becoming less effective. And then, shock, horror the Poms started playing him adeptly. Though he was still awesome in home matches, he lost his sharpness while playing in the spin unfriendly pitches overseas and against those damn Lankans.

Then there were the doubting Thomases. It is interesting to see that the main strengths of the greatest spinners’ of our era (Murali, Warne and Kumble) became their greatest impediments. Murali’s unique action became a sort of albatross with the cries of chucker not subsiding even after so many tests on him and others. Warne’s unique mind which made him such a dangerous proposition led to accusations of headstrongness which led to him not getting to captain his country which is his one regret. In case of Kumble, it was his non turning deliveries. No matter how many wickets he took, they were attributed to the Indian pitches. His toothless bowling overseas was submitted as proof of the same. Slowly and slowly, with the emergence of Harbhajan Singh, he lost his position as the premier strike bowler of India. For me, Kumble hit rock bottom during the 2003 World Cup where he got just one game and could not even take a wicket there. The knives were out. Journalists had started writing the obituaries of his career.

What differentiates a champion from the pretenders is their attitude while facing challenges. Any normal spinner would have buckled under the pressure and flunder. We have precedents of the same (Sivaramakrishnan, Maninder Singh, Rajesh Chauhan, V. Raju, etc.). However Kumble is not a pretender. Stronger than his flipper was his heart. As age and injuries blunted his former strengths, he started adding new variations. Slowly and slowly he worked on them and became a more cerebral bowler. This new Kumble was unleashed against the Australians in 2004 in Australia. Against all the odds, our man took 24 wickets against the greatest team of the time. It was euphoric seeing the man enjoying each and every wicket he took. Even more euphoric was seeing him outwit the bowler and playing mind games with them. The doubters could now shut up. Kumble was back.

We also saw the statesman side of Kumble when he was given the captaincy in 2007. His strong leadership led to India coming out of one of the most acrimonious series of this millennium with their chins high. No prizes for guessing which one was that. The man also has shown class by retiring when he knew that he could not perform at the level expected of him anymore. Which is why his retirement was so touching. The man knew when to give up, a quality sadly rare among our legends (I am looking at you Mr. Dev). Now he is turning it on for the Royal Challengers. The respect that volatile chaps like Pieterson, Uthappa and the coach, Ray Jennings have for him is testament to his personality and class. And he still has time to flummox the young batters with his bowling. One hears calls for SRT to play in the World T20. I will not find it surprising if there are calls for Kumble to come back.

I will end this post with the most enduring memory of Kumble. India vs. West Indies in Antigua, 2002. India batting first on an absolute shirtfront makes 513 runs and takes 2 days making it (This was before Sehwag). While batting, Kumble gets one searing bouncer from Mervyn Dillon which breaks his jaw. He is to be flown to India for an operation. The West Indians begin batting and do well. Then against the run of play a few wickets fall. Lara and Hooper, the two best batters of the opposing team are on the wicket. Their wickets will give India an opening through which they can win the match, a rare win overseas at that time. End of over. Then there is a commotion. The camera pans to the boundary ropes adjacent to the India dressing room. There is Kumble in playing whites complementing the huge bandage around his jaws bowling a few practice deliveries. He comes out and everyone is stunned. This man is not supposed to even chew food let alone come out and bowl. He does so. And bowls beautifully. Irrespective of the pain that shoots up as he bounds in, the pain that screams “stop” as he goes on to appeal. He gets rid of Lara. Then gets Hooper out on a no ball. Then sees him get dropped. The day ends. Kumble bowls 14 of the most beautiful and brave overs. As he leaves the ground, he gets a standing ovation. Harshe Bhogle is on air talking about what he saw, trying to speak inspite of the lump in his throat and the tears that seem to well up in his eyes. I do not think there was a single dry eye in the ground. I also cried a little then. This was also one of the reasons why I almost cried on 2nd November 2008. You do not make men like Anil Kumble anymore.


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