It works both ways. Sportsmen are defined by the way they redefine the game. Sunil Gavaskar came at a time when Indian batsmen were ridiculed for being sissies who simpered in the face of fast bowling. Without the protection of a helmet or body armour through much of his career, Gavaskar scored the most runs against the fearsome fast bowlers of West Indies. Kapil Dev started in an era dominated by the famed spin quartet, revived fast bowling, and showed that cavalier batting could win matches. Sachin Tendulkar struck fear in the hearts of bowlers all over the world. So, what about Anil Kumble? Well, he won matches for his country. Kiran More, who was keeping wickets when Kumble bowled his first ball in international cricket, calls him the “Muhammad Ali of cricket”. More did not explain what it meant, but Kumble landed more knock-out punches than any other cricketer in India’s history.
His 619 wickets in 132 Tests, played over 18 years, look even more awesome when one looks at his performance in wins. According to data from Cricinfo, the website, Kumble took 288 wickets in the 43 Tests that India won when he was in the team, or nearly seven wickets per winning Test. They came at an average of only 18.75 runs a wicket, and he claimed a wicket every 44.4 balls. The only other Indian to take more than 100 wickets in Test wins is Harbhajan Singh, who is way behind at 153 in 28 matches. Bhagwat Chandrasekhar took 98 in 14, Bishan Bedi 97 in 17, and Kapil Dev 90 in 24. And since Indian followers of the game love both statistics and comparisons, Kumble played just one Test more than the Haryana Hurricane, but took 185 more wickets. The cost per wicket was the same for both. Kumble took five wickets in an innings 35 times (23 for Kapil Dev) and 10 wickets in a match on 10 occasions (only two for Kapil Dev).
Spinners, especially of the wrist variety, were relegated to the margins by fast bowlers in the 1980s. Abdul Qadir’s bursts were sporadic, and L Shivaramakrishnan’s and Narendra Hirwani’s careers short-lived. Along with Shane Warne and Mutthiah Muralitharan, the only two who have more wickets, Kumble started and sustained the golden era of spin bowling. Warne’s record is more impressive, but he, more often than not, came to bowl in the wake of outstanding new ball bowlers. In the 1998 series in India, when Michael Kasprowicz and Paul Reiffel took the new ball, Sachin Tendulkar and Navjot Sidhu took Warne to the cleaners.
Kumble has spent an entire career being criticised for what he did not do. They said he did not turn the ball, did not have the leg spinner’s loop, and bowled too fast to get bite out of the pitch. They did not see what he did, which is take wickets. India’s famed spin quartet of the 1970s was loved by the romantics, but took only 853 wickets in the combined 231 Tests it played together. Finally, there is the inevitable Kumble-Warne comparison that is not mentioned often enough. You would be happier if your son took Kumble for a role model.
6 months ago