In the weeks leading up to the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2008, the BCCI (as usual) made a gaffe of gigantic proportions by announcing to the blood thirsty media that ‘Senior players should inform them of their retirement plans so that the BCCI can prepare for an appropriate send-off for them.’ That careless let-up by the richest cricket board in the world nearly ruined what could have been a perfect farewell for the top senior players in the Indian team, who by all means, have earned it.
Within no time the media-hounds were in hot pursuit of everyone from Tendulkar to Kumble enquiring whether there was pressure on them from Board to hang up their boots in a hurry. While most remained mum, one man who characteristically remained reserved in situations such as these snapped back saying ‘I will retire as and when and I want to.’ That man, of course, was Anil Kumble.
In the weeks to come, Kumble’s defiant statement was overshadowed by Saurav Ganguly’s decision to retire from international cricket at the end of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2008, and his subsequent outburst at the outgoing selection committee. Naturally then, when the series commenced all eyes were glued on Saurav Ganguly. Every run he made was cheered, every fifty he hit was built up as a slap in the face of Dilip Vengsarkar and every passing day became a reminder of the gigantic void he would leave behind once he retired.
Around the same time, the senior-hating media, unaware of Kumble’s future plans, heavily criticized his captaincy in the first test and questioned his fitness when he pulled out of the second. The anti-Kumble media protest became the shrillest when he was selected ahead of Harbhajan Singh for the third test match in Delhi, with some caustic yesteryear figures going as far as saying that it would cost India the series.
Unaffected as usual, Kumble went ahead took to the field with his men as they pummelled the Aussies during the first two days piling on a score in excess of 600 runs.
In the Aussie reply when Kumble injured his left hand while attempting a difficult catch, more than a few snickered knowing that he would now be unable to play the final test and his chances of returning to the Test side would be bleaker still with Amit Mishra announcing himself as Kumble’s heir apparent.
As the third test headed for a tame draw on the final day with Ganguly batting on 30-odd runs at ground littered with ‘Farewell Saurav’ hoardings,Kumble surprised the world with a googly, the likes of which he fauxed batsmen all the world over the years. To the world and to the BCCI (with their ‘Retirement Scheme’), the announcement may seem absolutely out of the blue.
But anyone who knows Kumble or understands the man one bit would know that this is exactly how he wanted to go – On his own terms without the maddenning excesses of a BCCI function. Truly his timing was perfect!
When the world questioned whether Kumble would ever return once the finger injury ruled him out of the final Test at Nagpur, Kumble defied all speculation with a bowling spell that was both a testament to his ability as a player and his mental strength as a competitor. With a heavily bandaged left hand, Kumble managed to pick up 3 wickets and wrapped up the Aussie tail, much like in the Caribbean half a decade ago when he came back to bowl even after his jaw was shattered by a Mervyn Dillon bouncer.
Cricket pundits may celebrate his 6-12 in the Hero Cup or his perfect 10-76 at the very ground he announced his retirement today, as his most impressive performances, but to me the two abovementioned instances where Kumble battled both his critics and his own body will remain as the most enduring images of the man.
His retirement may not be conventional, but then again, Kumble never was a conventional player to begin with. The purists called him more of a medium pacer than a spinner but his statistics speak for himself.
Throughout his career, he soldiered on for the cause of team. Rarely was thanked for it. The test captaincy as most agree came half a decade too late but regardless of what ‘could have been’, it’s very likely that Kumble retired today as a man with no regrets.
Amit Mishra’s performance in the first test may show a sign of hope for the future, but there’s no denying the fact that there’s a long long way to go before the void that Jumbo leaves behind will be filled.
Farewell Anil Kumble – And Congratulations for a glorious career!
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