Now that one thinks about it, it couldn’t really have been any other way.
The country, as was often the case with him, cribbing and questioning in the background. The batters scoring 600. And the team failing to win from that position. But Anil Kumble battling on till his body wouldnt do his mind’s willing anymore. One hand hurt going for a catch that would ordinarily have been well left by most in the team. That hand then administered 11 stitches under general anaesthesia. Kumble asking if the stitches could be administered under local anaesthesia ( I need to bowl tomorrow) and being told that it was a medical decision and not a cricketing one. Then coming out to bowl the next day and taking three wickets including a caught and bowled. All this while, as we now know , having decided that the next day would be his last in Tests. Waiting then till the game was safe before informing all that this was it. That every last ounce of effort and grit had been squeezed out by him. He couldn’t take it anymore and didn’t want to let the team down. That yes, there was unfinished business and he wished he was part of it – and he would be there in Nagpur – but not in the team shirt but still with the team spirit.
It really couldn’t have been any other way.
Sportsmen are like that. They crave performance. And the win. What else is there, after all is said and done. But with this man, somehow always plagued with questions, there has always been more.
India played Australia earlier this year under his captaincy and we remember Sydney but forget Perth way too easily. What does it take to come back from that ? What kind of leader is it that so inspires his men in a foreign land that after 16 wins, its the winning captain who’s inviting criticism ? What kind of man so lives the spirit that when he says that only one team was playing by it , it doesn’t evoke Jardinesque memories? Controversy, dubious umpiring , relentless media pressure, errant behaviour, 0-2 down in the series heading to the favourite turf of the world’s no 1 team. And we won.
And yet we thanklessly questioned.
Earlier this series, in Bengaluru, Ricky Ponting called it right and on a no-help pitch , he bowled 40 nagging overs in the first innings to make the Aussie juggernaut seem like a caterpillar crawl. Then the shoulder acted up and he couldnt bowl for a good part of the second. And we told-you-so-ed. And then, with a billion people in the know, he came out to bowl again and as the cameras tried their darndest to help us, we couldn’t catch a grimace. But that we ignored and we looked for turn where no one got any. And we thanklesssly questioned.
But now, he’s gone. And because he wasn’t the kind that marketing gurus would like to project in their infinite wisdom , we won’t see him in too many advertisments , like we haven’t in his career. But he will remain a model.
Many years ago, he did an ad campaign. Here are the details from an India Today story which captured the essence of the man after his 10 for …
Tears stream down Vasanth Raghuvir’s face when she remembers the son she had — and lost. Velan, 19, died on May 21, 1998, his body unequal to the battle his mind waged against his corroding muscles, the degenerative muscular dystrophy. But Raghuvir’s tears fall not just from her grief; they’re her tribute to a little-known love Kumble offered Velan with the same dedication that he brings to his bowling.
Raghuvir does not try to understand the bond Anil Kumble shared with her dying son. “All I know is that he made a tremendous impact on Velan during the last year of his life,” says Raghuvir. For, that year Kumble was Velan’s life support, visiting him frequently, talking to him or when he couldn’t speak, simply being with him. She recalls a day in December 1997 when her son’s lungs collapsed, his body stricken with pneumonia. Kumble called that day, bound for Sharjah. “We told him Velan was critical and could not talk to him, but Anil insisted we just put the phone close to Velan’s ears and he would talk to Velan,” says Raghuvir. “My son was battling for his life and here was a man who until a few months ago was a complete stranger to all of us infusing him with life, with determination to fight back.” She recounts Kumble’s final visit to her son in his critical state. “It was,” says Raghuvir, “probably the happiest and greatest year in the life of my son.”
Velan, a first-class 2nd year biochemistry student in Chennai, was wheelchair-bound since he was 10 years old, when his wasting muscles took away the use of his legs. One day in May 1997, Raghuvir got talking to Rahul Dravid whom she met at a shop. She explained how she could not take her son to a cricket match because no stadium in India had a ramp, how it was humiliating for him to be carried. Dravid promised to introduce him to Kumble. On the appointed day, the spinner was there — 15 minutes early. “He need not have paid so much attention, but he was hovering around Velan, just being by his side.” Before leaving he fished out a giant autographed poster for Velan. “I can never express the joy I saw on my son’s face at that moment.” It was the start of an uncommon relationship. As it blossomed, Velan one day asked Kumble if he would appear in a campaign to build ramps for buildings. There was no hesitation, just an immediate yes. Kumble flew to Chennai and did a seven-hour shoot, all gratis. “The standing ovation he got for his 10 wickets is not enough, he should be given one every time he walks into a room,” says Raghuvir. “Just for his golden heart.”
Today, he says that in the future he plans to start an academy for budding cricketers. The future seems bright already.
Thank you, Jumbo.