A tall, lanky, bespectacled spinner walked out wearing the India colours on August 10, 1990 at Old Trafford. Many had their doubts on his capabilities because although he was a leg-spinner by craft, he could never turn the ball. (Sri Lanka v India Series Coverage)
Twenty-five years later, that very lanky leggie is one of the legends of the game with 619 wickets from 132 Test matches. Anil Kumble have won more Test matches for India than any other cricketer. However, his glittering career was always marked with whispers of – ‘he can’t turn the ball’. (India in Sri Lanka: Top-Five Bowlers to Watch Out For)
Kumble didn’t mind it, one bit.
“It doesn’t matter how you get the wickets”, said Kumble talking exclusively to NDTV, “at the end of the day you need to win the game and if a leg-spinner can get the wickets by bowling off spinners, it doesn’t matter.”
Anil Kumble was the spearhead of the Indian bowling attack for years and the hallmark of his bowling was his accuracy and tenacity. He was a brave man too. Against West Indies at Antigua in 2002, he bowled with a bandage round his broken jaw and picked up Brian Lara’s wicket. (Vijay Ruled Out of First Test)
“Always believed that if my shoulder is fine, I am fit to bowl”, said the man from Bangalore, “I knew the wicket had something and watching Sachin bowl his leggies got me excited. I wanted to make a contribution. Moreover, my jaw needed an operation so, it didn’t matter how broken it was.”
Kumble was a fighter to the core and he showed off his grit even with the willow in hand. Talking about his famous partnership with Javagal Srinath in the Titan Cup against South Africa in 1996 he said, “It was sad to see people leaving the ground, we just wanted to hang in there as long as we can.”
Since Kumble’s retirement, India have suffered in the spin department and barring Ravichandran Ashwin not many have stood up to the test. However, Ashwin too has had his fair share of criticism.
“I think he’s a fantastic bowler”, said Kumble about Ashwin, “What he has achieved is phenomenal and I think the critics haven’t been fair to him.”
Comparing Ashwin’s predicament to his own, the 44-year-old said, “It’s hard to be a spinner and perform abroad, you need to be a little tolerant.”
Talking about the drought of spinners in India, Kumble said, “There are a lot of young spinners in India. Karn Sharma, Axar Patel and Shreyas Gopal are very talented but you need to be patient with them.”
Kumble is also closely related to the Indian Premier League and is a mentor of the Mumbai Indians.
When quizzed about the recent troubles of the IPL, he said, “IPL will bounce back stronger. It has changed the way cricket is played and it will only get better in the future.”