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Monday, January 17, 2011

One More Googly: A Tribute to Anil Kumble

The last ball has been bowled. The pitch has been covered and the players have walked back to the pavilion. And around the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, the grandstands are deserted and forlorn.

We have said farewell to cricket. And farewell too, to the King of cricket’s all time great bowlers. The game will come again with the World Cup and IPL. But the King will come no more. For the King is 40 and alas, the game has changed. The elephants of Nagarhole, the tigers of Kabini and the temple bells of Banashankari and Basavanagudi are calling him. As well as the cricket clubs and the young boys who throng the KSCA, aspiring to fame and stardom or at least a livelihood through a game that brings – sometimes cheer, sometimes heartburns – to a billion Indians.

No more shall we see him tripping down the pavilion steps, with the ball in his hand and leading an army of Royal Challengers. No more shall we see him returning to the pavilion after a rich haul or a miserly spell. No more shall we see the grim face battling it out in the middle and bowling with a bandaged head. The well graced player has already left the pitch and becomes only a memory in a world of happy memories. And “hats off” to the boy from Jayanagar, the young man from Bengaluru and the King of the great art of googlies.

It is undeniable that as a bowler, this Bangalorean will live as the supreme exponent of the fading art of leg spin and googlies – a claim that is easily sustained by his achievements. But we judge a bowler not so much by the wickets he gets but by the way he gets them. Any batsman who has been bowled by the King’s googly knows that he walked back as a loser.

In the quality of his play, commitment to the spirit of the game, and the attitude he carried throughout his career, he is unlike anything that has been seen on the cricket field, certainly in his time. How frustrating must it have been for him to be often ‘rested’ even while he was at his prime, and among the top few wicket takers in cricket’s history. To have equalled cricket's greatest bowling record at the highest level only to be in the 'wait list' a few seasons later. There was extraordinarily little display of disappointment in his demeanour. Yet, a seething anger and a resolute mind to get back could be seen in his eyes whenever he sat in the pavilion, twiddling his thumbs. Those must have been his lowest moments. Yet in our eyes, he was always held in the highest esteem.

His run up was unique and so different from most other bowlers of his genre. Only his upper half lounges forward, springs up and down, then his lower half and the legs and then they all seem to cooperate with each other and let the arm go up, the fingers letgo the ball and whizz in the air for a few seconds before it hits the ground. And mesmerizingly turn in any of many directions, leaving the batsmen clueless as to what game the bowler is playing.

Cricket has seen many bowlers who have played the game, taken many wickets and gone into oblivion. But few will be remembered for a long time. The Bengaluru Huduga (Bangalore Boy) ranks on top of that list. For he ran through an entire side in an innings – a feat that had been achieved only once before. A feat that was immediately recognized by his state and city in no less a way than by naming a prominent junction of Bengaluru’s most prestigious road, Mahatma Gandhi Road, after him. An achievement unparallelled by the greatest cricketers, or perhaps even the greatest sportsmen, anywhere in the world.

The Mahatma himself did not live to see the road named after him!

His bowling may be compared to the music of Kishore Kumar – there is action, entertainment and with so much melody. Or to the acting of Madhuri Dixit – there is beauty, there is sizzle and yet, so much charm and grace.

Very few cricketers of his stature have won so peculiar a place in the affections of their fans. Through his simplicity, in the midst of all his greatness, he was rooted to the man that he is – no airs, no complexes and very simply, proud to be an Indian, a Kannadiga and a Bengalurean. Never the type to shun the vernacular, on or off the field, his teammates and fans alike can't forget screams of “O du, O du” (meaning: Run! Run!!) with his good friend Srinath as they hung around with their bats in a spirited partnership to take India to a win over Australia while their mothers watched from the pavilion with anxiety and pride.

If the modest, yet accomplished Bangaloreans ever wanted their own man to be the voice of Indian cricket, the Bengaluru Huduga transformed into a Big Brother when he led India in Australia in 2008. How he handled the controversy that followed was best summed up by another of India’s greatest cricketing sons – Kapil Dev – who said the captain’s statement “only one side played in the true spirit of the game” will be etched in immortality. Those words, as we have seen, were the first mortal blows on the pride and history of Australian cricket. The men who received it would have preferred to be bowled by his googlies for a duck.

To the people of Karnataka, he occupied a very special place in every household. As a true "Mannina Maga" (son of the soil), Kumble demonstrated his affiliation by being one of the earliest to share his concern when crisis hit Karnataka during the kidnapping of Annavaru (Dr Rajkumar) or to pay tributes when Annavaru and Sahasa Simha Dr. Vishnuvardhan died. Fittingly, people of Karnataka have reciprocated his gestures by giving nearly the same legendary, folklore and iconic status to him as to these celluloid heroes.

So the King of Cricket’s greatest bowlers will now continue to work for his country, his state and his city – and ring in a new chapter in the annals of the game as well as its administration – but the holiday crowds will no longer see him on the ground – to bowl one more ball, to take one more wicket and to lead his team to one more win.

They are all happy memories of a soon to be “bygone era”.

(This article is dedicated to AG Gardiner (1865-1946), author of "The Jamsahib of Nawanagar", from whose work I have liberally borrowed words, sentences and style;

and to Late Mr K Nanjundaiah, English Teacher & Headmaster at National High School, Bangalore, during the 1940s, 50s and 60s, and grandfather of Anil Kumble)

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Based in Bangalore, I am an IT Strategy, Business Process Management and ERP Implementation consultant in media research and healthcare domains. Writing on social media/technology and cricket is my hobby and special interest. My cricket blogs can be read at the Royal Challengers website.

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