Bye bye Kumble

One of the most revealing stories I heard about a cricketer came from one of my professors in engineering college, which also happened to be Anil Kumble’s alma mater.

In 1990 Kumble had to miss a considerable portion of his semester because of his debut tour to England. On his return, he was asked by the head of the department why he had missed so many days of college.

This was a baffling question in itself – since almost the whole college knew about Kumble’s entry into the Indian team – but nobody was prepared for the answer that was to follow. Kumble’s succinct reply: “I was away for sports.” (The exact words might have been different but it was no doubt a gargantuan understatement, appearing as if Kumble had gone to a neighbouring town to take part in an inter-district tournament)

The head of the department then apparently asked Kumble to leave the class and explain this predicament to the college principal, at which point some of his classmates decided to stop the farce by offering a detailed explanation. Kumble, of course, was treated as an exception by the university (thanks, in no small part, to a highly supportive principal) and went on to graduate without too many delays.

I was reminded of this story a few days ago when Kumble announced that he’s pulled out of the IPL. Without a trace of fanfare, his cricketing days are done. Citing “business and other commitments” (again, another big understatement given that he’s going to be playing a leading role in cricketing administration), he decided to move on.

For Kumble, actions always mattered much more than words, substance always meant more than style. If he was a mathematician he would have been more interested in an efficient solution, rather than an elegant one.

I once had the privilege of talking to him about the art of spin bowling. This was in 2006 and we were at a coffee shop in Selfridges at London’s Oxford Street. Kumble had just finished shopping at the Boots pharmacy nearby. I had initially wondered whether it was a good idea to meet a high-profile cricketer in such a public setting but through our time at Boots and a crowded Selfridges mall, I was to learn otherwise. Nobody stopped him for an autograph, nobody wanted a picture, hell nobody even stopped to give him a second look.

There were several fascinating aspects about the interview: he spoke about pacing himself through a match day, saving enough energy for the final session where he knew the batsmen would often be tiring; he touched upon the thought process behind the fields he set; and he spoke at length about assessing the pitch early and figuring out exactly what one must aim to do on each surface, prioritising run-saving and wicket-taking. He said bowlers often fell into a trap by aiming for too many wickets on a docile surface, when, in fact, it was an economical approach that would give them the most optimum results.

I then asked him whether he worries for the future of spin bowling in India. He said he was optimistic about spinners emerging but added that there was one aspect that was worrying: the fact that spinners weren’t being taught about the process of getting five wickets in an innings.

Now that threw me off a bit. I had never thought one can be taught such a thing. Yes, one can teach a young man to bowl legspin, one can coach him on mastering his action and one can train him on the different ways of turning a ball but five wickets? What did he mean by that?

Kumble explained with an analogy. Every batsman needs to understand that there is a process for scoring a hundred – one needs to be able to know when to defend and when to score, which bowlers to take on, which regions of the pitch to be wary of, which phases to accelerate and when to pull the shutters down. Through all this, one needs to have the patience and the temperament to score big. And once one reaches a hundred, one needs to be able to start afresh and want more. Much, much more.

In the same way, a bowler needs to be able to take five wickets. He needs to know how many overs he can bowl per spell, how he can work each batsman out, how to bowl at various stages of a session, how to bowl in tandem with the bowler at the other end (depending on whether he’s a fast bowler or a medium-pacer or a spinner), how to bowl to an experienced batsmen and how to bowl to someone new to the crease. Once he gets five wickets, a bowler needs to be able to start afresh and want more. Much, much more.

I found this illuminating. When we hear about a young bowler, we first hear of his pace (if he’s a quick bowler) or the amount of spin he is capable of. Then we’ll mostly hear about his action, the jump at the delivery stride, the aggression. Of course we’ll notice his statistics and the times when he took two or three wickets at a crucial stage of a game but rarely, almost never in fact, will we hear about his ability to take five-wickets.

While we scrutinise batsmen for their hundreds, we totally ignore the equivalent for bowlers. We see the number of wickets they’ve taken in a season but don’t pay as much attention as we should to the five-wicket hauls.

Kumble didn’t have a poetic bowling action, neither did he impart extraordinary turn on the ball. But 35 times in his Test career he showed us the art of taking five-wickets (on 8 of those occasions, he ended with 10 wickets in the match).

It was only fitting that he once got 10 wickets in an innings (probably the batsman’s equivalent of a 400). Over a span of a monumental career, he taught us one crucial lesson: turn is temporary, wickets are permanent.

Related reading: A tribute to Kumble when he equalled Kapil Dev’s tally of 434 wickets.

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37 Responses to Bye bye Kumble

  1. Ashwat Ramani says:

    turn is temporary, wickets are permanent! beautiful!

  2. Rishabh says:

    Great article! Kumble’s my hero, and the reason I bowl legspin today. I’ll miss watching my all-time favorite cricketer bowl.

  3. Venkat says:

    Very nice piece. But you, like most other writers make the mistake of saying that Kumble didn’t put much spin on the ball. He put enormous amounts of top spin on the ball (Side spin will get you exaggerated turn and top spin exaggerated bounce). So people who are spin bowlers themselves or love the art of spin bowling will tell you that Kumble was no different from many other spinners. And he is the first spinner from our country to debunk the nonsensical “flight the ball” theory. Our discourse on spin bowling hasn’t changed that much yet, but Kumble showed the world that you can be fast through the air and still get wickets. Great bowler. Greater person.

    • sidvee says:

      Thanks Venkat. If you noticed I used ‘turn’ and not ‘spin’. Was trying to bring out our common mistake of expecting major turn from legspinners.

  4. Srivatsan Rangan says:

    Beautifully crafted. Hats off to the legendary bowler. Am sure his entry to cricket administration could redefine Cricket in India.

    PS – I still remember how he came down with a fractured hand to help then young Indian spinners for the home series in 2001 against the might Aussies. He came down just on the request of John Wright. Total commitment and truly the unsung hero of Indian sports.

    • Nagaraj says:

      Please dont forget the WI tour where he bowled with a fractured skull that too in a Test match. I happened to see him from a distance of about 10 feet while I was walking through the corridors of a famous hospital in Bangalore. He was probably discharging his Dad.. while I saw him I was like WOW.. so simple.. no fan fare…

  5. Shiv says:

    Hey Sid- nice one, really enjoyed it
    Just chanced on ur blog and started reading all ur posts- really cool
    Happy newyear

  6. Imran says:

    Hard to think of a more thoughtful or more decent sportsman than Kumble. Great piece!

  7. Bharath says:

    Kumble has a lot of cricket left in him. This really is a premature exit for him from the big stage as a player, unlike his ex-colleagues Venkatesh Prasad and Javagal Srinath. I am surely gonna miss his leg spin and his googlies.

    • Ganesh says:

      I know I’m gonna miss him on the field in future but I am forced to feel that he took the decision at the right time. Better to bow out as a legend than be shamed out as a no-one(doesn’t the story of Dada ring something??).

  8. Vatsa says:

    Hats off Anil. I hope very soon you will have the support of Rahul, VVS and even Sachin to get our succession plan ready. Time spent by these greats in the NCA or with the team will help the youngsters a long way. The thinking cricketers of late 90s and first decade of this century would surely walk the talk, and hopefully not land in the confines of the Commentary box.

    Sid, have you stopped writing for cricinfo ?

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  10. Nice piece.
    Wonderful bowler and an even greater analyst of the game. I am glad that he is still involved with the game and hopefully his “adieu” from the game will mean a lot for the KSCA and a host of young players. Wonderful insight about 5 wicket innings. We always talk of planning and building an innings, rarely about planning your bowling spell.

  11. Plaban says:

    wow !!!! great article sid.
    Was always a fan of dedication and total commitment shown to the team’s cause
    by Kumble .
    A great role model. I always had the view that he got the captaincy late that too as a stop gap arrangement whereas he was a natural leader.

  12. Raj says:

    I dont know what to say.. looks like the Head of the department was completely out of touch with what is going on with his college and his students if he did not know a student in his college and Department had taken time off to represent India. The HOD should have been terminated immediately.

    • Aniket Malshe says:

      Spoken like a cricket fan. But think from HoD’s perspective. If he really did not know where Kumble was, then he has every right to question his absence. I find it a bit surprising that this happened without prior permission from the Principal and HoD.
      Kumble is by far the best tactician India ever produced. Whenever he came to bowl we knew something special is going to happen. I thought that he should have been made Indian captain a lot earlier, probably immediately after Ganguly. India might have been No. 1 during his tenure.

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  14. Mahek says:

    I hope Kumble replicates the dignity and poise he had on the field to his administrative life. Cricketers aren’t always the best administrators and I would love to see him be the exception that proves that rule.

    The analogy you draw between batting and bowling milestones is interesting. 5-fors have forever been considered the bowling equivalent of a century, but there’s a major difference here. While a team can score an infinite number of runs in an innings, there are only 10 wickets to go around for the bowlers. As a result, some really good bowlers don’t have a high percentage of five-fors while others who weren’t as good have a higher percentage. It’s simply due to the fact that if you’re part of a world class bowling attack the wickets get shared, but if you’re the only quality bowler in the side you’ll end up taking a chunk of the wickets.

    • sidvee says:

      True Mahek. I agree but as we discussed, I think he was talking entirely from his point of view. Unlike Warne, Kumble didn’t have the luxury of a McGrath at the other end.

  15. suranga says:

    Great write up. This was something a non cricketing type like me could understand. (I am a senior citizen mother type)

    I tried to understand a bit about his persona once and wrote this as a tribute to Kumble. And it doesnt surprise me one bit that he ruled himself out of IPL….

  16. amit says:

    Beautifully written.
    Of all the stars of yester years Kumble turned out to be the smartest and the one with his feet firmly on the ground. This was most highlighted when everybody thought it was foolish of him to pull out of IPL, but he avoided being rejected since he could measure the circumstances the best.

  17. Ganesh says:

    Good piece. And a timely decision by the man…good to not end up being a puppet in the hands of a few capitalists who just don’t realize as to what lows they’ve brought down the Gentleman’s Game with the IPL hoopla.(I mean come on,people like Rahul,McGrath,Saurav and Lara don’t even get the respect they deserve)

  18. Amit Kumar says:

    You are right… I think he should start his cricket academy for preparing quality spinner or leg spinner and he can more help to Piyush Chawla, Amit mishra, R. Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha and many more.

  19. Sandesh says:

    Good Luck and Good Bye Kumble…

  20. K.V. RAJAGOPAL says:

    Afte the exit of spin quartet, it was Anil Kumb le who brought glory to the Indian cricket. His consistent and proven performance in almost all the matches he played, shows the dedicati0n and application put by this genial cricketer. Wih Kumble int he attack, one can hope for wickets as he was an attacking bowler and our trump card. I remember int he 2003-2004 series agaisnt Australia in Chepauk, Aussies were sailing smoothly at 168 for and in a matter of time bundled out for 230 plus, thanks to the brilliant spell of Anil Kumble. It is sad that he did not get the recognition ace batsmen got in our country but Kumble, the living legend is ‘kohinoor’ diamond to cricket. One wishes all the very best in his role as an adminsitrator !

  21. Abhishek Shandilya says:

    Great Piece. I had huge honours for him and your write up has not just justified but substantiated to it. Keep coming up with more of these!

  22. kumuda says:

    Great one!well drafted article on Kumble. He always believed in ” Winners never quit and quitters never win” so he always embraced challenges and emerged as a winner , a winner always. I used to watch cricket matches only if Kumble was there and now i missed the chance completely! Anyways all the best for your new endeavors Kumble!

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  24. Akshay Parakh says:

    Very nice article.. covered various aspects and aura of this great cricketer except for one – Kumble was a great fighter.. I’ve never seen him bogged down and giving up in any situation in a match.. he always came back hard and was very thoughtful and precise in his counter-attacks. The fact that he judged very quickly that wickets won’t be easy on some pitches and adopted the run-strangling approach to get the batsman frustrated was simply one of the traits of a genius and he executed this to perfection. (No wonder he has the best avg. and eco. rate in both IPL’s) . Hats off to this Patriot who always fought for his country in a time where others played for records. There are no parallels one can draw of such Legends.

  25. Sriram says:

    I feel strongly about this whole conflict-of-interest business and I just wanted to share my thoughts. My views mirror yours and I wish you would do a blog post on this topic.

    1. I don’t know whether Kumble is guilty or innocent of favouritism for potential financial benefit. I don’t know how he will behave in the future in this regard.

    2. Would I be comfortable with anyone wearing so many hats? No. Doesn’t matter if it’s Kumble or Joe Bloggs. Principles have to be universal. For every Gandhi who wouldn’t exploit such a situation, there is always an N. Srinivasan to scare us. So, nobody should wear so many hats.

    3. If everybody concurs on point 2, pass an eff-ing law which defines what constitutes conflict of interest is in the context of cricket administration. To expect any one to follow unwritten laws is just being naive. Apart from coded laws, rights and wrongs are just points-of-view (re: the Dirac article I posted). For example, say that I am a superstar mathematician living in a conservative society which values mathematical talent highly and frowns upon live-in relationships (except for the rulers of the land). If I am convinced that there is nothing wrong with a live-in relationship and don’t care about what people think, why would I not go ahead with one? Expecting a great mathematician to be a moral champion (the word moral is vague) is just silly. Kumble’s case falls into this category.

    4. Harsha actually makes this point here ( To quote him: “At the best of times it’s a flawed equation, this assumption that a fine sportsman is a fine person, but it exists”, “At most times, sport is a noble contest but it is too much to expect all its practitioners to embodify similar virtues”. This article has a number of things I disagree with, but on these two points, I agree.

    5. Harsha’s latest article, though, is thoroughly disappointing. He says, “And establishes a precedent for someone who might possess a different set of values”. Who is setting the precedent here? Isn’t BCCI the one setting the precedent by allowing Kumble to continue wearing so many hats? Why doesn’t Harsha see that? This statement is what really got my goat and made type this out: ” the expansion of India Cements into northern markets using stars from CSK will necessarily, in public perception, be put alongside the desire to retain players after three seasons of the IPL.” So now Srinivasan’s misdeeds are just problems with my perception? Harsha is probably trying to be polite, but if he actually believes that, I am typing this sitting on a pink unicorn in Atlantis.

    Now I feel better:-)

    • sidvee says:

      Thanks for this Sriram. My biggest problem with this whole issue has been what you list as point 3. I am totally for scrutinising administers, I am totally for calling them out on conflict of interest but the biggest issue here (for me) is that the BCCI rule on CoI. Now they have a rule but it’s been modified to accomodate the head of the board (Srinivasan). The matter has been challenged in court (by Muthiah) and it is subjudice at the moment. But here is the issue – the guy running the board is setting a most dangerous precedent with CoI. And he needs to be pulled up because he is responsible for giving the whole system a direction. Of course, Kumble is not above criticism but the root cause of the issue here is the BCCI and their wishy-washy stance on CoI.

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