It was a warm Saturday afternoon in Jayanagar. Unusual for us, we turned up to play cricket at the NCJ ground. Unusual because this was the first time we were playing in the afternoon, mainly confining ourselves to God’s own time – early morning. The ground had been booked by the TV Artistes’ Association and there was a match going on, with quite a few well-known TV actors on the field. We waited patiently simply because there was a buzz around the ground, among those waiting. Anil Kumble was to be the chief guest to distribute prizes to the winning team.
After close to a half hour’s wait, he walked in from the main entrance, dressed in a relaxed, but no so casual manner, keeping with the occassion. We were standing close by, and all we could do was drop our jaws and stare. He looked at us. There was not even a twitch of his eyes or face and he just walked by. Clearly a man used to dropped jaws and stares on the road. He was tall, not just tall in height, but he towered, almost like watching a super human person on TV. He walked all the way to the other end of the ground where the shamianas had been put up, drawing awed glances from everyone circling the outside of the boundary.
After the match, there was a ceremony and then the crowd gathered around. Me and Shashi (Shankar’s brother) took a bat around at just that time, and managed to squeeze in close to him. He was very relaxed, even in the crowd, and we offered him our bat to autograph. Someone passed along a marker and he signed the bottom part of the back of the bat. Thanks, we said and someone asked us to stand for a photograph. We stood there, got photographed and left promptly, our day having been made.
Soon, he left the way he came in, alone and raising glances. His “Ford Endeavour” was parked right outside the gate and he just drove away.
The bat came to be known as the “Anil Kumble bat” and considering that it was also the best bat we had in terms of weight and power it was always in use and demand. Soon things changed and I moved to Australia, during which time he extended his match-winning abilities to series wins in the West Indies and England. I returned after my masters, as I had a two month break before I joined MS. Managing to visit the cricket team on one of the weekends, as we had also moved far away to Mallathahalli from Srinagar, I was saddened to see very few people I knew from over 5 years of cricket on the ground and with the group. None of the group who played the day we got the signature was there. My agenda that day was also simple, play some cricket, chat around, get the Kumble bat saying it was mine (It was Shankar’s and he agreed that we needed to get the bat away before the newbies lost it) and keep it away with me, safe. Sadly, that was not to be, as on asking around I realized that the idiots had lost the bat!
The picture was complete and I realized things had moved on, and it was time for me to move on from playing cricket with that group.
And now, as the man himself retires from cricket, it rends my heart as I realize I possessed something, not too many people have, and was careless enough to let others lose it! The very thought that the bat might be lying in someone’s home without him knowing its a real signature from the Man himself, pains my heart!
Anil Kumble, however, will remain a man above just a bat and a signature. He will go down as a significant part of my lifetime. It was 1990 when I first heard of him and I was 10, without any idea of how test matches could be drawn when teams haven’t beaten the other side. The gangling guy with specs and a moustache from my own Bangalore, having studied in the same college as my cousin bowling in England and then taking wickets in SA. In 6 years, I would be walking the portals of that esteemed college and follow his path for 6 more years after that.
I joined National College, Basavangudi in 1996 for my PU. The first day, the principal announced “This is the college where Anil Kumble studied!”. By that time he was a household name having won many series at home for India. After my PU, once I went into Engineering at the RV College, Bangalore, it continued – “We give equal importance to sports and academics, Anil Kumble did his engineering in our college”. I glowed with pride as one of the few to having followed in his footsteps at least academically. (Am sure inthing would be feeling something similar :))
I still remember his 10-for, as after the 7th wicket, the entire city went powerless, only for it to be restored after the 8th or the 9th wicket as the city heaved a sigh of relief.
The papers were all over the power cut the next day! Its so fitting he called his day on that ground.
Words fail me now, as I try to write up what he has meant for me and his fans all over the country for the past 18 years. And I don’t want to belittle his contributions with words that might just not do enough justice to him and his contributions to Indian cricket.
All I can say is it has been a privilege watching him play cricket, winning us matches and holding himself in dignity as a representative of Indian cricket, no matter how bad the situation might be, and most importantly, being humble with feet firmly on the ground through all the success he has achieved. I will forever cherish meeting him that day and shaking hands with the big man.
Test cricket will never be the same without the big man running in to get his due, the tiger setting the trap and moving in for the kill. Heck, test cricket will never be the same knowing that Anil Kumble is no longer part of the team. Every since I managed to understand test cricket enough to follow it, he’s been there. It’ll be hard to believe a test squad will be without Anil Kumble in it.
As far as cricket and Anil Kumble go, the honor for each other is mutual. Its not often someone like Anil steps into the ground to represent the game.
I memorized the number of his Silver Ford Endeavour and still remember it, hoping that someday I might catch it in traffic and say “There goes the greatest bowler India has ever produced”.