The smiling assassin has the last laugh
Two decades ago, when a distraught Anil Kumble was
accused of chucking and stopped from bowling in the
nets of a local lower division club in a remote
ground in Bangalore, no one visualized that this
youngster would one day become India's greatest
"Everything I did at that stage was wrong. But I
did not know that, nor was there anybody to coach
me," said Kumble.
His greatest moment - The
ten-wicket haul against Pakistan at Delhi in
tall, gawky lad had just entered his teens when he
joined the club. He was keen on bowling medium
pace. But his bowling action was faulty. He then
took up off-spin bowling, but the quirk in the
bowling action remained. He was shouted at in the
nets and often stopped from bowling. In desperation
he turned to his elder brother, Dinesh, who asked
him to try his hand at leg-spin.
"My grip on the ball was that of an off-spinner's.
And I got used to that. Which is why even to this
day I grip the ball like an off-spinner, with the
gap between the forefinger and the second finger
being the widest," recalled Kumble.
The grip reduced the amount of leg-spin he could
impart on the ball. But his determination, focus,
aggression and a quick-thinking engineer's brain
that saw him constantly upgrading his bag of tricks
and plotting batsmen's doom were matchless assets
and made him a veritable force of one.
Indeed, 14 years after he made his foray in
international cricket and was repeatedly picked on
for not spinning the ball enough, bowling too fast,
not being a sharp fielder, etc, etc, Kumble has had
the last laugh on his critics. Today the `smiling
assassin' is not just another India bowler, but
their most successful ever. His bag of 434 Test
wickets from 90 Tests enabled him to draw level
with record holder Kapil Dev who reached that tally
from 131 Tests - 41 more than Kumble. Certainly
with a strike rate of 4.82 wickets per Test over a
14-year period, Kumble, is, without doubt, the
greatest bowler India has produced.
The smiling assassin
might contest this claim and certainly the reams of
prose written for ever so long about India's spin
quartet of BS Chandrashekar, Bishen Singh Bedi, EAS
Prasanna and S Venkataraghavan and also fast medium
bowler Kapil Dev, all of whom did yeoman service to
Indian cricket, will be flaunted as proof that
Kumble is not the greatest. But isn't he? For
starters, his record is far more impressive than
all these bowlers.
Take the matter of the number of Test wins Indian
bowlers have featured in. The fast-medium bowler
Kapil Dev played 41 Tests more than Kumble, but
lags behind him in the number of wins (see table).
Kumble who has starred in 28 Test wins, the maximum
number by an Indian bowler, is already four wins
more than Kapil Dev.
The classy left arm spinner Bedi, who played with
great distinction during the 1960s and 70s and
paceman Javagal Srinath featured in 17 wins apiece
-11 less than Kumble. The wily off spinner Prasanna
played in 15 wins and the former ace match-winner
Chandrashekhar in just 14.
If the number of Test wins is not enough to put
Kumble head and shoulders above the legion of
Indian bowlers, just look at the huge quantity of
match-winning wickets that puts him in a class of
one. He has a massive haul of 199 wickets in
matches won by India. This is unrivalled even by
the galaxy of great bowlers. In fact, none of them
has managed even 100 wickets in Test wins. The next
best, the enigmatic leg spin-googly bowler
Chandrashekar, captured 98 match-winning wickets
while left-arm spinner Bishen Singh Bedi bagged 97.
Kapil Dev has a mere 90 from 24 Test wins.
Kumble till date averages a Test win every 3.23
Tests. Prasanna averages a win every 3.26 Tests.
Bedi and Srinath averaged one win every 3.94 Tests.
Chandrashekar bowled India to victory every 4.14
Tests. But Kapil Dev (5.45), Venkataraghavan (5.7),
Vinoo Mankad (8.8) and Subhash Gupte (12) found
Test victories too far apart for comfort.
Another parameter that marks Kumble out as a
priceless asset to the Indian team is his
remarkable contribution to Test victories. Kumble
has a whopping 7.10 wickets per Test win. Only
Chandrashekhar who averages seven wickets per win
has a comparable record. The poorest record is that
of Kapil Dev who averages just 3.75 wickets per
Test won. In other words, his contributions to the
victories have not always been emphatic. The sample
size for Subash Gupte (three Tests) and Vinoo
Mankad (five Tests) are too small to arrive at any
Perhaps Kumble would have had a much more
staggering average of wickets per Test win if he
had a top class close-in field, particularly in the
silly point and forward short-leg positions. He has
also had very poor support from the wicketkeepers,
Kiran More, Nayan Mongia towards the latter part of
his career and the others, including Deep Dasgupta,
Ajay Ratra and Parthiv Patel.
Kumble, who is often used by his skippers to both
bag wickets and check the run flow, has not always
had good bowling support from the other end. It is
only of late that Harbhajan Singh has looked the
part. Else, the added pressure from the other end
would have resulted in more wickets and more wins.
But for all Kumble's magnificent record and his
undoubted contribution to Indian victories, what
have rankled are the barbs thrown by vested
interests and quickly picked up by unsuspecting
hacks: Kumble is effective only at home and needs
helpful pitches to perform.
These vested interests, usually former cricketers,
never ask, for instance, if any of Sunil Gavaskar's
centuries were notched on spiteful tracks. Or how
successful some of India's `great' batsmen have
been on green tops or bouncy tracks. In fact their
double standards stick out when they try and pick
holes in Kumble's performance.
Certainly, Kumble, with 162 wickets in Tests abroad
(five or more wickets in an innings on eight
occasions) has proved conclusively that he is a
force to reckon with both in India and abroad. The
away series against Australia and Pakistan in
2003-04, where he picked up 39 wickets in six
Tests, proved that if the Indian batsmen manage to
put sufficient runs on the board, Kumble would
deliver the goods.
More power to his arm!
Wkts in Wins
5 Wkt haul in Wins
Wkts per Win