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Save the elephant

It had to occur when I was asleep. The countless replays and reruns ever since cannot make up for that one moment of letting your guard down. When Anil Kumble ran through a hapless Pakistani line-up one February afternoon at the Feroz Shah Kotla, I woke up just in time for the last two wickets. During that passage of play, one of the greatest acts of sportsmanship also played itself out parallely. Javagal Srinath attempted what no other bowler ever had – giving it your heart and soul in a bid not to get a wicket. The rest they say is history.

Many reams of paper have been deployed to describe this legend’s legacy, whose exploits are well entrenched in the annals of the game. For who can forget his perfect 10, his broken jaw that didn’t get in his way or how he helped India cross the finish line with his bat in an unforgettable ODI with his statemate Srinath at Bangalore. But to limit Anil Kumble to his achievements would be a great disservice to this man. For he is far more than the sum of his exploits.

Recently, after raising his bidding price, he quietly chose to step down from playing, thus bringing down the curtains on one of the most prolific careers ever to play itself out on the field. While t20 is described as the youngest man’s game, not many know that he possessed one of the best averages during the last 3 seasons of the IPL. It is conveniently forgotten that it was he who goaded an underachieving team to reach the finals and the semi-finals. It has slipped out of our collective memory that he unassumingly took over from the overpaid, overrated Kevin Pietersen, who among other things, claimed England won the Ashes because he stepped down (maybe it is true.)

But the life lessons we can learn from Kumble aren’t always picked from the playing field. His competitiveness and dedication are beyond question. It was how he played the cards that were dealt to him that mattered. Today, everybody is in a hurry to get to the top at the speed of an sms. Cricketer’s become millionaires at the drop of a hat (or hammer in this case). A look at his career trajectory shows not only perseverance but also endurance. He was offered captaincy in the twilight of his career, which he took without complaining, any misgivings, ego or attitude. It was having a man like him that kept the fractious tour to Australia from imploding. One of the most unforgettable moments of the tour was him addressing a press conference. He took a deep breath and simply said ‘only one team played in the spirit of the game’, which was followed, and rightly so, by raucous applause. Very few men can get away by uttering those words, Kumble being one of them. He didn’t go around getting into verbal duels and didn’t trudge to the match referee’s room ever so often.

It takes courage to come to terms with your sell by date having passed. It is tantalising – taking that at one last shot at glory, feeling that adrenaline rush, soaking up the arc lights one last time. Who knows, maybe he thought that day had arrived. While many would argue that he still had cricket left in him, he pulled the curtains down on his own terms. Some of his former teammates haven’t been accorded the same luck.

Thankfully, he isn’t going too far from the game. While no one knows what his new role as an administrator holds, one thing is for sure. Even if he were to wake up tomorrow, kick back his boots and just soak up the sun, no one would begrudge him. For as a cricketer, he has lived some 4 lifetimes in one. He could well rest on his laurels and still be held in the same esteem. For he possess is what is so urgently required in our cricket these days. An animal rights activist in his own right, he was aptly nicknamed jumbo, a name that also encompasses his stature, his achievements and his influence.

May his tribe increase.


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