The student, the toiler, the soldier, the leader.

I was languidly watching the test match wither away into a draw when suddenly the news flashed that Anil Kumble has decided to retire. We knew it was coming. In fact, some were even giving blatantly subtle hints about it. But regardless of how much we anticipate the retirement of a great cricketer, it still leaves a sense of disbelief when it actually happens. There is a sense of loss that we won’t see that famous run up again. So while the news channels are quickly making edits of “Chak De India” to play tonight with visuals of his ten-wicket haul, while ex-cricketers are hastily sheathing their barbs and polishing their tributes, and while Mallya is wondering if he will save some money on the Royal Challengers budget, here is my piece on a man I admire…

Anil Kumble and Sachin Tendulkar transformed Indian cricket in the 90s. Sachin showed us glimpses of the impossible. He was the magician who lived in a world which seemed illusory to us. A world of what could be. Kumble, on the other hand, lived in our imperfect world. He too was a magician. But his brand of magic was about what is. He showed us how reality could be exploited; how adversity could be ground into submission by human will. His was the art of the possible.

kumble studentHe was the student. Ever attentive. Ever curious. Ever experimentative. A generation which had been bred on the nostalgia of the wizardly spin quartet and then faced the disappointment of unfulfilled genius like L.Siva, Hirwani & Maninder had trouble relating to a spinner who didn’t really spin the ball much. But this gentle, bespectacled player showed us that accuracy can make up for turn. Control can make up for flight. Once he was in the team, he was the team.

kumble toilerHe was the toiler. Labouring away on seamer friendly pitches abroad and batsman friendly pitches at home. All I remember of his spells were endless, fruitless overs for three days where he stoically bottled one end up for hours on end with no emotion, no sign of tiredness and nearly no wickets. And suddenly things would change on the fourth and fifth days. The benevolent giant suddenly became vicious. The ball would start hopping, leaping, spitting and shooting. There would be six fielders around the bat. And Kumble would spin India to victory.

kumble warriorHe was the warrior. Broad shouldered. Big hearted. And fearless. He fought in lost causes. He fought in dead battles. He fought his own limitations. He fought with injury. He fought through injury. In fact, his last wicket was the mark of a soldier. He ran back to catch a skier in spite of the fact that he had eleven stitches in his left hand. For Kumble, the game was not a lucrative contest. It was gentlemanly war.

kumble leaderHe was the leader. Towards the end of his career, he was elevated to captaincy as a stop-gap arrangement. As a bridge between the frustration of Dravid and the hope of Dhoni . In these difficult times, he brought a rare dignity to his role. He took a disarrayed cricket team and united them with a skeleton of hard metal.

All great players have their trademarks. The image we remember them by. Like Lara’s backlift, Kapil’s leap, and Sachin’s lofted drive. The image that will always come to my mind when I think of Kumble is his walk back to his run up. The moment when he tosses the ball a couple of times and gets ready to try yet again. And his unbounded joy when he got a wicket. Even his 619th one.

Kumble never enjoyed the adulation that we Indians reserve for geniuses. Ours is a culture which values flamboyance over grit, elan over hard work, Boris Becker over Ivan Lendll, ease over persistence and looks over character. So we have always downplayed his achievements, ridiculed his skills and ignored his greatness. Kumble never enjoyed the mob frenzy that others got. No one burnt effigies when he was dropped. He never told us which soft drink to consume or which shaving cream to use.

That’s ok. Kumble was not cut out to be a model. There are many of those. He belongs to that much rarer species – a role model.

Pics courtesy Zee News, Sky Sports, Hindu & NIC

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  1. Vaibhav Jandey says:

    Kumble is truly a legend of world cricket…I always carry this belief that the real heroes who are as you said non-flamboyant, non-creamsellers, less socially talked of and so ignored by our mainstream media must be given their due credit and respects they deserve, but why did you say that we’ve such a Culture that values this over that, can we instead call it a bad practice ? I believe there is much difference.

  2. Raghuveer says:

    Excellent Write up!!! Completely Impressed. One of the best write ups that i have read in recent past, keep it up!

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ramesh Srivats, ArunKumar Nagarajan and ArunKumar Nagarajan, Saurabh Somani. Saurabh Somani said: Amongst the best pieces on Kumble, must-read RT: @rameshsrivats: Great show by Kumble and here's an old blog post – […]

  4. Roshan says:

    Wow I never knew could write such serious stuff..
    good work

  5. meraj says:

    what a write up. though not a big fan of Cricket, i got gooseflesh. awesome stuff!

  6. Prashanth J says:

    When my friend forwarded your blog as a good tribute to Kumble, I thought it’s one of those regulars.
    It’s excellent write-up. I loved the way you used the phrase “Blatantly subtle”.

    Thanks for the good read.


  7. Anonymous says:

    Excellent article.

    Kumble was never one to give excuses for failures just like we see Brett Lee and the australians complaining about all the trivial issues. The Aussies and English are always known to come with excuses in their bags. Kumble, or for that matter Indians have never hidden behind such excuses for failures.

    His historic claims after the sydney test match about the spirit of the game was testimony to the manner in which he carried himself on and off the field.

    Hats off to the gentle giant !!!!

  8. S Balaji Srinivasan says:

    excellent write up…enjoyed every bit!!

  9. Sharat says:

    Great post! Just one point I wanted to add was that, Kumble is similar to McGrath as the former is not a great turner of the ball and the latter was not that fast and also couldn’t swing the ball as much. But both of them were dead accurate. Unfortunately Kumble had to go through a lot of criticism for not being a big turner.

  10. shubho sengupta says:

    nice, nice.

  11. Aldemen Tripe Loon says:

    Lost interest in cricket a long time back, but an endearing post…a perfect little tribute to the great man

  12. Anonymous says:

    its an awesome tribute to the the perfect gentleman

  13. Ramesh Srivats says:

    Thanks Icemen. I landed on your page through blogadda. Your blog was listed as a top rated blog there.

  14. Iceman says:

    Hesitated to read it, but now I am glad I did.
    btw, how did you land on my page?

  15. allthecrap says:

    nice read ramesh..


  16. Raghav says:

    Hey Bro,

    Stumbled upon your blog.. Impressive first read.. Beautiful piece.. looking forward to reading more of your thoughts!


    Raghav Bala

  17. Minal says:

    Well written! One of the best tributes I’ve read. I’m putting this link up for my friends to read in.

  18. maduraiveeran says:

    Well Written. I remember how Kumble played real hard even with a broken jaw. He is an example for the Never give up attitude!

  19. Aditya says:

    F**ker… you extolling the virtues of hard work, at length….hmmm

  20. Caje says:

    excellent crafting…you’ve thrown a spin on kumble which has me admiring the man who would have taken 1000 wickets had he spun the ball:-)

  21. Kushagra says:

    Well da, u’re indeed putting out.
    Kick ass stuff u have, some of bangalore’s finest….
    so how inflated has your ego become…ready to battle gravity????

  22. vmminerva says:

    A wonderful write up on an exemplary man. Well said, Ramesh.

  23. Iya says:

    thats an awesome write up.. very well written!! wish Anil Kumble could read it himself..

    Ps: ur blog introduction is quite ahmmm…

  24. maverick says:

    i think ur point regarding kumble not getting the adulation he deserves is right ,its also true in all the other fields be it film industry or in IT industry ,ppl who know how to manipulate media or “model” face get more coverage than they deserve

  25. Saurabh says:

    ah, well…. all right, then! :-)

  26. Ramesh Srivats says:

    Hey Saurabh, thanks. I too have been admiringly following greatbong so I appreciate that. The phrase "blatantly subtle" was intended to sound that way. Lots of ex-players & critics have been making statements since the beginning of this series that go, "He's definitely lost his touch. His body is not able to take it. But then it is up to him to decide when to go." Now that is blatantly subtle :-)

  27. Saurabh says:


    this is a wonderfully written post – in fact having read the Greatbong’s post on Jumbo and yours, i would go so far to say that yours is better.
    (that is the highest praise i can give you, since i am an unabashed GB fan!)

    p.s: just nitpicking but doesn’t it sound kind of contradictory if you say “giving blatantly subtle hints”?

  28. Anonymous says:

    Very good post.

  29. kaushik says:


    He surely is a role model. Not a genius like Murali or Warne or Sachin, but a man who excelled beyond his limitations!

    And, he left the field as silently as he performed on it, did he not??

    I am sure he would not have wanted a farewell series and such stuff. He quit when he felt for the first time that its it!

  30. PS says:

    Excellent post…I have been reading quite a few commentaries on Kumble’s retirement…Yours is by far the best…Well Done !!

  31. K Subramanian @ work says:

    Amazingly well written. To imagine that a complete cricket ignoramus like me was hooked to read the full peice.

    I think you should get this published in some mainstream media!

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