There is a sense of calm about Anil Kumble ever since he announced his retirement from one-day internationals. He first toyed with the idea of quitting one-day cricket in 2003 when India returned home from South Africa after losing the World Cup final to Australia. At that time he felt slighted by the team management, which did not include him in the playing XI. But being the man he is, tough and persevering, Kumble battled hard and eventually clawed his way back into contention.
Following a belated recall in the run-up to the 2007 World Cup, the veteran leg-spinner was back in the Indian team. However, with India's early exit from the World Cup, Kumble left the Caribbean with his team-mates sooner than expected. And a day after landing in Bangalore, his hometown, he announced his retirement from ODIs.
However, Kumble, who has taken 337 wickets from 271 ODIs, is not finished yet. India's highest wicket-taker, after all, will be playing Test cricket, where he has a tally of 547 wickets so far.
In an interview to Sportstar , Kumble speaks of his one-day career and other issues pertaining to Indian cricket. The excerpts...
How tough was the decision to retire from one-day internationals?
I had thought about this immediately after the 2003 World Cup. But you know I just held on, and yes, it was tough because cricket is something that I love. To leave something you love and get away from it is always tough, but I had made up my mind.
Will you miss the joy of playing in the one-dayers?
Not really. I am used to watching the game from the sidelines often in the last few years. I still have a lot of cricket left in me, and Test cricket is something that I really enjoy and I look forward to that.
Ever since your shoulder surgery and the emergence of Harbhajan Singh, you did not have the exalted status of being the first-choice spinner in the one-day team. Did that hurt and did that hasten your decision to retire from ODIs?
Yes it did hurt. For long I was an integral part of the team and suddenly when you have to wait for your turn to be actually picked for the team, definitely it is a challenge, and something I never enjoyed. I always had the comfort of stepping into the team right from the time I started playing for India. And so, after having performed and done so much, to wait for your turn feels sad.
Are you happy with what you have achieved in the ODIs ever since your debut at Sharjah in 1990?
May be I could have contributed a bit more with the bat but I don't know. I mean, I think looking back I am satisfied with whatever I have achieved in one-day cricket.
Can you recall your first wicket in your debut game on April 25, 1990?
Yes, it was Karnain. I had him caught behind by Kiran More. It was against Sri Lanka, the first game in Sharjah. That wicket made me believe that I belonged to this level. I didn't even have a passport then and I had to organise a temporary passport in a couple of days to go to Sharjah. We lost the first match to Sri Lanka and also the next one to Pakistan and were out of the tournament straightaway. So, the start and finish of my one-day cricket were probably identical (laughs).
In the Hero Cup final you got six for 12 against West Indies. This was something very special, wasn't it?
That was the first time that Eden Gardens had floodlights. I mean not just the final, even the semifinal against South Africa was played in a fantastic atmosphere. In the final, I got Carl Hooper and the atmosphere was such that after I got him, I kept getting wickets. Yes it felt good.
I have always bowled in the first 15 overs when there were field restrictions. I have always bowled in tough situations, either to break a partnership or check the run-rate, so every batsman presented a tough situation. To pick and choose is a bit difficult, but yes, over the years, Sanath Jayasuriya, Brian Lara, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Gary Kirsten, Jacques Kallis... I mean there were a whole lot of them who were tough to bowl to.
Do you think the one-dayers have marginalised the spinners?
Since the 20-over restrictions have come in, captains generally don't have the confidence to use the spinners in that period, which is a bit strange because initially, when we had fielding restrictions in the first 15-overs, teams actually used spinners a lot more. But since this 20-over rule has come in, nobody seems to use a spinner. But I still think spinners do have an important role to play in the one-dayers.
Do you think that in the media and in the public eye, Anil, the one-day bowler, has been overshadowed by Anil, the Test bowler?
That's because people have got used to me not being a part of the one-day squad, and that's what I didn't really like that everyone has taken me for granted and it didn't really matter when I got dropped. I don't know, maybe that is the profile of Anil Kumble. It is a bit sad. I feel that I have contributed in my own way to Indian cricket in ensuring that we win matches and I have given my 100 per cent, but it is a bit unfortunate that at times people have just taken me for granted.
Six-hundred wickets is a target which is achievable but along the line we have some important Test series coming up, so hopefully if we can win those series, I mean that's what we are looking at. Especially we have the Bangladesh tour; then we will be touring England where we haven't won a series since 1986. The last time we toured England in 2002, we drew the series. So hopefully we will get a victory there this time. Then Pakistan is coming to India, they drew the series last time here so this time we should turn it around and win the series. We need more wins and that's what I am looking at.
The World Cup didn't go our way, what's your take?
The whole team didn't fare properly and we are all disappointed. But I thought the warm-up games went really well and we felt good. It was just one of those bad days of 50 overs of batting that lost us the game against Bangladesh and that's what cost us the tournament.
We do well in patches, but have never displayed the consistency of the Aussies. What needs to be done?
All of us need to work on it. It is very important to look at the team as a whole rather than as individuals because in India people tend to focus more on individuals, talent and not much emphasis is on the team and you know even 20 runs by a batsman at a crucial juncture is never given due credit because you always give credit to somebody who has scored a 100 in that game. As people we don't understand the sport unfortunately.
There are so many people in India who follow the game but a large percentage of that need to concentrate on understanding the game and try and figure out who actually has changed the momentum of the game, it could even be one boundary you know, it could be one boundary at a crucial moment and the batsman might have got out after that but that four might have changed the game's momentum.
Even experts sometimes don't look at these points and that is something that needs to be changed and as long as the focus is on the team and not necessarily on individual skills, things will improve. But yes, you need individual skills. If you look at the Australian team, they play well as a team and as individuals too, they are very good players.
You have a passion for photography and there is also talk of you doing a movie...
Well, I have already done one but I don't know whether it is released. It was just a small cameo where I have to be myself. It had nothing to do with me acting someone else, it was just me. It was couple of hours of work and I thought I would give it a shot.
Are your children conscious of your popularity?
I am not sure. I don't think so. My daughter definitely knows but my son is too young, he is just three years old and he doesn't understand. My daughter has seen me play, so she knows.
Do you have any plans to write a column or doing commentary?
I don't think I can do that as I am still under the BCCI contract. The Board won't allow that. This is probably the first time in Indian cricket that someone has officially announced his retirement in one form of the game. Srinath did stop playing Test cricket but he never officially announced it before the last World Cup in 2003. So I am not sure. I think there are more important issues that need to be discussed with the Board rather than sit down and talk to them about writing in the media.
(This interview was first published in the Sportstar magazine dated 28/04/2007)