Kumble: an oasis in the desert

IT is very rare to be part of a Test match that saw so much and produced so little in the end. As an entertainment sport, cricket needs to compete and long, tedious draws are like self-indulgent essays; the authors feel important, the readers couldn't care.

If the pitch at Guyana needed to be dug up, the square at Antigua needs a few mines. When you have two teams that only have hardworking rather than extraordinary, bowlers, competing against the pitch and against the batsmen is like climbing a mountain without oxygen. It is unfair and it is wrong.

It was left to individuals then to leave memories behind and by an unparalleled display of commitment, Anil Kumble left his footprints behind in Antigua.

When they dig up the pitch here, they should lift those footprints with care and keep them as a reminder of what great sportsmen can do when they want to compete. Through a career that has seen huge success and occasional disappointment, the one quality that has never deserted Kumble is the desire to compete. A broken jaw could impede but could not obstruct.

I was on air when Kumble came out and when he pulled off his cap, I had a lump in my throat. As a child I had seen pictures of Rick McCosker coming out to bat with a broken jaw in the Centenary Test of 1977. That was chilling but this was real-life drama. It was as if the whole ground had been lifted by a hurricane of emotions and in all the years that I have watched cricket, I have never seen a ground so completely captive to the bravery of one man. It lifted the side and for an hour after that, on adrenalin and the unparalleled strength of the human spirit, India attacked. A track that was doing little suddenly rose to the occasion, as if anxious to play its part in the rich story that was unfolding in its vicinity. The ball spun, it bounced, it seemed to have a hundred scorpions attached to it. I have no doubt it was the power of the mind and its ability to rise above the inadequacies of the body that produced the dismissal of Brian Lara.

I have had the privilege of knowing Anil Kumble for 12 years now, Sharjah and England in 1990 were our first bold steps in our profession, and I have at all times been struck by the manner in which he can combine humility and aggression. And so, while the sight overwhelmed me, the deed of the man did not surprise me. There is a lot of strength in a quiet man. And they would have felt it in the dressing room when he asked the dentists and the physio to strap his jaw up. He would have done it quietly and with purpose, not with a great show of activity. There is a lot of wisdom in the saying that when your deeds shine through, you need do little else to find glory.

Events such as these don't just lift the side on a ground, they leave deep imprints on young minds around and it was fantastic to see that too. Down by the boundary with Andrew Leipus were Harbhajan Singh and Tinu Yohannan and I saw awe in their eyes. One day they too may be hurt on a cricket ground and when the time comes to decide whether to stay on or to leave the field they will remember what Kumble did in Antigua. And it will help them take a strong but hard decision.

Amidst the whirlpool of feelings, one moment stood out for me and it wasn't one of joy. Having got the wicket of Lara and believing, like all of us, that he should have had Hooper lbw, Kumble conjured up a bat-pad catch for Das at short leg only to hear the dreaded call of no-ball. The agony on the face, the pain of a no-ball worse than the pain of a fracture, was the story of the match for me. We didn't know then, though he did, that 14 overs were all he had to play with and that knowledge would have made the moment even more heart-rending. For a brief moment, the hands went to the eyes, for a briefer moment the faith must have flickered, then he returned to bowl the next ball aware that his was but a small role in a wider canvas.

I believe there is a wider issue here as well. India is not a happy country at the moment, religion and caste tearing it rather than acting as the glue they were meant to. I fear it is leading to a generation to whom being Indian would mean less than being Hindu or Muslim, Brahman or Dalit. To see someone therefore, stand for India was an uplifting thought. It made me feel good about being Indian.

Sometimes we can make our own force, sometimes we can make destiny pause. That was the story of Anil Kumble at Antigua. It was unbelievable watching it unfold, much like a little boy's fantasy coming alive.

It was a dreary Test match. Kumble gave us an oasis in the desert.