Kumble back to his familiar role

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

THE shoulder injury is past. Anil Kumble is carrying the Indian attack on his shoulders again and with distinction. The Man of the Series honours in the home series against Zimbabwe points to an encouraging time this season. He is back to playing his familiar role, a matchwinner.

"It's really a very satisfying comeback after a long lay off. I've always enjoyed bowling at the Kotla. It's one of my favourite grounds. The pitch also encouraged the spinners," says Anil Kumble who is seen with the Man of the Series Trophy.-V. V. KRISHNAN

In keeping with the spin tradition, Kumble tormented the Zimbabwean batsmen with his accuracy. The batsmen could not relax even for a moment as the leg-spinner attacked relentless with valuable support from Harbhajan Singh. This pair complements each other so well.

Kumble's return to the international fold has been a saga of hard work. Factors like determination, application, devotion, discipline, commitment assume their true meaning in the case of Kumble. When a shoulder injury laid him low, there was talk of the leg-spinner having left his best years behind. But events have proved that Kumble has become more matured and more lethal, what with his determination to prove a few points.

Kumble need not prove a point actually. For a decade now, he has shown this amazing quality to hit back when faced with a challenge and at no point did he give the impression of being in a defensive mindset. "My job is to take wickets and not contain. I've always looked at myself as an attacking bowler," said Kumble, whose strong self-belief is the strength on which he has developed his career.

"It's very tough to get him away. He's always there," said Andy Flower in praise of the leg-spinner, who has 300-plus Test wickets to his credit. The fact that Kumble does not allow the batsmen to relax at any stage speaks of the man's ability to bowl to his strength.

The Indian attack revolves around Kumble's striking power at any stage of the match. His strongest point is that he never gives up and it certainly reflects in his comeback. "It was very tough but I was lucky to get the support of so many people," said Kumble, as he recalled the hard days when his future looked bleak.

If Kumble thought of giving up at one point, he could not have been blamed. The injury hurt him and the comeback looked a distant dream and motivation was certainly low. But Kumble is a tough man. he had started his cricketing career as a seamer before switching on to bowl leg-spin.

Kumble is a mentally strong bowler. His ability to analyse the batsman in quick time helps the team a lot because the other bowlers get to benefit from the spell that Kumble weaves around the opposition.

The injury has only made the man more determined. It has helped him accept the hard fact that with age he has to concentrate more on his fitness and he has begun the exercise as diligently as he has worked on the finer aspects of his bowling.

"It's really a very satisfying comeback after a long lay off. I've always enjoyed bowling at the Kotla. It's one of my favourite grounds. The pitch also encouraged the spinners and I feel happy for Harbhajan. He bowled splendidly," said Kumble, reflecting on the excellent show by the two spinners which paved the way for India's victory.

Another pleasing aspect of Kumble's character is the manner in which he stands by his colleagues. When critics gunned for Deep Dasgupta, Kumble sprung to the wicketkeeper's defence.

"One should not be harsh on him. It's not easy to keep against spinners when the ball jumps or keeps low." Words most comforting for Dasgupta.

Sixteen wickets in the series meant that Kumble was truly on his favourite path of luring the batsmen to their doom. Nine wickets at Nagpur and seven at Delhi showed Kumble's consistency and also his value to the side.

"He's such a big motivation to the young members of the team. With Kumble in the team, the bowling looks complete and it is always great to have him in the side because he can win the match from any stage. His comeback has been superb and it is a great privilege to have him in the side," said skipper Sourav Ganguly of this senior member of the team which is struggling to identify players who would carry the side to the World Cup early next year.

"Kumble remains a constant source of inspiration to the team. His humility keeps the man going and he is an asset as far as the team is concerned. It's a great sight to see Kumble mingle with the junior most member and help sort out his problems. The youngsters approach him so freely. It's always nice to have players like Kumble around. He has no airs about him at all. He passes on the experience to the youngsters and the guys benefit from him. He's such a nice guy."

On what separated Kumble from the rest, Dravid said "his consistency and his ability to keep the batsmen under pressure is a great quality. He is able to create pressure on the batsmen for a long time. He's at you all the time and that's what leads to wickets for the team," said Dravid.

The Indian attack is in safe hands as long as Kumble leads the brigade. The season beckons this genial leg-spinner as India embarks on two demanding tours to the West Indies and England. The team can bank on Kumble to show the way as Ganguly hopes to reverse the past trends and win Test series in these two countries.