Leg-spin is not just about the four stock deliveries

Coach Ajit Wadekar and skipper Mohammed Azharuddin encouraged Kumble in his fledgling days.-V.V. KRISHNAN

ANIL KUMBLE became the fifth Indian and the 34th cricketer in the history of the game to earn the 100th Test cap. On the eve of the third Videocon Test in Ahmedabad against Sri Lanka (his 100th), Kumble spoke to G. VISWANATH and S. RAM MAHESH about his long journey in Test cricket that began at Old Trafford, Manchester, in 1990.

Question: India has seen three world-class leg spinners in Subhash Gupte, B. S. Chandrasekhar and you, but you are the only one who has reached the 100th Test mark. You are also the fifth Indian after Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar...

Answer: It's a great feeling to be playing the 100th Test match for India. It's a very elite group. To have played this long is all about 15 years of toil and hard work. It's something very special.

What significance do you attach to the 100th Test?

My family is going to be here for the special occasion in my cricketing life. Of late there has not been too much emphasis on Test cricket, it's been much more of one-day internationals.

Did it ever cross your mind that you would travel this far when you started to play for India at the turn of the 1990-decade?

Not really, but I had faith in my ability and trust in my judgments. I was given an opportunity at a very young age. So I wanted to ensure that I made a good beginning. I never thought that I should be happy playing a couple of Test matches. I wanted to serve the country for a long period. I don't think 99 out of 100 would have said he wouldn't last more than two Tests. So it's not a bad thing to have lasted so long.

Talking to contemporary spinners all these years must have been a good learning experience...

It's not only the spinners. I always listen to anyone, whatever he has to say about spin bowling. Unfortunately, there haven't been many people who can actually show what needs to be done. I wish Chandra had been able to show it to me in the nets, but unfortunately he had met with an accident. I have interacted with him on and off. But yes, over the years in terms of opponents, Shane Warne has been great.

Whenever I get the opportunity, I try and discuss leg spin bowling, how to bowl at batsmen and the field placements, and what kind of angles they bowl to. In that sense Warne has been helpful.

There ought to have been occasions when you must have been frustrated, not necessarily because of injuries, but bad spells?

Probably I am the worst critic of my own self. Yes, in terms of not being able to achieve the kind of results abroad. It's not easy to get those kind of results abroad. Whatever I have accomplished has been pretty satisfactory, but if one looks at the overall numbers, those have been frustrating and also not getting the kind of results that you would expect from the team while playing abroad. But in the last three or four years it's started to change and I am really enjoying contributing to the victories abroad.

Perhaps the Test match against the West Indies at Nagpur in 1994 when Jimmy Adams and Shivnarine Chanderpaul thwarted India and also being warned by umpire Nigel Plews for running on the wicket in the early overs must be a bad memory?

Yes, it was tough because we had won the previous Test in Bombay, and if you are warned in your first over on the first day of the Test match for running on the pitch and given the second warning in the second over, one gets frustrated. But then one has to accept what the umpire sees and get on with the game.

You were also dropped for the first Test in Brisbane in 2003?

Not just the Brisbane Test. I have been dropped on a few more occasions, for example at Trinidad against the West Indies. But those were events that were not in my control. I have always believed that there's scope for improvement. Given the opportunity I have always tried to correct or not repeat the mistakes made in the previous match.

Since the Brisbane Test, you have had a great run?

Well, I got an opportunity because Bhajji (Harbhajan Singh) got injured. Had he been fit I don't think I would have got the chance at Adelaide, or probably with Murali Kartik flying in two days before the second Test the team management would have thought otherwise.

It did not start off well for me on the first day, it's a flat wicket. Australia scored 400 plus runs in the first innings. I knew that if I kept pegging away, things would change.

Is leg spin bowling more exacting for an aspiring youngster to take up? There's not been any worthy who has shown the devotion and commitment in the last 15 years?

It's definitely tough to get accuracy for a leg spinner. It's hard on the body, shoulder and when you are turning the wrist in the opposite direction. The bowling action itself is not natural to the body. Then, if your arm is moving the other way around, it's not easy on the shoulder. Leg-spin bowling demands a lot of discipline, plenty of hours of work in the gym to keep your body going. After the injury I have really looked after my shoulder.

Ajit Wadekar says that you know what exactly to do and hence captains have not found it difficult in dealing with you?

It's a great compliment from Ajit Wadekar. People started noticing my results when he was the cricket manager and Azzu was the captain. So I owe a lot to these two people. At the end of the day you have to be seen as a match-winner and you need to pick wickets. The team management really did look up to me to deliver the results. I am happy I was able to bear those responsibilities on my shoulders.

Even Sachin Tendulkar has said that criticism such as you are not a pure leg spinner is unnecessary?

At the end of the day you have to look at someone as a bowler, not necessarily as an orthodox leg-spinner. It also shows that one doesn't have to be an orthodox bowler to succeed. All it needs is a bit of intelligence, dedication, commitment and bowling within the limitations. There are ups and downs in your career, and I guess in sport it's bound to happen if you are on the scene for 15 years.

There have been only a few instances of two leg-spinners bowling in tandem in Test match cricket over a period of time. Grimmett and O'Reilly, Warne and MacGill are a couple of instances?

I have shared a great rapport with the spinners I have played with. There have not been many leg spinners around as well. Hirwani and I played in one Test. Thereafter, we did not find favour. He also faded away, but he is still playing first class cricket. But my partnership with Venkatapathy Raju, Rajesh Chauhan, Sunil Joshi and now with Harbhajan has been great.

What do you think of Piyush Chawla?

There was talk that he would come here (Ahmedabad). I have seen him only once in the nets in Bangalore. I have heard that he's good and whatever I have seen of him, he looks good. He's young and my only advice to him is that he should not be put under pressure. He's 17 or 18 years old. But it's good that at his age now, he's looked upon as a good bowler. That itself is a compliment. He should try and enjoy his game and try and pick wickets. I was fortunate that I got an opportunity at 19, but I also realised that it would be tough in the middle.

When I was dropped early in my career I ensured that improved my cricketing skills. It came as a blessing in disguise. There's no particular age that you need to make your debut. Just because you are 24, it doesn't mean that you will have a better career.

Rajesh Chauhan and Venkatapathy Raju formed a formidable spin partnership with Kumble in the early 90s.-V.V. KRISHNAN

Would you pick any phase in the last 15 years during which nothing went wrong for you?

Touch wood, the last couple of years have been good, especially against Australia and Pakistan. Ever since the shoulder felt strong after the operation it took about a year and a half to get going. Since the shoulder injury I have probably picked up close to 200 wickets.

Would you name the top five batsmen in the manner of dismissals?

It's very hard I guess. You try and plan for every dismissal. Probably the one that would stand out is Adam Gilchrist's. I bowled him round his legs in Chennai. There was a rough caused by the left arm seamers. I did plan for that.

The wicket of Michael Atherton on the 1996 tour of England?

I got him out with a leg break. That tour was tough, I had not bowled well in the first innings. I bowled well in the second and picked up three wickets bowling a long spell and that gave me huge confidence.

You have spoken in the past of your ability to adapt. What have been the components of this ability?

I had to keep ensuring that I had the faith, ability to succeed and keep reiterating about going back to the basics. When things are not going well, you know what to fall back on. Now I have stuck to some routines that I have worked out for myself.

Leg-spin bowling, you've said, is not just about the four stock deliveries. What variations in pace and angle do you use?

Once the speed gun came on the scene, you got to know the speed at which you were bowling. That's helped me in knowing that speed also plays a major role. When the batsmen are facing a particular ball at various speeds, it's not the same. Speed, trajectory and the angles are variations by themselves.