What they say about Kumble

I still remember my first meeting with Anil (in a Wills Trophy match in 1988-89). He was a different bowler from what we see now, but as fierce a competitor then as he is now. I have not played with the greats of yesteryear to judge how they compare, but I do know Anil cannot be compared with anyone. He is greater than all and a performer like none. I am happy to have been his captain. He was such a thinker, always helping the others as much as he would be motivating himself. No situation ever put pressure on him and he would actually excel when we were down. He was very good in motivating the others and often I could see that he needed no guidance on the field. He always knew what his job was and what was expected of him. He deserves much more credit than has come his way. For a man as selfless as Anil, he ought to have been feted more. To me, he will always remain a very special cricketer because he played his cricket most honestly. Even today it is a sight to follow his movements on the field. He never shirks from responsibilities and his attitude has remained positive in all circumstances. It is very difficult to keep yourself motivated always and Anil has never been short of spirit. As a captain, I was happy and lucky to have had someone like him in the team. His calibre to deliver was phenomenal. He has been a true champion, someone who spent all his energy on the cricket field for the team and his mates. He has remained a quiet person except when appealing. He is not the kind who will talk about himself, a class bowler with all the craft that goes into the making of a great cricketer. Standing up to him in close-in positions, I often felt sorry for the hapless batsmen, who were unable to read him. Thank God we play in the same team.

He has never been given the credit that he deserved. An unsung hero. The biggest match-winner with greater deeds than Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. For 16 years he has led the battle against the best of batsmen and has evolved into a great bowler overseas. Anil is a complete package. How many matches did our great spin quartet win overseas in the past? Anil has won us many, in Pakistan, Australia, West Indies, Sri Lanka. He is clearly the best. He has been criticised but has never reacted, carrying on with his work with all humility. Initially, they called him an essentially in-swing bowler and today they can't read him. They have got out to him fending. He has six different balls in an over. He has lived under the shadow of others but to me he is the greatest match-winner we have known. He may lack the charisma, but not the drive to win matches. There can never be another like this gentleman cricketer. I take pride in the fact that I played alongside him.

His record speaks for his cricket. There is no need for Anil to prove anything to anyone. The sheer number of wickets he has taken shows that he is the greatest spinner India has seen. Everyone speaks highly of his abilities. His drive and commitment are well recorded. He has been a very skilful bowler and he has tremendous tactical acumen to overcome the greatest of challenges. It is great to watch him plan his victims. He comes closest to being termed a complete bowler. Just see how he has grown, improved, kept evolving as a match-winner. Batsmen keep analysing how to play him and yet remain clueless. He somehow has a mystery ball to add to his reputation with the subtle variation of flight and pace and angle. It is fantastic to have him in the team because he never lets you down. As a captain I know he will always deliver. I rate him a great student of the game and a very good friend to have in times of distress. I would call him a legend. I have learnt a lot from him. He keeps giving me ideas, from a bowler's perspective, always honest. He has shown great maturity in handling his career and just see how he has handled his exclusion from the one-day game. His presence on the field is a tribute to the game.

Personally I found him the most dangerous bowler to face. Even in the `nets' he is lethal, very tough to read, and attacking all the time. A true match-winner wherever he bowls, at home or away. Whenever he has bowled well we have won. Against him, you get no room to play the shots. His trajectory is difficult to read and the variations he has developed just speak for his dedication. His commitment to improve even after taking 500 wickets is amazing. Before his shoulder injury he was known to stick to a line and length, but of late he has brought in variations. His faster one has lost pace, but then he has mastered his googly. He is superb in setting up the batsmen. As a person, he is a gentleman to the core. Never seen a tougher cricketer on the field, but off it he is such an affectionate and understanding person, especially towards the juniors.

I have not seen a better bowler than him. In my list he is right at the top, the best we have seen. It is not easy to bowl so intensely for so long and in Anil's case, he has proved it time and again that he is second to none. Like Ravi Shastri, he too was not so talented, but I don't think anyone would have this man's determination and commitment. His credibility and loyalty are unmatched. No player has served Indian cricket as sincerely as Anil. He has never made any fuss about anything, despite not being given due recognition. I remember how I shouted at him once during his debut series (in 1990) and he almost cried in the dressing room. I can't believe that the same Anil Kumble would improve so dramatically. He has always supported the team more than wanting to win individual laurels. I have always admired the way he carried himself. All top stars of Indian cricket should learn from Anil. If he had more talent, he would have had 800 wickets by now. He has been a humble cricketer all his life. Even after he became the highest wickettaker he remained down to earth and gave credit to his colleagues for an achievement that belonged to him alone. Words cannot describe this great bowler's contribution to Indian cricket. Hats off Anil, it was a great honour to have played cricket with you.

It has been an amazing career for Anil. He was quite similar to Rahul Dravid. Limited assets, but both have made the most out of disproportionate talent. I have tremendous respect for Anil because any other player, less mentally strong, would have given up long ago. There were limitations to his art, but he has displayed tremendous perseverance and hard work. No letting up and just see how he is willing to put the same energy in batting, too. He always had limited options to attack, had to bowl the middle-stump line, could not lure the batsman into playing the drive because he did not flight the ball, but see where he stands today _ right at the top. His range has grown and has made him a great performer in all conditions. People tend to compare. Sachin, Rahul, Warne will be the names that will be remembered always and now Anil. He stands out for his unique abilities. He is a great example for those who may not be gifted, but yet could grow into one of the greats of the game. Anil can rightly be termed an all-time great bowler. If I have one example for my son to emulate, it will be Anil Kumble.

AS TOLD TO VIJAY LOKAPALLY