New Delhi: It was a boring Sunday afternoon at the Kolta as the third Test between these two emotionally charged teams - India and Australia - was coming to a drab end when I received an SMS informing me of Anil Kumble’s retirement.
I wasn’t sure if the sender was being funny or honest.
But as a photojournalist, there could have been nothing better, since a result was out of the question and there was absolutely no action worth capturing on or off the field.
A TRUE LEGEND: Anil Kumble walks off the Kotla with the match ball in his hand as a souvenir from his last Test match.
Suddenly, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman who were batting at the time were called back to the pavilion by the man himself.
It was official.
India had declared their innings and Anil Kumble was coming out to bowl for the last time in a Test match!
To say that the final hour of the game, followed by the festivities and fanfare was an emotional affair would be an understatement.
I grew up in Bangalore’s Basavanagudi locality, very close to where Kumble lived for most of his life (he’s recently shifted to Banashankari, very close to where I have also shifted!), and I’ve been constantly connected to and inspired by his persona in a unique way.
As a wicketkeeper, I rarely got to have a bowl at the nets, but whenever I did I would sometimes choose to bowl leg-spin of the Kumble variety – fast flippers that kicked or rushed on to the batsman.
Several young aspiring leggies copied the great man’s action to the last detail; many more were and are still deeply influenced by his brand of leg-break bowling.
Every cricket academy in Bangalore had a few Kumble’s and nearly every school and college team also had a Jumbo or two.
As a bowler he inspired young spinners to come back after being hit for a six and fox the batsman with his flippers and googlies.
As a fielder he inspired courage in us all by fielding in the dangerous gully position for many years. As a tail-end batsman, he showed how effective he could be with his perseverance at the crease.
As a cricketer, he brought dignity, professionalism and greatness to the sport. And as a human being Kumble has influenced us in too many ways to write about.
Kumble is India’s greatest bowler ever. But he has arguably been India’s least celebrated player, for people remember him for only his greatest feats – the 10 wicket haul at this very ground and getting Brian Lara out with a broken jaw in Antigua.
Also ours is not a cricket-crazy nation but a batsman-obsessed one. It is only when Kumble has decided to call it a day that we have realised what it meant to have a player of his greatness in our national team for so many years.
Kumble bowled tirelessly, with aggression, finesse and principally with much thought. It is a rare quality to find in a bowler.
Kumble is a larger than life figure, a legend and a component in Indian cricket that the people of my generation took for granted. It’s going to be very hard to imagine Indian cricket without Kumble.
Many of us have never seen it.
Therefore, as the captain of the Indian cricket team took the new ball and marked his run-up for the final time, I felt truly honoured and privileged to be witnessing and chronicling (with my camera) these historic moments in cricket.
(The author is a law student in Pune and is currently interning with CNN-IBN. Credit for his press pass and pictures go to The Printers (Mysore) Pvt. Ltd., Bangalore)