Legendary spinner Anil Kumble, who brought the curtains down on his illustrious 132-Test career on Sunday after the third Test against Australia, was regarded by many cricketers as the most reliable member of Team India.
At the Ferozeshah Kotla stadium, Kumble bid farewell to the game he graced for nearly two decades.
In an exclusive interview with CNN-IBN, Kumble speaks about his highs and lows in the field.
CNN-IBN: What made you take the decision, it was a googly for all of us.
Anil Kumble: I have to listen to my body and that is something that I have always done. Yes, it is tough but I have kept pushing it for all these years. I think it was time for me to take into account that my body can't hold up and then there was the unfortunate injury during the Test match that probably hastened my decision.
CNN-IBN: Whenever I spoke to you in the past year, you said you will take it match by match and series by series and you will always listen to your body. Do you think this injury preempted the entire scenario?
Anil Kumble: I have a few niggling injuries which are bound to be there if you play for 18 years and especially if you are a bowler and the kind of work load my body has taken, it's not easy for me to say I am absolutely 100 per cent fit, without an injury. So, I had to manage those injuries but they never came in the way of my bowling.
And to again manage another finger injury and going into the next Test, knowing that the finger has not healed fully, that I won't be able to grip the bat properly and struggle to field and then also captain and win the series; it's something that I don't think I would have been able to do. I have never gone into a Test match without being sure of myself delivering well. That's the call I had to take and my body said you had enough.
CNN-IBN: The general feeling was that you will play till the end of this year. And it was your ambition to get back the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Wasn't it?
Anil Kumble: It still is and I'm sure we will get that. That is always the aim. It's not my personal glory; I might have been the captain of the team. It is a team effort and what matters to me the most is India winning the trophy. Whether I am the captain or not, I am part of the squad and we are one up going into the last Test match. From here on we can only win the series.
CNN-IBN: Any regrets?
Anil Kumble: I don't think so. I think I have done everything on the cricket field. I have had the privilege to play with some of the greatest Indian players and legends. I have been honoured to play alongside Sachin, one of the greats of the world and to have played with Rahul, Sourav, Laxman, Azhar, Kapil paaji, Srinath, Venky, and the list is long.
CNN-IBN: Do you think you have used every ounce of whatever you had in your body? When you bowled the last bowl for India, was it with the same intensity that you did in England?
Anil Kumble: I think I have done all that. I can go into retirement knowing that I always gave 100 per cent in the cricket field. I have always believed that if my shoulder is okay, I can bowl. That has been my belief and that was the reason I did not bowl in Bangalore and I did not play in Mohali because my shoulder was not okay.
CNN-IBN: Do you think there is too much debate about the whole senior-junior issue and the media putting undue pressure on players like you, Dravid, Sourav and Laxman?
Anil Kumble: It's not easy to go out and play for India and perform every time. You can just give your 100 per cent. If you have played for 18 years, at some stage you run out of luck. And at some stage, may be I had run out of luck. You need a little bit of luck on your side to take wickets. I am the last person who will defend myself on poor performance. If you look back at the series, you will see that I have not picked wickets as an individual. There were couple of dropped catches, there were some decisions that went against me. When you are trying to pick up wickets you need things to go for you in your spell. Those things did not happen.
I think people should also realise that there are times when you play different roles in the team. It is not about individuals, it is a team game. When someone is bowling really well, your job is to hold. You are not trying to strike. All four bowlers cannot strike at the same time.
Before the start of the series, I had a lot of time to prepare and see what the opponents are doing. The Challenger Trophy got cancelled, there was a lot of time. So people get a chance to speak and a lot is spoken about the individuals and the game. But it is not right to judge someone on one series. It is not fair to judge five of us by one series. We have performed right through our careers. It was just one series where we failed, and it doesn't make you a bad player. There is a lot of young talent coming in but that doesn't mean you can just discard the experience and the quality. It's sad that people use harsh words, it is a bit disrespectful.
CNN-IBN: At some stage this glorious golden generation of Indian cricket will hand over the baton to the younger generation. It has happened in terms of captaincy, as now Dhoni will take over. What is the one piece of advice you want to give to everyone?
Anil Kumble: All these players have played enough cricket to understand when is the right time for them to leave and you should give them that due respect and then leave it to them. Why do you need to take a call for someone else?
People have been sitting as armchair analysts or expert commentators for the last 40 years and we people still want to listen to them. I don’t see any change there but you want to see a change in the field. Why? It is something that I really don’t understand. Players have played a lot of international cricket and they know when they can perform at their level and when they can contribute to the team. If they are not contributing to the team, nobody will like to hang around.
CNN-IBN: You think that there is a personal pride at stake and nobody compromises with that?
Anil Kumble: No, nobody compromises with that. Everybody wants to go on a high, everyone wants a fairytale reception but then you know when the time is up and my only request is please leave it to the individuals.
CNN-IBN: Are you happy with the way you are leaving? You are definitely leaving it in a much better condition than when you have got it. Are you happy with the way Dhoni has emerged as a captain? Now you are ready to pass the baton to Harbhajan Singh as a premier spinner. But are you happy about the way other spinners are coming up and with the state of Indian cricket?
Anil Kumble: Yes, I think so. When I took over the captaincy last year I knew that at 37 I can’t be looking at three years of trying to build a team or trying to ensure that I am there right through the journey because I had already played 17 years of international cricket. My role was to ensure that I groom the next spinner and ensure that the team has the quality and also the captain.
And I think Dhoni has done exceptionally well in all forms of the game as a captain and I think we have a very able leader in him. It is the right time for him to take over being 1-0 up in the series and it will be great to finish the series on a winning note. And then we have a home series coming up against England, which I am very confident that we will be able to win.
Even the spin department looks great. Amit Mishra came and took five wickets and though he still has a long way to go but I think the look of him is really heartening. And then there are a couple of young spinners who have done well. Bhajji is growing in stature with every game he plays. He is developing. It is great to have him as a lead spinner. Moreover, the fast bowling attack is brilliant and there is enough bench strength in that as well. So, overall I am very happy with the way things have panned out in the last one year and I think I am happy to hand it over and move on.
CNN-IBN: Kotla was probably the best place to leave cricket for you as you always had a special relationship with this ground. In a way you reinvented yourself in Kolta in 1992 when you played an Irani Trophy game and you got back your place in the Indian side and after that you never looked back. After that whenever you have visited this place it has given you something special.
Anil Kumble: It has certainly. I played my Under-19 match here against Pakistan and got a 100. Played my Irani Trophy match here and came back into the team. And whenever I have played Test cricket here I have always performed well. India has also done well here. So, lots of special and good memories. It was a happy ground for me and I thought it was the right time for me to leave. Even people have been fantastic.
CNN-IBN: How was the mood in the dressing room? We saw quite a few moist eyes. For sure Rahul Dravid’s glares came at the right time. He was using them well to hide his emotions. He is one of those who have played with you for a long time.
Anil Kumble: It is not easy. I have been in this atmosphere for the last 20 years and it is not easy to give up something that you love so much. I am going to miss playing with all these guys and the respect that they have. It is mutual. You know when they speak about me, and the respect they have for me, it certainly gets emotional. So, it was very difficult and it is tough for any sportsman. But I guess it is time to move on.
CNN-IBN: You had tears in your eyes during that walk?
Anil Kumble: Not just then, but even when I formally announced it to the team at the tea time. I told all of them and I certainly had tears in my eyes.
CNN-IBN: Have you thought of life without cricket? You must have been contemplating this for a long time. No nets to do, no bowling, gym etc. I once asked this to Srinath and he told me that ‘you look for reasons to leave cricket.’ So, how tough is it?
Anil Kumble: I haven’t really thought about it but it is a great feeling to know that tomorrow I don’t have to get up and go and bowl. And I think it is a good relief. Let me spend some time with the family and then take a call on what the future holds. I want to challenge myself in a different space and try and get away for a while but I think I will always be attached to the game.
CNN-IBN: Is your family happy?
Anil Kumble: Yes, papa is going home tomorrow. Otherwise, I would have gone to Nagpur. But it is good to go home.
CNN-IBN: It has been a privilege to be a part of your journey and it has been a great and exceptional career. Cricket will definitely be poorer without you.
Anil Kumble: Thank you.