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A tale of two 'warriors'
December 10, 2004
Irfan Pathan is raw and animated; Anil Kumble is polished and low key. Pathan just picked his first five-wicket haul in the Test match at Dhaka; Kumble has 28 in the bag and an Indian record for most number of wickets. Pathan has fire in his eyes; Kumble has fire in his belly. Pathan leaps in the air every time he wins a wicket; Kumble only wears a knowing smile after foxing yet another batsman. Pathan is just a year old in international cricket; Kumble has carried the burden of India's bowling for a decade and half.
Pathan is always taking a step towards excellence; Kumble has crossed it and marched on to greatness. And yet on the first day of the Test against Bangladesh, it was the older man succumbing to the anxiety of sport. Pathan continued fearlessly; Kumble seemed hesitant overtaking the milestone [434 wickets].
In the second Test against South Africa at Kolkata, Kumble had equalled Kapil Dev's record of 434 wickets. For a week, he shared a pedestal with a bowler he had grown up admiring, enjoying all the accolades that came his way with humility. But on the first day of the Dhaka Test, he looked unsure of going that one step ahead, taking the spotlight alone, creating a new benchmark for bowlers like Pathan to follow.
He had done it for 4779 overs; came in popping the ball in the right hand, easing into a rhythm, jumping at the crease and delivering an intelligent ball. The stride was there, but the mind was wavering and the weapons seemed to have lost their potency, just that wee bit.
Against a fumbling Bangladesh batting line-up, he had lost his edge. He bowled a few full tosses, some wides and tossed some easy ones. Rafique was unperturbed; with his team at 106 for 7, he was neither bothered about his average nor about Kumble's approaching landmark. He creamed the bowler for two boundaries, but finally was the one recorded in the record books as Kumble's 435th victim.
Once the hurdle was crossed, the leg-spinner quickly found another reason to celebrate. Tapash Baisya was caught by Rahul Dravid at first slip and the quiet performer had now left the marks of shared honour well behind.
But it was Pathan who had lent Kumble time to find his genius during an hour of rare anxiety.
He was incisive and enthusiastic. The curly haired Baroda boy ran in hard and wrecked the Bangladesh innings with five important wickets. There may have been some insignificant names in his list of wickets; Nasif Iqbal and Rajin Saleh may not matter much to world cricket, but his excitement on taking every wicket made the performance compelling.
More importantly, those weren't cheap wickets. The Indians would have got the Bangladesh batsmen out one way or another, and cheaply too, but Pathan simply blew them over with contempt.
His opening overs were neat and had the guile, which even Kumble could be proud of.
It was fitting that the two bowlers came out most successful for the Indians on the first day in Dhaka. Even if the opposition was not up to scratch, you cannot deny Kumble his place in history or Pathan his importance in the years ahead. The day was just a glimpse of what Kumble has recreated over and over again and what Pathan can create.
Kumble is in the evening of his career while Pathan is enjoying his first morning. And together they are giving us lessons in excellence and of a desire to succeed on the biggest stage.