It was 16 years ago when I first met a bespectacled young lad called Anil Kumble. We shook hands to introduce ourselves in the Karnataka under-23 camp. Karnataka emerged champions, trouncing Kerala in the final of that junior tournament.
Roger Binny, our senior state captain, wanted to blood youngsters and immediately picked four players from the junior side to the Ranji Trophy team. The same year, Anil played in the Ranji Trophy, Wills Trophy, represented India under-19 and was picked for the senior team's tour of England.
During the first year of playing first-class games together I noticed a phenomenon that every time the team looked to break a partnership, the captain's gaze fell on this silent spin assassin. The phenomenon continues even today with captains turning to Anil to bail the team out of a crisis.
After his maiden tour of England, I was understandably keen to get a first-hand account of his international experience. I visited him at his residence and was surprised to be gifted a pair of Gunn & Moore bowling boots. In the little time I spent with him he told me that I was not far from joining the India team. I returned home dreaming of playing for my country. It was Anil who made me believe that I am good enough for the national team. He was the inspiration for many Karnataka players and that resulted in seven from the state representing India in a span of five years.
We were roommates during my formative years in international cricket. Anil was already an integral part of the team in both forms of the game. It wasn't easy for me to miss out on a good amount of cricket in the initial part of my career. Senior players then seldom had time for a youngster's plight.
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Anil is a master of his own art that is unique and far from orthodox leg-spin bowling. On hitting a rough patch in his career he got more criticism than help from the famous Indian spin fraternity. He confessed that the only man who could have been of help was B.S Chandrashekar had he not been confined to a wheel chair.
I can think of many games where Anil has engineered emphatic wins for India. The seven-wicket haul in the Irani Trophy game against Delhi in 1991 gave his prospects a fillip. The one-man demolition act in various series between 1993 and '95 in India, getting six wickets in the Hero Cup final, the 10-wicket effort against Pakistan and the astonishing performance Down Under are some examples of Anil's brilliance.
The recent feats in Australia and Pakistan will put one of India's greatest critics, who wanted Anil to hang his boots before the World Cup, to shame.
Anil's personal goals are always aligned with the team objective. He has a good three years of cricket left in him now and one of the motivations should be to break Kapil Dev's record.
He flew back to Bangalore to be with his wife during the birth of their first child. The couple has been blessed with a baby boy. A joyous Anil can't ask for anything more in life.
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