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February 15, 1999


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10 wickets -- and phone overload

M D Riti

Anil Kumble's parents K N Krishna Swamy and Saroja were not the only people harassed by the numerous telephone calls to the conquering hero after his spectacular triumph.

His entire telephone exchange at Basavanagudi got clogged by the numerous calls that he was besieged by.

Finally, the P&T department was forced to give him a new, unlisted number for a couple of days after his great homecoming.

Seeing the tall, lanky, sunburnt bowler striding down the tarmac at the airport, I could not help being reminded of the almost gauche engineering student from R V College that I had met just over seven years ago at the nets at the Bangalore stadium.

At that time, I was doing twin features on the two new young bowlers from Karnataka, who had just burst upon the Indian cricketing horizon. When I got him at his home for a quick telephonic interview, there was an awed silence from the other end when I declared my request. "You mean this is actually an STD call and you want to interview me long distance from Bangalore?" asked the man who was India's new spin sensation, and had just returned from his maiden foreign tour of Australia.

A year later, Kumble was much less awed and far more blase. But one could still see the diffident college boy under the veneer of confidence and poise. At that moment, juggling college (he was a final year engineering student), a job as probationer at Vijaya Bank and a career in cricket that was just taking off was his greatest preoccupation.

"Every cricketeer aspires to play for his country at some time, and I have achieved that ambition," he said elatedly. We sat in the galleries of the empty stands and talked about what he hoped to achieve in cricket.

A perfect 10, however, was certainly not something he had ever anticipated, either then or any of the other times I met him since.

Ironically, that first feature was published in the Illustrated Weekly with the heading `Anil Kumble is determined to get back into the Indian team,' as the young man had just been dropped for the Australian series.

The criticism levelled against him at that time was that he did not vary the style of his bowling enough. "He will remind you of B S Chandrashekar, but his bowling talent is nowhere near that of the latter," commented one-time ace spinner E A S Prasanna, who had seen Kumble play at Sharjah just before he was axed.

Kumble began by playing cricket on the streets of Bangalore, and then joined a club called the Young Cricketeers when he was 13 years old. He graduated through the under 15 and the under 17 to the under 19 stages, and played against Pakistan for the first time in the junior team in 1989-90.

His performance in the rectangular tournaments took him into the junior category and later the State team in 1989. He was part of the team that won the Wills Trophy and was then chosen to go to Sharjah.

"Anil is a good restrictive bowler," said bowler and all-rounder Roger Binny at that time. "He has to learn to spin the ball and turn it more," added Prasanna.

S M H Kirmani, who used to practise at the nets with Kumble most mornings back then in 1991, said : "I think Kumble shows great promise." He certainly turned out to be right.

Interestingly, it was Kumble who inadvertently played Cupid in the life of friend and team-mate Venkatesh Prasad, also from Bangalore. Prasad used to visit the Titan office to meet Kumble, and ended up meeting and marrying Titan's glamourous chief of public relations Jayanthi. Kumble and Prasad still have the same camraderie, and Bangaloreans would not be too surprised to see them chatting over a masala dosa at any of their favourite eateries.

The excitement at Kumble's home the day before his return was palpable. The women in the family were busy grinding batters for his favourite dosas and planning a menu of carrot halwa, saaru (rasam), huli (Sambar) and some of the vegetable rice dishes that he likes.

"I'm sure he must be longing for some home food," said his mother Saroja, as she bustled around, trying to tackle the extra workload caused by an absent maidservant. The men, including his father, were busy doing proud post mortems of Kumble's various overs.

The quiet and retiring Kumble family came out into the public limelight in an unprecedented manner when they rode in triumph in the open jeep with Kumble on his return. The most excited member in the family was possibly Kumble's 10 month old nephew, the only child of Anil's elder brother Dinesh and his pretty wife Bindu.

Dinesh was the only member of the family missing as he was overseas on work.

Four pretty young women had been chosen to accord Kumble a traditional welcome with flowers and arathi at the airport. Bangalore's hottest bachelor just happened to shake hands with one of them, and she promptly turned all shades of the rainbow with delight.

Grand welcome over, Kumble had to turn his attention to more practical commitments, namely a public appearance for a commercial. He left for Hubli in North Karnataka the same night.

Kumble makes his next public appearances in Bangalore on Saturday at celebratory functions at the stadium and elsewhere before he dashes off to his next match at the Eden Gardens against Pakistan, the same enemy he single-handedly humbled in Delhi the other day.

"I'm worried, because the expectations from my son will be very high, and it is unlikely that he will ever be able to match his last performance," says his concerned, but proud father.

Mail Prem Panicker