To his teammates and an adoring cricket public, he is known simply as Jumbo, but it is not just on account of his 6ft 1in frame and size 12 feet that Anil Kumble has earned that nickname. During a career spanning almost 20 years, no other bowler has won India more Test matches nor bagged as many bowling records and wickets, making Kumble one of Indian cricket's most colossal figures, both and off the pitch. It was fitting that Kumble was carried off the field by his teammates at the end of yesterday's drawn third Test match against Australia because even they would concede that in the somewhat frenzied, chaotic world of Indian cricket, he has stood head and shoulders above all else. It was a broken finger which enforced his early retirement - he was going to quit after the fourth Test - but Kumble could not have picked a better ground than New Delhi's Ferozshah Kotla to sign off his international career. In the six Test matches he has played there he has bagged 55 wickets at an average of 15.41 runs. The fact that the stadium was packed to the rafters, after word got out that this was set to be Kumble's farewell, only highlights the affection that the master spinner is held in by Indian cricket fans. Cricket commentators who constantly complain about the lack of true gentleman players within the modern game will now have another gripe following Kumble's decision to call it quits. Not only has he led by example in his play, making him the third highest Test wicket-taker of all time, but off the field, he has acquired a reputation for being one of the game's most dignified figures. During last year's volatile tour of Australia, considered to be one of the darkest periods in Indian cricket, it was Kumble who privately approached the rival captain Ricky Ponting and extended the hand of friendship in an attempt to settle a racism dispute between the teams. When, in New Delhi, Kumble became only the second bowler in Test history to take all 10 wickets - and that too against deadly rivals Pakistan in 1999 - he was the first to enter the visitors dressing room to congratulate them for contributing to a fine match. After becoming the highest Indian wicket-taker in Dec 2004, Kumble brought his entire family into the dressing room to celebrate with him. While some Indian players have been accused of becoming arrogant because of the huge sums of money now involved in the game, Kumble still finds time to sign autographs for young fans and regularly hosts coaching clinics in his native Bangalore. Kumble must be the only cricketer in the world to have a major road intersection named after him with the Anil Kumble circle suitably located close to the Bangalore's main cricket ground. Like most Indian children, Kumble began playing on the streets before joining the Young Cricketers club as a 13-year-old. He was a straight student who was also known for his studious approach to cricket. Shortly before making his Test debut in 1990, at the age of 20 against England, Kumble graduated with a first-class degree in mechanical engineering. His bespectacled, geeky image proved to be a source of humour to his new teammates, but few could have realised at the time that he would go on to construct so many crucial match-winning performances for his country. Kumble still did enough to be taken seriously on his Test debut however, taking 3-105. Just one month short of his 37th birthday, Kumble was given the ultimate honour when he was named captain of the Indian Test team, making him one of the oldest debutant Test captains in the history of the game. He led India to a series home victory over Pakistan, the first in 27 years and also played a major role in India's closely contested tour of Australia, which they narrowly lost 2-1. Kumble was his country's leading Test wicket-taker with 619 victims. His studious approach to the game earned him a reputation of being a cricketing intellectual. His predecessor and fellow Bangalorean Rahul Dravid, writing about Kumble on Wisden Asia Cricket, said: "Anil is not a flippant man, and it is reflected in his cricket. "The game brings him pleasure but it is not taken lightly. He never goes to play until he has done his cricketing homework...there is something wonderfully thorough, organised and disciplined about his approach." As Indian cricket reflects on Kumble's departure, the debate has already started on who will take the spin maestro's place. What is not in dispute, however, is that it is going to take a massive achievement to fill the hole created by Jumbo's retirement.
He has also taken 337 wickets from 271 one-day internationals and has already quit the shorter form of the game. The wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who is the limited-overs captain and Kumble's deputy, is favourite to take over the job. Kumble, who has played 132 Tests, had been facing mounting questions over his future and missed the second Test against Australia in Mohali due to a shoulder injury. He also suffered a finger injury in the current Test, which ends in Delhi on Sunday, and only returned to bowl after having 11 stitches.
In 1999, Kumble became only the second bowler in Test cricket to claim all 10 wickets in an innings, emulating England's Jim Laker at the same Ferozshah Kotla ground. Kumble's retirement comes after the former skipper Saurav Ganguly announced the current series against Australia would be his last. The team's senior cricketers have come under increasing pressure with domestic media engaged in frenzied debate whether they should step aside to help blood younger players.
The fourth and final Test starts in Nagpur on Nov 6. *Reuters