For close to two decades, Anil Kumble carried the Indian attack on his shoulders, with a broad smile after each of his 956 international wickets.
Kumble could make his final bow tonight
Ten wickets in a Test innings and a sensational spell with a fractured jaw in Antigua. Those two moments define the career of Anil Kumble, a master of his art and a cussed competitor. For close to two decades, Kumble carried the Indian attack on his shoulders, with a broad smile after each of his 956 international wickets and hands-on-the-hip annoyance at every close shave.
Approaching his 40th year, the leg-spinner still carries those traits and his niggardly statistics in the IPL would suggest his powers are not waning , but Kumble feels the end is nigh. Tonight's third place play-off with Royal Challengers Bangalore against Deccan Chargers for a spot in the Champions League could be Kumble's final hurrah. "The Champions League is there, [but I am] pushing 40," he told the official website of the IPL. "So I don't know. The body needs to hold up and bowling four overs is not a problem, but the other things that happen on the cricket field have [taken their toll].
"The training to play these 16 games is not easy, but I think personally I have done well, not too bad. I haven't had an injury and have played all the 15 games and one more to go, so I don't know. I will have to just assess once this gets over and then sit down with the franchise and have a chat." A spot in September's Champions League in South Africa was not at the top of Kumble's wish list. He was egging his weary bones on to win the top prize in the IPL after missing out last season when they lost to the Deccan Chargers in the final. With that dream dashed by a dominant Mumbai Indians, Kumble is keen to get the consolation.
"The big prize was probably the IPL final and we missed out on that," he said. "It does hurt when you have played well and you have qualified for the semi-finals and it does hurt when you lose. "We can take credit for the fact that we have played well in the last two seasons of the IPL having reached the semi-finals, final the previous year and semi-finals now. "We have an opportunity to get through to the Champions League, so probably that is a consolation for us. I haven't still got over the loss of the last IPL and probably this will take a longer time. I don't play international cricket, for me this is the only form of cricket that I play, am extremely competitive in this form and it hurts.
"Probably for other players they have other tournaments and they probably would be able to get over. For me... it is not the same." As Kumble hinted about a possible end, Adam Gilchrist, 38, has expressed his desire to return next season but his decision is not motivated by money. "I would love to be part of the Deccan Chargers next year," the Australian said. "I'm going to play a few games at Middlesex in the summer.
"I've no desire to play a domestic full summer. I'm done with that, but I'll be ready nearing the next IPL. Everyone in every walk of life needs something to survive. Some people cherish money more than others, but I don't see anything else except a natural desire to win. "The memories of last year from where we came from the previous year - they are the reasons I'm playing. What charges me up and keeps me coming back is that nice little incentive of that winning feeling."
* Compiled by Ahmed Rizvi Deccan Charges v Royal Challengers Bangalore, 6.30pm, Cric One