Legends Month: The best of Anil Kumble
As part of Legends Month on Cricket Network, look back on one of Anil Kumble's greatest performances
17 May 2018, 03:00 PM AEST
Anyone who ventures that the Ashes celebrate Test cricket's most proud and passionate rivalry is merely telling you they've not paid much attention to the game's post-war evolution.
Without question, the most ardent fans and the most intense scrutiny in global cricket competition plays out on those rare occasions when nuclear neighbours India and Pakistan do battle at their shared national obsession.
The nature of major limited-overs tournaments means that happens in the white-ball format more regularly than the red, with this millennium hosting just 12 Tests to date between the avowed foes and none staged since December, 2007.
It's the novelty as much as the rivalry that ensures game-defining feats offer a status beyond hero-hood, and there have been no more emphatic individual efforts than that of India wrist spinner Anil Kumble in the remarkable series of 1998-99.
The fact those two Tests represented the first against Pakistan on India's turf for a dozen years, and a thaw after almost a decade-long stand-off, was almost overshadowed by the unadulterated star power of the opposing line-ups.
Wasim Akram's visitors also featured future skippers Saeed Anwar, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Waqar Younis and Mohammad Yousuf, spin duo Mushtaq Ahmed and Saqlain Mushtaq, and teen sensation Shahid Afridi who opened the batting and blazed a maiden Test hundred in Pakistan's triumph at the series' opening Test in Chennai.
By dint of that result, an India outfit led by Mohammad Azharuddin and studded with Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Kumble and their own audacious adolescent Harbhajan Singh faced expectation few sports teams can relate to when the second match began in Delhi.
To have the folks with whom relations have been fraught since the line of partition was drawn in 1947 come over for a couple of Tests was one matter; to allow them a second series win in as many visits (following their 1-0 success in 1987) stirred more than parochial panic.
The manner of India's defeat at Chennai – when they seemed surging to victory only to surrender their last four wickets for as many runs and log a 12-run loss – further inflamed fervour ahead of the return bout starting four days hence.
Although Pakistan's extraordinary victory had been warmly received in the southern city, when thousands of fans applauded the victors as they jogged an exultant lap of Chidambaram Stadium after Saqlain snared the final wicket.
That Test was originally scheduled for Delhi, but it was relocated after political extremists dug up the pitch at Feroz Shah Kotla in the capital weeks earlier amid a wave of protests that saw demonstrations in cities, and the Board for Control of Cricket in India’s Mumbai office ransacked.
Officials even enlisted snake charmers at the Delhi venue for the second match after rumours that activists might release venomous reptiles among the crowd, but the game went ahead as planned even though the repaired pitch remained a little underdone.
India's cautious first innings netted them 252 in more than a day's batting, then their spinners Kumble (4-75) and Harbhajan (3-30) kept Pakistan to 172, with a stoic 96 from rookie India opener Sadagoppan Ramesh extending that initial advantage into a formidable lead of 419 come the fourth innings.
Needing to survive almost two days to extract a series-saving draw, Pakistan instead opted to chase glory and Anwar and Afridi blazed 101 for the first wicket in 98 minutes before Kumble first struck, and history soon beckoned.
The catch behind that Afridi disputed was lost in the delirium next ball when Ijaz Ahmed fell lbw, then Inzamam chopped on, Yousuf was pinned in front and Moin Khan was caught by a tumbling Ganguly at slip as 0-101 spiralled to 5-127.
With all falling to the 28-year-old trained computer engineer.
With an exultant crowd baying every near miss and combusting at each half-shout, the only other constant in the action was umpire Arani Jayaprakash, a former first-class cricketer in India who was officiating in his second Test.
Years later, he would proudly flash his business card that featured thumbnail photos of all 10 Kumble wickets on which he passed judgement that afternoon.
With victory an impossibility and survival about as likely, Pakistan's innings unravelled in the face of Kumble's fast, flat wrist spin on a surface from which he would occasionally get the ball to spit from a length while largely targeting batters' front pad or foot.
When Akram nudged a catch to short leg to formalise his team's 212-run loss, Kumble's 10-74 elevated him alongside England’s Jim Laker (10-53 v Australia at Manchester in 1956) as the only bowler in Tests to claim every opposition wicket in a single innings.
It also triggered wild celebratory scenes at the Kotla, where the series was drawn (a subsequent Test at Kolkata that Pakistan won was part of the separate Asian Test championship) and Kumble was carried to pavilion in the arms of beaming Indian officials.
His shirt ripped and ragged from the surge of supporters who pushed through trying to lay their hands upon the deity in his moment of ascension.
"It is a dream, I cannot get over the fact I have got 10 wickets," the quietly spoken Kumble marveled at Test’s end.
"Whenever I am leaving for a match, my mum says 'get a hat-trick.' Probably next time she will say 'get 10 wickets'."