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In sports, the term 'great' is distributed liberally, attached to single performances as well as to consistent performers. Most people agree that greatness can be achieved only in the long-term performance, while others are convinced that a single performance (e.g. Bob Beamon's long jump at the Mexico Olympics) meets the criterion.
Anil Kumble qualifies as GREAT on all these counts: An 18- year long career, the test bowler's 'greatest ever achievement- all 10 wickets in an innings and his tally of 619 Test wickets topped only by two bowlers. But it is the mixture he contains that makes him fascinating: toughness and dignity, self-assurance and empathy, the ability to focus on the details and understand the big picture all at a time, an awareness of the meaning of his sport and the flexibility to adapt. He is an old-fashioned cricketer in modern grab. Anyone searching for the abstract qualities unique of the game- fairness, spirit, gentlemanliness - need not look beyond Kumble.
In October 2008, he had to make a difficult decision. The spirit was willing but the flesh was 38 years old. Ultimately time, the sportsman's greatest enemy, claimed Kumble. His decision to retire saddened his fans for he was not just a great bowler, he was a great inspiration. He fought hard without even once compromising on dignity or integrity, and that is as important as the number of wickets he took.
The sight of Kumble emerging from the pavilion in Antigua some years ago, ready to bowl, his face bandaged, is one of cricket's most inspiring moments. He sent down fourteen overs in a row and became the first bowler to dismiss Brian Lara while bowling with a broken jaw. He was due to fly back to Bangalore the following day for surgery when he said, "At least I can now go home with the thought that I tried my best."