There used to be more cricket journalists in India than in any other country, but times have changed. These days, there are more Indian cricket journalists than in all the other countries put together.
On Tuesday evening, before the first Test began, The Tamil Naidu Cricket Association, on behalf of the BCCI, organised a gala ‘felicitation’ dinner to acknowledge and honour Anil Kumble’s feat of becoming just the third bowler (after Warne and Muralitheran) to claim 600 Test wickets.
The usual collection of dignitaries and officials, appointed to their posts, as in all countries, at least partly because they are appalling public speakers, mumbled a few pleasantries (presumably) before the great man took to the stage.
What a fine human being he is – and I have always had the impression throughout his career, ever since he came to South Africa as bespectacled 21-year old, that he always would have been, with or without his cricketing success.
He thanked everyone he needed to for helping him in his career and then thanked many more who probably did not need thanking. He even thanked the media and the wry smile, becoming a grin, on his face made it perfectly clear that it was genuine and not because there were over 150 reporters and 60 television cameras (seriously!) squashed into the back of the ballroom.
At one point I was reminded of a time back in the late 1980s when the great Sir Richard Hadlee, having just won his umpteenth man-of-the-series award, decided to break a long held ‘rule’ amongst international players and keep his prize, a luxury car, to himself rather than share the winnings with his teammates.
It quickly became known that the rest of the New Zealand team were less than impressed with the gesture. Hadlee’s view was that they had done well enough out of him and it was time to keep something for himself. But as one of the senior Kiwis said at the time, “he couldn’t have done if we’d dropped the catches and not run the quick singles.”
Kumble thanked each of his international captains and each wicketkeeper to have shared his career before singling out Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar for special thanks as the men, apart from ‘keepers, who had taken the most catches off his bowling. He thanked his wife for sustaining him through the many years apart and then admitted that, even when he had been at home, he’d been “preoccupied for much of the time.” He then sat down with his family and beautifully caught his five-year-old son who threw himself at Dad with more pace than even Kumble can produce when bowling.
The South African team were there, too, seated on two tables either side of the Indian team who sat on two tables in the front row. Earlier that afternoon Graeme Smith had spoken to the media and been asked the question: “How do you feel about Gary Kirsten and Paddy Upton being in the Indian dressing room?” He paused, smiled, and replied: “That must be the 30th time I’ve been asked that question…today!” But he answered nonetheless. It’s a professional game, we wish Gary luck personally, we’re pleased for him…it may be more difficult for him than us…that sort of thing.
When Kumble had been photographed with his felicitation trophy, a crafted gold and diamond hand gripping a ball of five hundred red rubies in a distinctly un-leg spinning sort of way, proceedings finally began to wind down. But there was just time for Smith and Kirsten to share a few words and a hand-shake before they went their separate ways.
“The hardest part about the job so far is answering questions about you…” Kirsten started to say as they parted.
“What?! How many journalists are there here?” replied Smith. “If I get asked one more question about you…”
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