During the 2007 ODI World Cup, after India had put on a mammoth 413/5 on the board after batting first against Bermuda, there was little doubt that they’d win. And so, it proved to be. The Bermuda batsmen didn’t have much experience playing at the international level and, as expected, it was a cakewalk for the Indian team.
This match would be the final ODI for one of India’s greatest bowlers. If you consider wickets taken in international cricket, then there’s no other Indian bowler who comes close to Anil Kumble. While Kumble took three wickets in this game, he was dropped for the crucial game that followed against Sri Lanka. With India losing that match, they were out of the World Cup and with that, the legendary leg-spinner’s ODI career had come to an end.
Dropping in and out of the playing eleven was a common theme in the latter years of Kumble’s career in the 50-over format. During the 2003 World Cup and after, India tended to prefer playing with only one specialist spinner. And that spinner would usually be the younger Harbhajan Singh, who was considered a better fielder and a better batsman in white-ball cricket. In addition to that, Kumble’s form had also gone down during this period.
In the period post the 2003 World Cup up until Kumble’s retirement from ODIs after the 2007 World Cup, the Karnataka bowler featured in just 28 of the 122 ODIs India played. In those 28 matches, he managed to pick up only 26 wickets at an average of 45.03. Hence, it was no surprise that he wasn’t a regular in the limited-overs team.
Kumble’s peak in ODIs came in the mid-90s. Out of the 271 ODIs he featured in, just more than half (136) came in the six-year period between 1993-98. And his best performances also came during this period. While he played 50.2% of his ODI matches during these six years, he picked up 57.9% of his wickets.
Between 1993-98, Kumble took 195 wickets in ODIs at an average of 25.76 and a strike rate of 37.4 – both of which are more than five runs per wicket and five balls per wicket better when compared to his career stats. No other Indian bowler took more ODI wickets during this period, with Kumble’s state team-mates Javagal Srinath (169) and Venkatesh Prasad (117) the only others to take over hundred wickets in 50-over international cricket.
The most memorable of Kumble’s ODI performances came in the Hero Cup final in 1993 against West Indies at the Eden Gardens. Chasing a target of 226, the visitors had just crossed the 100-run mark when India’s premier leg-spinner began to weave his magic. At the time, West Indies still had a decent chance of winning, but Kumble clearly had other ideas.
Kumble’s first wicket was that of Roland Holder who was bowled, something that the players and the umpires hadn’t noticed initially. Soon after, Jimmy Adams had to head back to the pavilion after attempting to play a cover drive and only managing to offer a simple catch to Mohammad Azharuddin.
It was all one-way traffic after that. The West Indies lower-order struggled against Kumble’s quicker deliveries on a pitch that was assisting the Indian leg-spinner. Kumble secured career-best bowling figures of 6/12 in this match, which was an Indian record until Stuart Binny broke it in 2014.
In the World Cup in 1996, Kumble was brilliant. He ended the tournament as the leading wicket-taker (15) and did so with an average of less than 20 and a strike rate of less than 30. In ODI cricket’s biggest tournament, he had brought his A-game to the table!
With more importance placed on fielding and lower-order batting, and India’s strategy of playing only one front-line spinner in limited-overs cricket post the turn of the millennium, Kumble’s ODI career took a backseat. But despite that, when you are selecting an all-time ODI XI for the Indian cricket team, the man nicknamed ‘Jumbo’ is likely to be your first pick as spinner.
While Kumble’s ODI career might not have been as good as his Test career, especially during the latter years, it must be noted that no Indian has taken more wickets in the format than him. Hence, you can definitely say that Kumble was a great of the ODI game.