There are times when the game simply fades away into the background. And in May 2002, as India took on West Indies in the fourth Test of the series, everyone watching (from the stands or on their television sets) experienced one such moment.
On the third day of the Test, Anil Kumble was sent up the batting order, ahead of keeper Ajay Ratra. He was soon welcomed to the crease with a short-pitched delivery from Mervyn Dillon.
It was a superbly directed short ball and in response, Kumble took his eyes off the ball. It didn’t prove to be a good decision as the ball struck him under his left jaw, shaking him up. After being attended to by team physio Andrew Leipus, Kumble spat blood, put his helmet back on and took guard again.
Dillon wasn’t in a charitable mood. He sent a few more short balls Kumble’s way and that did the trick. He fended one of them off to Chanderpaul at backward short leg (257-6). At that point, it seemed like the end of Kumble’s involvement in the match.
He was immediately taken to the hospital but the first X-ray revealed nothing. Then, the next morning, Kumble told Leipus that the pain was a bit too much. They took another X-ray and this time saw that that jaw had a crack in it. It was moving independently.
He didn’t want to get his surgery done in the West Indies, so they put a pin in and he was scheduled to leave for India in the evening.
With Kumble in trouble and India a bowler short, skipper Sourav Ganguly decided to bat on. The game plan was debatable.
But then when West Indies were finally put in to bat, there was some juice in the wicket for spinners. However, with Kumble sidelined, Tendulkar was forced to wage a lone battle.
That’s when Kumble shocked everyone present at the ground.
The leg-spinner, inspired by the turn afforded by the wicket, got team physio Andrew Leipus to swathe his face with bandages and turned up to do duty for India.
“This one takes the cake,” remarked Leipus who had seen players take the field with injuries before, but never as serious as the one sustained by Kumble. “I only made one request to him: do not appeal.”
But asking Kumble not to appeal is one thing and making him stop is quite another. He kept appealing, despite being in obvious pain.
With a strapped face, Kumble bowled his first over writhing in pain every time his front foot landed on the bowling crease. His mates could clearly feel his agony.
Umpire David Shepherd placed an arm around Kumble at the end of his first over, wondering whether the bowler wanted to carry on and offering words of encouragement at the same time. Leipus kept circling the boundary fence checking on Kumble and at the end of the over, the physio would once again tighten the bandage.
Surprisingly, for reasons only he can explain, Ganguly took Tendulkar off the other end and brought on a pacer from the other end.
Lara, perhaps as flummoxed by Kumble’s appearance as by his bowling, looked a little shaken and the Indian spinner got his just reward in his fourth over when he trapped the left-hander plumb in front.
By this point, Kumble’s face was swelling up a bit but the Lara wicket only served to inspire him even more.
Hooper and Sarwan then survived some searching overs from the leg-spinner as the runs dried up. The West Indies ended the day at 187/3, having scored 99 runs in the extended third session that saw 39 overs being bowled. Kumble, who bowled 14 consecutive overs, finished with figures of 14-5-29-1.
When Kumble was later asked why he decided to come back onto the field, he simply said: “I didn’t want to sit around.”
But perhaps the great Viv Richards put the Kumble’s performance into the correct perspective
“It was one of the bravest things I’ve seen on the field of play,” said Viv Richards later. No one watching could have disagreed.