At The Oval in England in 2007, India piled on 664 runs in their first innings, their fourth-highest total in Test cricket at the time.
However, there was just one centurion. In a batting line-up that included the likes of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, you’d be certain that it would be one of these illustrious names to get the big score.
But that honour belonged to Anil Kumble. In an innings where Tendulkar, Dhoni and Dinesh Karthik all missed their tons by a whisker, Kumble didn’t falter and crossed the three-figure mark.
Kumble, to be fair, was always a handy batsman. In a career that lasted 132 matches, he scored 2506 runs and also had five fifties to his name.
With India 1-0 up in the series, Kumble walked out to bat with his team in a strong position in the third Test. Replacing Tendulkar who was dismissed for 82, Kumble’s job was to support Dhoni and take India to a score where it would be difficult to lose the match and thus seal a rare series win on English soil.
Kumble slowly grew into the innings as Dhoni went berserk at the other end. He scored the majority of his runs in boundaries, though, smashing 16 fours and one six. But once Dhoni perished, Kumble upped the ante and drove India’s total foward.
The right-hander Kumble completed his century with the most awkward shot that any batsman would have scored to get to his hundred. Using his feet possibly to find the boundary, he was foxed by Kevin Pietersen who bowled it full and wide, but Kumble made the adjustment using his long arms to get an inside edge of the ball that flew past Matt Prior to the fine-leg fence.
There was confusion initially whether Kumble had got any bat on it, but his raised willow as he stood up was evidence enough that he had got to his first hundred after playing 117 Test matches.
He became the oldest Indian to score his first century at the age of 36 years and 297 days. More surprisingly, though, Kumble was India’s only centurion not just in that match but also in the entire series.
“The hundred certainly was very special. Because I tried it...tried, tried, tried from the first game, and I got it right in the 117th. So it was probably guesswork for me as well. Guessing what the bowler would do, and then I got all the guesswork right in the 117th Test match,” Kumble recently told spinner Ravichandran Ashwin during an interview on his YouTube channel.
“More than me, if you look at the balcony, my teammates were extremely happy. I think Laxman just fell off celebrating my hundred,” he added.
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While most fans remember the moment for its romanticism, it proved to be quite a vital knock for India. Despite taking a 319-run first-innings lead, India were given a scare by a Pietersen-led England in the final innings as the hosts came to within 131 runs of India’s target of 500 before the match ended as a draw.
Without the Kumble hundred, the game would have been a different affair and India might not have got their first series win in England after 21 years.
Here are the highlights of that famous century by Anil Kumble.
Watch Kumble talking about that incredible century in this interview with Ashwin.