"Grit can be defined as determination and courage when faced with extreme challenges. How does one show true grit on the sports field?" Thus begins a chapter titled "True Grit" in an English course book prescribed for Class 8 kids.
You guessed it. The chapter is all about Anil Radhakrishna Kumble, 37, the world's third highest wicket-taker in Test cricket with 560 wickets, who is now the new captain of the Indian Test team.
School textbook lessons are usually written about icons and heroes whose unique deeds, exploits and achievements educators think should serve as exalted examples for the young. A whole chapter devoted to Kumble puts him on the same pedestal as, say, a Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian to orbit the earth from space, or a Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to climb Mount Everest.
The "True Grit" chapter is a unique tribute to Kumble's courage in the 2002 Test at Antigua against the West Indies recalling the day when "a tall familiar figure strode towards the middle to the disbelief" of his captain Sourav Ganguly and others.
The writer then goes to inform that "it was Kumble, his face heavily swathed in bandages. Within a couple of minutes Kumble was bowling. Even though in great pain, as always he was accurate, ripping it off the pitch".
"Brian Lara, who was at the pitch, appeared stunned by Kumble's return. The saga of raw courage turned to a fairy tale when Kumble, in his fourth over, pitched one on the off and middle stumps and trapped Lara plumb in front. His appeal was like a silent film. He turned sharply towards the umpire and went down slowly on his haunches as his hands shot up. But the voice didn't follow.
"A few Indians were among the spectators. They broke out into Iqbal's famous 'Sare jahan se achcha Hindustan hamara.' The moment was charged with emotion. Kumble's eyes became moist.
Coincidentally, 'Sare jahan se achcha was also what Sharma famously recited when the then prime minister Indira Gandhi asked the Air Force officer how India looked from where he was high above the sky.
Kumble was to say later that he played in spite of the pain because he wanted to go back with the thought that "I tried my best". That is the stuff true champions are made of.
Learning from the sports pages of recent newspapers that Kumble had been selected to captain Team India, was it any wonder if boys like Sharv Anand, a class seven student, asked their grandfathers if it was really the same Kumble they had read about in their course books?
Kumble's focussed mind and determination to do his best for the team is something he has been known for right from the day he started playing the game at school where he had his first taste of the pain of a cricket ball rising sharply to give him a swollen face.
That he reportedly asked the selection committee meeting to be advanced so that he could reach Bangalore in time for Karnataka's Ranji Trophy match speaks for his sense of responsibility and devotion to his duties.
Statisticians have not ceased reeling off figures to inform cricket fans of Kumble's many feats in his long career spanning 17 years, like his 'perfect 10' against Pakistan in the Kotla Test in 1999, his numerous five-wicket-in-an-innings hauls and even his century in a Test in England earlier this year, just to prove he is no mean batsman.
But his cricket is far above all those tiresome figures. That it took the selectors 17 long years to bestow the Test captaincy on Kumble does not bother the man who has soldiered on with enduring dedication hard to match.
When, at last, he was offered the job he simply accepted it, hoping to make a success of it. That he has quit one-day cricket should stand him in good stead.
You could now say he is a specialist Test captain, leaving the ODI captaincy to others. He is not bothered that he has been named captain only for three Tests against Pakistan. The days of permanent jobs and long tenures seem to be over. But don't be surprised if he is also called upon to lead India in the Tests against Australia.
A fit 37 now, Kumble may even be found in sound fitness till the age of 40. Older men are known to have captained Test teams in the past.
But selectors do not seem to have a liking for captains who are intelligent, bold and have a mind of their own. Kumble is one such man. Even before he became the country Test captain he already was a subject of study in course books for young schoolchildren, something few other cricketers can claim.
As such his place in cricket history and the education system is assured. If nothing else, Test cricket captaincy at age 37 will be a befitting farewell feather in the cap of a grand cricketer in the fag end of a distinguished career.
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