New Delhi:Regarded as one of the greatest spinners of the world, battle-hardened warrior Anil Kumble's contribution to Indian cricket goes way beyond churning out match-winning spells with spectacular consistency for the past 18 years.
The 38-year-old Kumble, the captain of the team and one of the legends in Indian cricket, on Sunday brought down the curtains on a glorious career, which had its fair share of highs and lows.
The leg-spinner ended his 132-match Test career with 619 wickets, the highest by an Indian bowler. His one-day career tally stood at an equally impressive 337 wickets from 271 matches when he ended it last year.
Kumble had been battling injuries, indifferent form and oft-repeated queries on retirement for quite some while.
The BS Chandrasekhar-idoliser kicked off his Test career in August 1990 against England, three months after his ODI debut against Sri Lanka, before going on to become perhaps the most consistent match-winning bowler that India produced in the longer version of the game.
He never was a big spinner of the ball like Shane Warne but the one aspect in which he managed to out-do the Australian legend was getting a Test hundred under his belt something Warne could never manage despite being a credible batter.
What he didn't have in natural talent, Kumble more than made up for it with sheer determination and a workmanlike approach to hone his craft.
The great fighting spirit that he came to symbolise in Indian cricket is well-documented and Kumble's statesman-like conduct on and off the field also made him one of the most respected cricketers in the modern-day game. The Karnataka bowler's decision to play with a broken jaw during a 2002 series against West Indies is an image that no cricket lover can ever forget.
But much before that, Kumble ensured his name among the greats of the game when he became only the second bowler in the history of Test cricket to take 10 wickets in an innings, scalping the entire Pakistani team at his happy hunting ground, the Ferozeshah Kotla in 1999.
He then became the first Indian bowler to take 300 Test wickets in 2001 and as he retires today, Kumble stands third in the all-time list of Test wicket-takers behind only Shane Warne (708) and Muttiah Muralitharan (756).
He also lived a long-cherished dream when he was made the Indian Test captain last year in the home series against Pakistan.
He led the team to its first home triumph against the traditional arch-rivals in 27 years. Then came perhaps the hardest test of his captaincy during the ill-tempered tour of Australia.
Kumble held the team together through a race row, an umpiring furore and a heartbreaking Test series loss with his own conduct only enhancing his stature in international cricket. But the champion bowler was in for harder times on return to his own country where focus on youth and Mahendra Singh Dhoni's rising popularity was leading to questions being asked about the leg-spinner's utility for the team in the face of his fitness woes and dip in form.
Such was the pressure that the generally composed Kumble lost his cool on more than one occasion when pressed about his retirement plans.
Kumble maintained that he would take his own call on the matter but after Sourav Ganguly made the shock announcement of his retirement after the Australia series, it seemed a matter of time before Kumble's decision came.
It came and as the legend himself had promised, it came when nobody had quite expected it.