Six years and a few days ago, the magnificent Indian spinner Anil Kumble took ten wickets in a Test innings. This was in the Delhi Test against Pakistan, and it was only the second time in the history of cricket that a bowler had taken ten wickets in an innings. The first time, of course, from nearly 50 years ago: England's Jim Laker against the Australians, 1956. In that match, Laker actually got 19 wickets.
(For you baseball fans, this means Kumble and Laker got all the opposing batters out. You're not surprised by that because it's the routine in baseball unless a pitcher is relieved. But in cricket, it is a rare feat indeed: because in cricket unlike in baseball, more than one bowler bowls, often five or six. You might compare it to a pitcher sending back every batter three-strikes-and-out over all nine innings).
(You croquet fans will have to find your own comparison).
Let me say up front: I have always admired Kumble's bowling, and taking all ten wickets is a remarkable achievement. Which is why I've always been baffled and disappointed about the way he got to those ten. As you can read here, India's then-captain Azharuddin "instructed Javagal Srinath at the other end to bowl wide of the stumps" so that he wouldn't get a wicket, and so Kumble would eventually get all ten. As, inevitably, he did.
Kumble himself should have responded to this by saying: "Nonsense! Javagal, you bowl as menacingly as always from that end! I'll take my chances." Why didn't he? What does it do to an achievement like this to know that it was accomplished this way?
Then again, Kumble himself was once on the other end of this particular odd stick. In January 1994, the once-great Kapil Dev was in pursuit of Richard Hadlee's then-world record 431 Test wickets: a process that was taking a very long time. In the Test at Bangalore, with Kapil needing two wickets to equal the record and three to claim it, Sri Lanka were crumbling towards another massive defeat. With only three wickets left to take in the match, all Sri Lankan tailenders, the bowler at the other end was uncooperative enough to take one. This meant Kapil could only equal the record in this match, and would want one more Test to actually pass it.
So the same Indian captain, Azharuddin, instructed the bowler at the other end to bowl wide of the stumps. You'd think Kapil would have responded to his by saying "Nonsense!" But he didn't, and the bowler did bowl wide, and Kapil duly took the last two Lankan tailender wickets, celebrated hugely for equalling the record, and then celebrated again in the next Test when he passed the mark.
The entire episode, for me, permanently tarnished Kapil's great cricketing resume. The kind of thing that makes you lose respect for a once-hero.
But that apart, who was the bowler at the other end then? Anil Kumble.
One final note, and this about the man whose record Kapil passed in 1994: New Zealand's Richard Hadlee. Hadlee himself once nearly took 10 wickets in an innings of a Test. He had got to 8 wickets, and was fielding. From the other end, Vaughan Brown bowled to Australia's Geoff Lawson. Lawson hit a Brown delivery in the air and was caught. This meant Hadlee could now not get to 10. Hadlee took the ball at the end of Brown's over and four balls later, had Bob Holland caught -- oddly enough, by Brown -- to finish with 9 wickets, his best bowling performance.
And who was the man who caught Lawson off Brown? Hadlee himself. Think of it.