Melbourne: It may not quite be in the same league as Sir Donald Bradman saying Sachin Tendulkar reminded him of his own batting, but Anil Kumble paid R Ashwin the biggest compliment of the offspinner's cricketing life at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Saturday.
Much like his bowling, Kumble's choice of words is also deliberate and well thought out. He isn't given to hyperbole, and he doesn't praise people for the sake of praise, so Ashwin has every reason to feel on top of the world. After all, Anil Kumble, no less, said he saw a bit of himself in the tall offspinner.
On Sunday, Kumble will become the fourth Indian, after Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Bishan Bedi, to be inducted into the ICC's Hall of Fame.
For those wondering why Tendulkar isn't in that elite league, there is a cooling off period of five years after retirement before a player is eligible to be considered for the Hall of Fame, so Tendulkar's time will come in about three and a half years.
But for now, Kumble, and Ashwin. During the course of a lengthy interaction with a media group made up almost exclusively of Indian journalists, Kumble spoke in detail on his career, but perked up midway when he was asked if he saw any international cricketer today, in the current scheme of things, who reminds him of himself and, more importantly, his work ethic.
"I think a lot of people remind me of that," said the former Indian skipper and the country's highest wicket-taker in Test cricket, a smile playing on his lips. "But as far as the attitude on the field is concerned - I don't know how they are off the field because I have absolutely no idea - I sometimes see Ashwin and see myself in him, when he's bowling, batting.
"He's a better batsman than me, that's for sure," joked Kumble, one Test ton to Ashwin's two. "But yeah, I can see that grit, I can see the determination, I can see he wants to just hang around and do it for the team, so I see a lot of me in Ashwin. I think he's a fantastic cricketer, he has achieved a lot in a short span. Of course, there's been some question marks like - like how I had question marks when I played outside of India. The same thing is there with Ashwin as well, but he can only get better if he starts playing outside of India. If he doesn't play outside of India, he'll never get better. I certainly see Ashwin as someone who I believe has everything to be a fantastic cricketer for India."
"Ahh big shout that," Ashwin might have responded to that proclamation from the man who typified grit and determination and courage on the cricket field.
Just to put things in perspective: Kumble took 619 wickets in 132 Tests at 29.65, and 337 wickets in 271 One-Day Internationals at 30.89. At this stage in his career, the corresponding numbers for Ashwin, 28, are 119 wickets in 24 Tests at 30.67 and 121 wickets in 89 ODIs at 32.71. A long way to go, of course, but a vote of such immense confidence from a towering giant of Indian cricket can't but be sweet music to Ashwin's ears.
Ashwin is the only one of the specialist bowlers in this squad who figured in India's 2011 World Cup triumph, and was outstanding in a spell of 8-3-41-1 in the opening win against Pakistan in Adelaide last Sunday. An hour or so after Kumble's generous praise, Ashwin received further approbation from Virat Kohli, his vice-captain.
"I was really happy to see him bowl the way he did in that first game," remarked Kohli. "He is a very skilful bowler. I think he's at his best when he wants to take wickets, and he was really aggressive in the last game. He was on top of the batsmen the whole time. It's more of a mental battle going on on the field, and he was on top most of the time when he bowled. And those maidens were game-changers, to be honest. He got only, what, one wicket, but the way he bowled was absolutely outstanding, especially when you take into consideration you have five fielders in the ring and their spinners could not contain us so much.
"The way he bowled on that wicket was pleasing to watch. He will be a key factor for us as long as he can be in that same mindset that he was in the first game, which is to take wickets and be on top of the batter. He's had a great start and hopefully he can sustain that through the tournament."
Kumble thrived under the pressure of expectations. Now, those expectations have been transferred to Ashwin. Interesting to see how he responds.
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