It wasn’t the general anaesthetic talking when Anil Kumble predicted Indian world domination, a dream that will move much closer to reality if Australia cannot manufacture a victory in Nagpur.
It is not just the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, but also Australia’s credibility as the champions of world cricket that will be at stake in the fourth Test from Thursday, when the retired Kumble will be a VIP guest to watch India, under his successor, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, try to finish the job he started. With his left hand wrapped in an enormous bandage to conceal the gruesome cut that exposed the flesh in his little finger and ended his career, Kumble spoke of the legacy he hoped to leave Indian cricket.
"I am confident that this young team that we have, with a few of the senior players being part of the team, I think we have a great opportunity to dominate world cricket and be No.1 in all forms of the game," Kumble said.
"In one-day cricket, we are pretty close, in Twenty20 we are the No.1 team in the world and I don’t think we are that far behind in Test cricket, as well. It would be great to see that happen and that is how I would like to be remembered – as someone who raised the bar for the team."
In fact, India are third in the ICC official Test rankings behind Australia and South Africa – but as Kumble pointed out, the Indians are the only team to have consistently challenged Australia both home and away in recent history. That has a lot to do with the man who joked on Sunday night that after 18 years, he still had not figured out how to bowl a leg break and whose ability was questioned almost throughout his career.
Though the 38-year-old has been diminished by shoulder and finger injuries in this series, his stoic leadership underpinned a new Indian team that stormed to victory in Perth last summer and carried the momentum into the sequel to that acrimonious series. That series took an emotional toll on Kumble, who explosively accused Australia of failing to uphold the spirit of the game at the SCG and had to deal with the firestorm that followed.
As the three other former captains in the India team know, and as Dhoni will discover, it is not easy to meet the expectations of a billion people and lead a cricket team at the same time.
Having forced a draw in Delhi, the Australians can still level the series – and retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy – in Nagpur, but Kumble said an Indian series victory would bring the ultimate satisfaction in a match that will be V.V.S Laxman’s 100th Test and Sourav Ganguly’s last.
Though he won’t be playing, Kumble will be at Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium for the series finale.
"That was the ultimate goal for all of us before the start of the series, to beat the Australian team in India. So I would like to be a part of that," he said. "The last five or six matches that I have played, things have not gone my way. But as a team, I think we have shown a lot more resilience. India is the only team that is competing against the Aussies and we are one up in the series."
Kumble signed off as Test cricket’s third most successful bowler behind fellow spinners Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne. The throbbing in his hand was numbed by painkillers, but the stitches will not come out until day three of the Nagpur Test; his wounded body would not take him another step and at last he stopped fighting it.
"It was not easy to keep bowling the way I had been bowling for 18 years," said Kumble, who took the last three of his 619 wickets the day after a surgeon insisted on a general anaesthetic to sew up the cut opened by a fierce Matthew Hayden clip to short mid-wicket.
"It was a pretty nasty cut, pretty deep. You could see the flesh and there are 11 stitches. I did tell [the doctor] that if you give me general anaesthesia, I would lose time and I would like to go out there and bowl. He said it was a medical decision.
"I wouldn’t have been 100 per cent for the Nagpur Test match and I don’t want to let the team down. Anyway, I had more or less decided this would be my last series and I took a call that it is time to leave."
In a week, Kumble will know whether his parting wish has been granted.