As coach of the Indian cricket team, Anil Kumble’s success will depend on striking a chord with Virat Kohli, the present and future of Indian cricket
Anil Kumble waited for close to 15 minutes at the Eden Gardens Club House lobby, expecting reporters to turn up for his reaction. It was December 2, 2004, and the leg-spinner had just equalled Kapil Dev’s record of most Test wickets by an Indian bowler.
Two floors above, we had been attending Sourav Ganguly’s post-match press conference. It struck us a little late that Kumble had to be the lead story, not India’s win. They didn’t use to have well-planned and organised media briefings those days. When reality dawned, we made the dash through the stairs, but Kumble had left for the team hotel. We—four of us from national newspapers—took a taxi and rushed to Taj Bengal and put forward the request through the house phone for a press interaction. Any other cricketer of Kumble’s stature and achievement perhaps wouldn’t have answered in the affirmative following the Eden ‘snub’. But the great tweaker made himself available within 10 minutes and gave us a proper interview. He didn’t mind the trouble. He never carried the aura of a star.
Throughout his playing career, Anil Kumble had to live with the stigma that he didn’t turn the ball. He took it in his stride and went on to become India’s greatest match-winner ever. He never sought the limelight a la Shane Warne and went about his task quietly. Kumble, rather, revelled in his relative low profile, letting his record speak for himself.
Virat Kohli is the present and future of Indian cricket and, like every strong captain, wants to have his DNA in the team. Rest assured, Kumble will allow him to do that, while providing a strong backroom leadership. Remember ‘Monkeygate’ and his statesman-like handling of the whole affair as India captain? Harbhajan Singh had allegedly racially abused Andrew Symonds during the 2008 Sydney Test and was given a three-match ban by match referee Mike Procter. It was the tipping point, which left the India camp fuming. The players wanted to return home with two Test matches remaining. Later, they decided to stay and Kumble played a huge role in that. He, however, drove home his point. “Only one team was playing with the spirit of the game, that’s all I can say,” Kumble had said after the game that also saw Rahul Dravid and Ganguly fall prey to a ridiculous decision and Ricky Ponting’s ‘wrong statement’ to umpire Mark Benson, respectively. Kumble had been made India captain during transition. Dravid had unexpectedly relinquished the post following the 2007 series in England. MS Dhoni was not yet ready. The lionhearted leggie stood up to be counted.
He now has a different responsibility and the success will depend on making a smooth transition from a great cricketer to a top coach. The cricket board wants him to serve an apprenticeship period, which is the reason why Kumble has been given a one-year contract. “Kumble is transforming himself from a great on the field into a great coach,” BCCI secretary Ajay Shirke said. Privately, however, Kumble has been told that his position is all but secured till the 2019 World Cup.
The new coach’s success will also depend on striking a chord with Kohli. The latter had earlier publicly backed Ravi Shastri for the sake of continuity. But the BCCI kept him in the loop, as it went ahead with Kumble’s appointment and Kohli came up with a very positive response. “Heartiest welcome to @anilkumble1074 Sir. Look forward to your tenure with us. Great things in store for Indian Cricket with you”, he tweeted.
John Wright and Gary Kirsten had been the two most successful India coaches over the past 15 years. Both worked from behind the scenes. Greg Chappell refused to shed his ego and wanted to have his own imprint on the team. He returned home as an abject failure. Kumble is likely to adopt a player-friendly Jumbo-way.
There’s no point, going into the technical nitty-gritties of Kumble’s appointment; that his candidature didn’t meet the BCCI-specified criteria for the position of head coach. Yes, Kumble doesn’t have any previous coaching experience at first-class or international level. Nor is he a certified coach. But he expectedly received strong backing from the board’s cricket advisory committee comprising Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Ganguly—Kumble’s former teammates. Their support proved to be instrumental. Time will tell if the right choice has been made. Kumble has four Test matches in West Indies followed by 13 home Tests and the ICC Champions Trophy in England in June next year to prove his coaching mettle.
“The Indian cricket team now has a coach who will put his heart & soul in the job. Anil Kumble knows no other way of working”, former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar said on Twitter. Spot on. Kumble is also expected to put huge emphasis on winning overseas. His generation of cricketers took massive pride in doing that. India have lost 15 Tests outside the subcontinent over the past five-odd years. Also, the team doesn’t have many established Test players apart from Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Murali Vijay and Ravi Ashwin. Limited-overs glory, too, has remained elusive since the 2013 Champions Trophy title. Improvement has become the need of the hour and Kumble always strives for excellence.