Jumbo in the spotlight

The India versus West Indies series promises to be a fascinating one and a fantastic opportunity for Anil Kumble to settle into his new job as the head coach of the Indian team.

Anil Kumble, according to the columnist, is a perfect fit for the job as India’s head coach. The former India leg-spinner is well known for his razor-sharp cricket brain, humble personality and willingness to work hard.   -  AP

Rahul Dravid (right) interacting with a Under-19 player. Dravid, according to Mahela Jayawardene, would have been another ideal candidate for the post of India head coach.   -  PTI

India’s tour of the Caribbean promises to be an interesting one as one of the Indian legends, Anil Kumble, enjoys his first major assignment as the new national coach. India, a strong team full of talent and potential, will be keen to help him start his tenure on a victorious note. West Indies, meanwhile, will be carefully working out how best to outmanoeuvre the visitors and steal an unexpected win.

 

First, though, a word on Kumble’s appointment as the head coach of the Indian team. I am sure it took a few people by surprise because it had been a stated preference that the winning candidates have top-level coaching experience. Anil has played a senior cricket operations role at Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League, but has no specialised senior coaching experience.

The BCCI, however, were clear, it seems, that they preferred a local candidate. They were also looking for a great man-manager and an intelligent person. In Kumble, they got just that — a former Indian legend well known for his razor-sharp cricket brain, humble personality and willingness to work hard. The BCCI needed someone with experience, a person capable of planning and providing guidance to the younger players. Kumble, a spin legend and universally respected man, was the perfect fit.

I thought Rahul (Dravid) would have been another ideal candidate for India, but I sense that he wants to spend more time in developing and honing his coaching skills. I am sure his time will come. He is another gentleman of the game with great cricketing intelligence.



  The first task at hand for Kumble is going to be the four-match Test series in the West Indies. This is perfect because it is a tour where he is going to spend a lot of time with the bowlers, helping them prepare tactically. They need to plan their strategies against different players carefully because I would anticipate the tour to be a hard slog for bowlers of both teams.

With the Tests scheduled in Antigua, Jamaica, St. Lucia and Trinidad, my guess is that West Indies are going to be pushing for good batting pitches. They are not going to risk spinning tracks against Ravichandran Ashwin and Amit Mishra, not to forget Ravindra Jadeja, a very skilful spinning all-rounder on slow pitches. Perhaps Jamaica might have a little more freshness for the fast bowlers, but otherwise I expect the bowlers to have a tough time, needing to work very hard.

They will be using the Kookaburra ball and in contrast to the SG ball used in India, it tends to soften quite quickly. The ball is also likely to turn slowly and less sharply than in India, especially on the red-clay pitches found in venues like Mumbai. In many ways, the conditions are similar to playing in Sri Lanka.

This means that India will be thinking very hard about the right balance of their attack. Taking 20 wickets to win will not be easy and they will be keen to have five strong bowling options. They fortunately have many options given the variety in the squad.

My guess is that Jadeja will play at No. 7 and India will play three fast bowlers and one specialist spinner in most games. Where they think spin will be more effective, India can play Mishra and Ashwin with Jadeja to give them a trio of slow bowlers.

In terms of fast bowling, India will need to go by form and fitness. It will be useful though for Virat Kohli to be able to have as much pace as possible if the pitches are flat. And reverse swing could be very important, especially with the abrasive outfields.

Overall, it promises to be a fascinating series and a fantastic opportunity for Kumble to settle into his new job. India are in a good place right now with some high-class senior players and some exciting youngsters coming up through the ranks.