Sportstar archives: Kumble, Warne taking leg-spin to its pinnacle

In a chat with Sportstar, Anil Kumble and Shane Warne talk about the art of leg-spin, what makes them tick and the appreciation both have for each other.

Published : Mar 30, 2020 07:42 IST

If Wame is a big turner, full of tricks, Kumble, in his manner, is as devastating.
If Wame is a big turner, full of tricks, Kumble, in his manner, is as devastating.

If Wame is a big turner, full of tricks, Kumble, in his manner, is as devastating.

This interview was an amazing experience. He (Shane Warne) had promised to speak over breakfast (with Anil Kumble) at the team hotel on the day of the match. And then said “let us do it at the ground when we bat.” I had no hopes. As the Australian openers walked out, I spotted Warne. He was looking for me. The Sharjah press box had just a railing to separate the reporters from the player’s sitting area. We spoke as the match went on. He had kept his word.

They have completely contrasting personalities and yet they make a great company. They are both matchwinners but present a different picture. Anil Kumble, the mild-mannered Indian and Shane Wame, the typical aggressive Australian. Both have respect for the other man's abilities and enjoy bowling to one another, as if trying to prove a point, both claiming to be a better batsman than the other.

If Wame is a big turner, full of tricks, Kumble, in his manner, is as devastating. "I know I have my limitations and know that I can't spin the ball a great deal," says Kumble. That is his strength really - this ability to self analyse and work out the solutions. Wame and Kumble do not miss a chance to discuss their art and exchange views on how to improve.

The long breakfast conclave at Dubai during the recent Coca Cola Cup was a much-awaited occasion for both as neither could find time for a quiet dinner during the entire series when the Australians were in India. Thanks to Kumble, the Aussie agreed to spend time to answer questions posed by Sportstar on various aspects of the difficult art of leg-spin bowling.


How do you cope with the expectations of the people and the media who dub you as a ''match-winner'?

Kumble: I think it is the confidence that you get. At the start of your career, you just have to prove your worth at the international level. As you go on and start performing, expectations go higher. And once you are looked upon as the key member of the side, that added responsibility comes to you. It gives you confidence. Not only those watching the game but also the team looks up to you. Whenever they need a wicket, the ball is tossed to you. And that gives added confidence. That also adds to the pressure but I always enjoy the pressure, that added responsibility. That's the motivating factor for me. Regarding the media hype, I am not the type of person who goes overboard or looks too seriously as to what is written about me. The media has supported me right through my career. And if there is constructive criticism, I do take it in my stride. I always believe that cricket is a game where there is scope for improvement every day. Yet, I don't take it too seriously if somebody is too critical. But at the end of the day, it is I who know that I could have done better or bowled better. Obviously the wickets matter. At the end of the day, results matter. In the end, if I know that I've bowled my 100 per cent, then I analyse myself and stick to it rather than think about what the others are thinking about me in that situation.

Warne: You just go out and try to give your best in every game. Some days it's a good match, some days it is not. It is nice to be recognised as one of the best bowlers in the side, especially where a lot of bowlers can take wickets. So you keep trying. That's all you can do instead of worrying over the criticism. I think the more the expectations, the better you tend to get in trying to please your supporters.

How important is the rapport between a leg-spinner and wicketkeeper?

Warne: We (referring to lan Healy) have a good understanding. And lan has been around for a long time now. He knows my bowling well and knows what I am trying to do. And he does not miss too many. Also, it is nice to have Mark Taylor in the slip and Mark Waugh around bat-pad.

Kumble: I think it is very important, especially with my kind of bowling. Nayan (Mongia) has done a fantastic job because it is not easy, considering the pace at which I bowl. On the third or fourth day, when the ball is spinning and bouncing, it is not easy and I think Nayan does a great job of it.

Kumble: Nayan (Mongia) has done a fantastic job because it is not easy, considering the pace at which I bowl.

How do you prepare for a match and what do you do to improve your concentration? Any pre-match planning?

Warne: No, no. I don't have any planning as such. It is enough motivation knowing that you are playing for Australia. You don't need any more motivation than that. So I just go out and enjoy myself. Concentration comes naturally because I am looking at taking wickets and not containing the batsmen. I like to attack and that is where my concentration comes out strongly.

Kumble: For every match, I prepare very similarly. If you look at a Test match I am always a little nervous on the first day. I am keen to know what we are doing - whether we are batting or fielding. I normally prepare thinking that I might bowl first. I generally go through the previous night thinking about how to bowl to a particular batsman and what line and length to bowl. That's how I prepare. For a one-day game, I prepare similarly. I just like to bowl a good line and length because the pitch (for one-dayers) is normally very flat. I try to keep my focus and concentration going in times of pressure and stick to the basics.

What sort of dismissal gives you the most satisfaction?

Wame: Any wicket. Any wicket gives me satisfaction. Obviously the best is when a partnership gets going. You'd like to break that partnership. So I'd like to think that when the team needs a wicket in any situation I should be able to get that. In the last two years, I've been able to do it and I hope I continue to do that in future.

Kumble: It is difficult to pin-point one dismissal. The fastish delivery with which I got Steve Waugh satisfied me. I don't like to give away toomany runs. The first four-five overs I just concentrate on basic line and length to convey the message that it is not going to be easy for the batsmen.

How do you handle pressure/failure?

Warne: That's part of the sport. Some day, the batters are going to win, and some day the bowlers. That's the way cricket is. If there was one player in the history of the game, that was Donald Bradman to win just about every time he played. The one 'bad' series he had, he averaged 60! So you go out and give your best so that your team can win.

Kumble: Failure is part and parcel of life. When you are getting wickets, then you don't think of failure. You do what you do and things keep happening. But once that stops happening, you begin to think of trying different things. That's when you realise that you need to concentrate, or maybe improve. Failure also results from the kind of wicket you bowl on. On a flatter wicket, I guess, it is tougher for a bowler to get wickets. For example, the Sri Lankan series, none of the bowlers could really make an impression. As you asked me earlier about coping with the expectations, once you are looked upon as a match-winner or as somebody who gets a wicket the moment he comes on to bowl, that does not happen on a flat wicket.

I guess that's what happened to me in Sri Lanka. In some of the matches I was expected to get wickets and once I did not get wickets, maybe I was too keen or too charged up to really get a wicket. Maybe that's where I faltered. Maybe I had to just keep my cool and stick to my basics and not really try and go for a wicket. Maybe that was one of the reasons. Maybe, I was not bowling well at that time. I don't know. But that makes you go back to the 'nets' and sort out things. When things are not going your way, you look for options and if that comes through its fine. Perhaps, that's what happened to me in Sri Lanka.

How important is the captain's faith in a leg-spinner?

Wame: It depends on the captain's understanding of the way you want your field. If a captain doesn't understand spin bowling, then you are going to get a different field, you don't like. I've been lucky with Allan Border, Mark Taylor and now Steve Waugh. I have played a lot of cricket and I am a pretty senior player and vice-captain now. If I want to change my field, my captain lets me do it. But a captain's faith in the bowler is most essential.

Kumble: I think it's very important. With regards to Azhar and Sachin, I've not had any problem. It is a good thing that the captain tosses the ball to you whenever the team needs a wicket. Once the captain feels that you are the guy who is going to get the wickets, that makes you feel that much more confident. Once the captain gives you the ball and says you are the one who is going to get the wicket for us, it makes the opposition feel that much more tentative.

What made you become a leg-spinner? Considering that there is so much of one-day cricket these days, do you think you took a wise decision?

Wame: Look at Anil Kumble's record. Look at my record. It reads well in one-dayers and is pretty good in Test cricket too. I think it is very important to have a leg-spinner on a one-day side. Very important. And when I was bowling leg-spin in my formative years, I thought of myself as a different bowler from the others.

Kumble: I was a medium pacer during my school days and my brother (Dinesh) suggested that I change to leg-spin. The only thing I knew about leg-spin was that I had to rotate my wrist and nothing else. I did not know how to grip the ball, how to bowl a leg-break or a googly. The only thing I knew about a googly was that you had to rotate the wrist fully and nothing more. I still had an off- spinner's grip. And every time I bowled, it was coming into the batsmen. During my under-15 days, I just bowled like that and I was successful. Then I played under-17, Vasu Paranjpe was the coach and that helped. He gave me a lot of tips and confidence when I was in the National camp. Then B. S. Chandrashekhar was the coach for about a month. He lengthened my run-up, which was much shorter earlier. Maybe that gave me more rhythm. Since I was a fast bowler, I always liked to bowl from a distance. I feel I get more rhythm when I bowl from a longer run-up.

Kumble: One-day cricket requires different kind of skills than a Test and that makes the task very demanding.

How different is bowling in Test cricket from bowling 10 overs in a one-day game?

Wame: It depends on what time you bowl in a one-day game. The only bad thing about one-day cricket is that when you bowl well, you have none for 50. And on other days, when you don't bowl that well, you bowl ordinarily, and you get three for 30. That is the nature of the game and it is quite exciting to play one-day cricket. Test cricket is far more challenging. You have to think what the batsman is thinking and getting a well-set batsman out can be very motivating.

Kumble: One-day cricket requires different kind of skills than a Test and that makes the task very demanding. In Tests, you are looking at getting the batsman out and you tend to attack more. In one-dayers, the emphasis is on containing and the more dot balls the better. Of course, you do bowl to get wickets in one-day matches too.

How much do you work on developing your art?

Kumble: The strength comes from basic line and length. I am at the batsman all the time and don't bowl too many loose deliveries. In Tests, I am bowling a bit slower and am trying to develop the googly. I would, however, like to develop the leg-spinner. I try to set the batsman up and if you notice most of my victims are either bowled or leg-before.

Wame: No matter how long you've been working at it, you are never too old to learn. That's what I try to do and try to learn by speaking to the Richie Benauds and the lan Chappells. lan Chappell helped me a tremendous amount. Allan Border, I think, was magnificent, one of the best cricketers ever. I have learnt a lot from him and he has become a very good friend. lan Chappell, too. I am a very good friend of his.

What about the hard work behind the success?

Wame: You must have a lot of inner strength. You have to get over niggles. You just have to keep performing every game. You have to keep getting motivated. That comes from within. And as I said earlier, playing for your country is motivation enough.

Kumble: You have to sacrifice a lot to gain a little. There is no substitute to hard work. To be accurate and consistent, I need to bowl a lot and I do that in the off-season, trying to sort out a few minor things.

Is there any particular ball you have developed as your main weapon?

Wame: As a leg-spin bowler, I think my best ball is the leg-break. For my top-spinner, my foot is not coming as well as it used to. I'll be working on that a little bit more.

Kumble: I am trying to develop the leg-break and I have succeeded to some extent. The last eight months or so I have got a lot of wickets in the slip area (in Ranji Trophy and Tests). That means I am spinning the ball.

Did you expect the Indian batsmen to tackle you as well as they did?

Wame: You've got to give credit to the Indian batsmen. They played very well. Sidhu especially. Sachin and Azhar played well but I think it was Sidhu who set up the innings for them. And he played the spinners very well. I only remember him getting stumped off a spinner here (in Sharjah). So I think he played the spinners as good as anybody.

Warne: I think, Sachin Tendulkar is obviously the best batsman in the world. So it is always a challenge to bowl to someone who is the best.

Your philosophy of attacking the batsmen?

Wame: Always attack. Always attack even when it's not good enough, it is a batsman's day. Even if for two, three Tests in a row, it is his (batsman's) day, eventually, it will change.

Kumble: I have always believed in myself and my abilities. My main strength is accuracy and the bounce that I get off the wicket. That is where my attack originates from.

You look very, very confident everytime you bowl. You seem to relish bowling in a pressure-situation?

Warne: I do. I think it brings out the best in me. I think a lot of people confuse it with arrogance. A lot of people in Australia think I am arrogant. I am not arrogant. I am confident of my ability, confident of what I can do. And I get along with most people very well.

Kumble: Without being confident, you can't succeed really. The batsman should know you are confident. I make no extra effort to display my confidence but allow my bowling to do so.

Would you call it aggression?

Warne: Of course, it is. I am competitive, I don't give an inch on the field.

Kumble : You may call it that but I would still say it is more of confidence.

Who, in your opinion, is the most difficult batsman to bowl to?

Warne: I think, Sachin Tendulkar is obviously the best batsman in the world. So it is always a challenge to bowl to someone who is the best. And I think he enjoys facing me, he likes the challenge as well. That makes good cricket and that's what people want to see.

Kumble: I think any batsman in form should be difficult to get out.

How do you feel when people say that you are the one who revived the dying art of leg-spin?

Wame: I think it's a very nice compliment. Leg-spinners have always been part of the game and they'll always be. They need encouragement and it is very hard when you are 14-15 years old and everyone is whacking you all over the park. Always help him and give him confidence. You've to keep going.

Kumble: I will be happy to be part of the tribe which has made an effort to give the leg-spinner a place in the team. It is good to know that a leg-spinner can be part of a one-day side, and not just a Test team. He is no more a luxury as some people had made it out to be.

What do you think of Shane Warne?

Kumble: He is amazing. He has all the variations a leg-spinner can think of and his accuracy is too much. It is the most important and most difficult thing for a leg-spinner. For me, I am not an orthodox leg-spinner, accuracy is not difficult to attain. But he has achieved it and that is his greatest asset. He is a great bowler because he is consistent.

What do you think of Anil Kumble?

Warne: He's got a very nice heart. A very nice person. I find him a very good bowler. Excellent bowler. He is very competitive. He nicely sums up the batsmen and knows where they are trying to score off him. He knows his strength. I can't believe him not playing in the side. He is a very good friend of mine and a very, very good cricketer.

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