Can the humble Kumble cause a rumble?

Anil Kumble has the skills and the goodwill to be a coach. But it is a job that entails scrutiny of the microscopic kind and Kumble, for now, seems prepared for it. In his tribute to Kumble in our website, sportstarlive.com, Chappell used the word ‘selfless’ and if Kumble can bequeath the same attitude to the Indian team, where overall performance rides over individual glory, the squad and its vast legion of fans, would be well-served.

Anil Kumble meeting the media at his Bengaluru residence after being named the India head coach.   -  G. P. SAMPATH KUMAR

Kumble with his family after the BCCI announcement.   -  G. P. SAMPATH KUMAR

He stepped in a touch late but just ahead of the deadline for candidates seeking appointment as the Indian team’s cricket coach. Yet, the moment news leaked about Anil Kumble evincing interest in the critical post, there was a sharp dip in the hype about Ravi Shastri getting a second stint in a position, which he earlier handled well under the tag of the team director.

Kumble is a legend while Shastri, in his heyday during the 1980s, was a competitive cricketer and an all-rounder of merit. But in terms of sheer stature and aura, Kumble has the edge and it was but inevitable that the Advisory Committee, comprising Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and V. V. S. Laxman, would eventually pick the Karnataka man, not because he was an old team-mate but obviously due to the merits and gravitas he brings to the table.

The leaning towards the coach’s slot occurred to Kumble recently and he did bounce the idea off his family and his close buddy, former India spearhead Javagal Srinath. Once the decision was made, Kumble worked on a detailed blue-print for the Indian team, envisaging both short-term and long-term goals. His obvious signpost was a tenure that perhaps culminates with the 2019 World Cup. His application was the result of a well thought out move and it fitted into what he has done over the years, ever since he mothballed his whites and the blue-shade.

After retiring from international cricket in 2008, Kumble has stayed in touch with the game, be it playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore or mentoring the squad, a role he did later with Mumbai Indians. He did a stint as the president of the Karnataka State Cricket Association and for a while was also the National Cricket Academy’s chairman. Kumble is also the chairman of the ICC’s Technical Committee.

He also used sport as a tool to learn about team-work and leadership and effectively conveyed it in his speeches with corporates, as part of the initiative of his sports training and consulting firm Tenvic. Incidentally, the firm has also drawn the ‘conflict of interest’ query but Kumble has stated that he will address all concerns. His resume has grown over the last eight years since he bowed out of a game that he richly embellished and its common thread is an adherence to cricket — be it as a mentor, administrator or a corporate speaker. He is also well-versed with technological aids that help cricketers, a domain-knowledge that should keep him in good stead.

Kumble is not just a former cricketer, who has just got up from his post-retirement chair and is busy attempting to grapple with the intricacies of man-management. He is very much enmeshed with the game and his sheer knowledge should help him offset the obvious lack of a coaching certificate or the experience of shepherding first-class or international sides. The BCCI saw the merits of his case and made an exception in appointing him, though, with a caveat — an initial one-year term.

When Kumble walks back into the Indian dressing room at Bengaluru’s M. Chinnaswamy Stadium on June 29, as part of the prelude to the preparatory camp for the West Indies tour, he will have the weight of his performance-graph to back him. The numbers are staggering — 132 Tests (619 wickets), 271 ODIs (337) and a Test hundred at the Oval.

Add the ‘Perfect Ten’ against Pakistan in Delhi in 1999, the sheer bravado of bowling with a fractured jaw and dismissing Brian Lara in the West Indies in 2002, and the diplomatic awareness he displayed in handling the ‘Monkeygate’ fracas between Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds in Sydney in 2008, and you truly get a fabulous view of both the cricketer and his personality.

The building blocks should be relatively easy as the West Indies, against whom India will play four Tests, is a pale shadow of its much-touted glory years. Subsequently, Virat Kohli’s men will play 13 Tests at home against varied opponents like Australia, England, New Zealand and Bangladesh. Ideally the away-tour and the home-run should be easy and that should offer enough cushioning for Kumble to unveil his vision and also forge fresh ties with Kohli and M. S. Dhoni.

India’s greatest match-winning bowler will have to cope with the pressure of expectations. If in his early days as a cricketer, he had to prove his critics wrong, now in his avatar as the coach, he has to prove the pundits right as most discerning voices in the media-space, be it cricket correspondents or former cricketers, have all unanimously proclaimed that his elevation as coach is an excellent rite of passage for the Indian team. Kumble surely will not miss the irony and perhaps with a shrug, will help himself to a tall glass of filter coffee in his sprawling home in leafy Banashankari, a Bengaluru suburb.

When he started as a lanky medium-pacer, a chink in his action forced him to opt for leg-spin. He mastered the craft but the whispers were all about him not being conventional and the initial lack of the classical leg-break. Meanwhile his great rival and friend Shane Warne branded deliveries like the zooter, strung the media and got air-space. In contrast, the engineer from Bangalore, quietly burnished his craft and became indispensable to all his national captains, right from Mohammad Azharuddin to Dhoni, except for a period when Ganguly briefly felt that Harbhajan Singh was his number one tweaker.

Kumble’s varied experiences as a cricketer — rookie, evolving star, match-winner, and skipper — should help him wield a strong influence over the team. He has struck the right notes too in these delirious days when the media and fans are still in their honeymoon phase with India’s latest coach. Kumble has spoken about working like John Wright, who largely operated in the background, goading Ganguly and Rahul Dravid and the rest of the team. When angry, Wright used to jog more and the anecdote about him grabbing Virender Sehwag’s collar was a rare slip in his otherwise calm demeanour.

Kohli, lauded as the next superstar of Indian cricket, is still an evolving player. He is a great in ODIs and Twenty20s while in Tests, he is a damn good batsman, but needs to get past an average of 50 and has to score runs in England, to be talked about in the same breath as Tendulkar. He needs to tone down his anger too and needs support as and when Dhoni retires from limited-over cricket and in Kumble, Kohli may have the right ally.

In 2000 when Indian cricket was mired in the match-fixing mess, it was Kumble along with Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman and Srinath, who revived the squad. Currently the team is still a work in progress, the word ‘transition’ hovers close and especially in Tests, only a few have seemingly cemented their positions and that includes Kohli, R. Ashwin, Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane. Establishing a wider core-group, lending permanence to the team’s cogs and guiding the unit to victories, be it home or away, will be the essential template under which Kumble will operate.

He has the skills and the goodwill and he will also be aware that icons have tripped as India’s coaches, be it Kapil Dev or Greg Chappell. It is a job that entails scrutiny of the microscopic kind. Kumble, for now, seems prepared for it. In his tribute to Kumble in our website, sportstarlive.com, Chappell used the word ‘selfless’ and if Kumble can bequeath the same attitude to the Indian team, where overall performance rides over individual glory, the squad and its vast legion of fans would be well-served.