Combative Kumble keen to deliver in the key post

The BCCI’s appointment of the legendary leg-spinner as the head coach for a one-year period comes at a critical time when the national squad is settling into a long season that started with the just-concluded tour of Zimbabwe.

Anil Kumble... geared up for the latest challenge.   -  G. P. Sampath Kumar

A few days back on Twitter, Anil Kumble wrote: “Come together. Work Together and Celebrate Together”. It is a good thought to have, as the former India captain gears up for the latest challenge he has whole-heartedly courted — coaching the Indian team.

The BCCI’s appointment of the legendary leg-spinner as the head coach for a one-year period comes at a critical time when the national squad is settling into a long season that started with the just-concluded tour of Zimbabwe.

There is more to follow, as India will tour the West Indies for four Tests spread over July and August, and then return home for 13 Tests against New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia, besides sporting the blue shade in eight ODIs and three Twenty20Is.

It is the first major home-run for Virat Kohli, the Test captain, and the expectations that shadow him may get a touch overwhelming. Seen in this context, the young and expressive Kohli would do well to lean on Kumble.

India’s greatest match-winning bowler, with 619 wickets in Tests and 337 in ODIs, was also a man who played at the highest level for 18 years, with enormous dignity.

It is a trait that Kohli & Co. can imbibe along with the highly competitive spirit that Kumble embodied. The ‘Perfect Ten’ against Pakistan in Delhi in 1999 may well lure eye-balls to YouTube but none can forget the steely determination with which he bowled, despite a broken jaw, against the West Indies in St. John’s, Antigua in 2002.

Kumble dismissed the peerless Brian Lara and flew back to Bengaluru and when this correspondent and others from the media awaited him at the airport, he strode with the air of a man who just did his job. He was expected to give his best and he precisely did that, so what was the fuss about? Later Sir Vivian Richards said: “It was one of the bravest things I have seen on the field of play.”

Kumble not only has the strength of a hoary career graph and the ability to surprise nay-sayers who initially questioned his style that did not exactly fit into the traditional leg-spinner mould, but he also excelled at man-management.

As the Indian captain, he had to douse frayed tempers with angry players keen to take the first flight out of Australia in the aftermath of the fracas between Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds during the Sydney Test in 2008. And Kumble did that adroitly by employing Sachin Tendulkar to counsel and calm the ranks. The team stayed back and cricket remained a sport instead of getting mired in a diplomatic crossfire.

The 45-year-old may not have the ‘stipulated credentials’ that the BCCI wanted — the experience of coaching a first-class or international side — but be it India, Karnataka, Royal Challengers Bangalore or Mumbai Indians, he has been a fine mentor to his fellow-cricketers.

After administrative stints at the National Cricket Academy and the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA), Kumble now is a respected speaker at corporate events, delving into team-spirit and leadership.

Kumble has the credentials to fit the bill but is also aware of the slumps that great cricketers like Kapil Dev and Greg Chappell underwent as coaches of the Indian team. These cautionary tales should hold him in good stead and perhaps also help us accept that he is not a Moses, who can part the seas.

Work needs to be done and Kumble, ever since he applied for the coach’s position, is keen to deliver, be it with Kohli in Tests or M. S. Dhoni in limited-over cricket.