Kumble: 'This team is extremely committed'

In an extensive chat with select members of the media, Anil Kumble, the former India captain and one of the game’s legends, spoke about his first foray as coach, key players, pitch, media and the resultant scrutiny.

Anil Kumble India Coach leg spinner, interaction captaincy mentoring

"The camaraderie in this side is something that I am really impressed with," says coach Anil Kumble.   -  K. Bhagya Prakash

Seated inside a cabin located in the National Cricket Academy that is housed within Bengaluru’s M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, perhaps his second home for a large part of his life, Anil Kumble exuded an air of assurance. It is a trait that he always had as a player and that attribute was very much in evidence as he held forth now as coach of the Indian team.

The start has been smooth — a 2-0 Test series triumph in the West Indies — but a gruelling home-run with 13 Tests awaits Virat Kohli’s men, besides the ODIs and Twenty20s under M. S. Dhoni’s watch. Kumble believes that the team is ready.

In an extensive chat with select members of the media, the former India captain and one of the game’s legends, spoke about his first foray as coach, key players, pitch, media and the resultant scrutiny.

Excerpts.

Splitting Kumble the champion from Kumble the coach

I understand there is a lot of attention because of the stature and what I have been able to do as a player. That’s the first thing I told the team. I said, ‘Forget about what I have done as a player. Yes, it is there, but now I am the coach and I am like an elder brother to all of you. It’s just that I have the experience and the wisdom, hopefully, of doing the right things or the wrong things over the last 18 years and that’s something that you guys can just come in and ask. That I will share as we go along based on what we require on the field and off the field.’ And I look at it that way. I know everybody else looks at it very differently, but I certainly look at it that way. And with the players, it is going to take some time for them to look at it that way as well. Obviously, they look at me as someone who has played for India that long and now he is the coach. So I think that comfort will happen over a period of time.

A coach’s maiden steps

It was really fruitful. I was really welcomed by the team and having played with a few of them in IPLs and also having mentored a couple of them in different IPL franchises, I had mostly known all of them. A couple of them like Ishant, I had obviously played with (for India). In Bangalore (during the camp), they felt that ‘this is Anil, this is how he probably is.’ There was a little bit of hesitancy initially with some players. That’s why we created that drum-jam (an interactive music session with singer Vasundhara Das). I had told the entire team that it would be a motivational lecture. I told them to come in team attire (laughs). We arranged all the drums and I was inside the room. I think all of them came thinking, ‘who has come now to give a lecture.’ I had really pumped up the whole team to look forward to the lecture. And they were all surprised. They had not seen that side of me, so it was a good bonding exercise. And those two weeks prior to the first Test match in Antigua, when we were in St. Kitts, helped know the team better and also understand what their requirements are. Slowly, it also allowed me to settle in.

The initial progress report

The biggest takeaway for me was that this team is extremely committed. I was really impressed with the way they responded to whatever you asked them. I wanted to keep things simple, you don’t want to clutter too many things. They are all extremely skilful and what was really impressive was, like I mentioned, you asked them to do anything and they were ready. Nobody said no or, for that matter, team selections — there are times when key players miss out and it is a part and parcel of a team sport where there are disappointments. But it was all taken in really good spirit and they are all great friends off the field which is really nice to know. The camaraderie in this side is something that I am really impressed with.

 

The coach’s manual

I just put myself in a team environment. In all the 18 years that I played for India, I always felt: what is it that you look for in a coach? What is it that you want from him? So I think that’s all you need to do. Technically, I don’t think you need to tinker too much. That’s me. I don’t believe that when you are playing at the international level you need to really tinker too much with the technicalities of batting or bowling or all that. They all have it. It’s just the mind and the space that they need to be in and the preparedness that they need to have, going into the match. That’s all I wanted to focus on. And try and give them all the help to make whatever informed decisions they want to make. I gave them all the key decision-making tools, whether it was the captain or whether it was the team. I strongly believe that a coach’s involvement or his role in a cricketing team is very limited. It is important for him to make the team prepare well, keep them in a good space and then strategically whatever you can, of the opposition, of the team, you give inputs. That’s all you can do.

Past masters’ influence

There have been many coaches that I have played under. Someone who probably served the longest in that period of time was John (Wright). He was probably someone who did a few of these things that I am talking about now. And also he was someone who was in the background. The coach’s role is always that and the captain is the boss. And we try and help the captain to give him all the inputs that are needed so that he makes a decision based on that or whatever he feels at that point in time. At the end of the day, the last word is with the captain and that goes without saying. Even when I was captain, I expected that the coach was just in the background and he didn’t force his decisions on me. And that’s exactly how it is even now — the captain takes the call.

The delicate selection calls — omitting Murali Vijay or Cheteshwar Pujara

It’s a decision that we take. Obviously the coach is responsible for going and having a chat with the players. Whether they are in or they are out, trying to keep them in the right kind of space. Only 11 can play, there are disappointments, like I mentioned. Selection is probably the toughest for a coach or a captain, for that matter. When you picked your 11, how do you tell your 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 that ‘sorry, you guys are not playing?’ So it is quite a challenge. But I think this team understands that and my role was to ensure that things were smooth and it was pretty easy for me to try and smoothen things out. I think this team certainly understands, and the results have been good. It’s not easy for an individual player to miss out, especially someone who is established, but the circumstances were such that probably for that Test match (dropping Vijay for the third Test), we had to make that decision.

An imminent run of 13 Tests at home

Touchwood, we went through the West Indies tour without any injury other than Murali Vijay which was actually one that he suffered while batting, a cricketing injury. It was an injury that we couldn’t do anything about. Yes, fitness will be the challenge. Back-to-back 13 Test matches with what, three to four days’ gap. And even in that gap, there will be one day of travel. So it is going to be a challenge. We were conscious of that even in the West Indies. I mean, if you looked at the way we practised and the way we actually gave people time off, it was keeping all these in mind. It is crucial that the squad remains physically fit and goes through those 13 games. It is going to be crucial how we plan our practice, how we plan our workloads. It will be important that we keep everyone fit. Fitness-wise, this team is certainly up there with any international team, so that’s a good thing. They are all aware of the importance of fitness, the importance of rest, the importance of diet and the captain obviously leads from the front. In that sense, like I mentioned, I am very impressed with the kind of work ethic that this team has shown.

Shepherding cricketers suffering a blip, be it a Pujara or Rohit Sharma

The one message that I like to give the players is that nobody is under any scrutiny from the team’s perspective. Yes, from all of you (media) and from the whole of India, everyone is probably looking at the team and individuals differently. There are specific roles that are given to specific players and as long as they perform their roles to the team’s satisfaction, I am really happy. For example, Pujara performed his role in the series. Yes, he missed out in the third Test match but he has done a great job for Indian cricket. It’s not fair, the kind of scrutiny especially Pujara and Rohit go through when they get an opportunity. One thing is for sure, whoever gets an opportunity will certainly be given a longer run.

The rise and rise of Virat Kohli

The last time I saw him closely was in 2012 (with Royal Challengers Bangalore). And from there to 2016, there has been a massive difference — for the good. I have not seen anyone so professional in terms of looking after his fitness, his work ethic and in terms of his preparation. He wants to be the best and he leads from the front. His intensity is really good. He wants to win all the matches. He was brilliant on the tour. Obviously we were disappointed after the Jamaica Test, we were in a great position to win the match. But immediately we learnt from that and in St. Lucia when there was hardly any time to pick up 20 wickets, we managed to do that. That’s credit to him and the team.

M.S. Dhoni and I

Obviously, the first official interaction or the first coach-captain scenario with MS was supposed to be in October, it got fast-tracked to Florida. It was very brief, it was only for five days. But MS has been the captain for the longest period in Indian cricket. He was brilliant. He obviously knows captaincy better than anybody else in terms of what the team requires. I don’t see it as a problem at all. I think with me being there and having played with MS and knowing him really well, I don’t think him coming in as captain for the limited-overs internationals will be an issue at all.

 

K.L. Rahul’s ascending graph

He has been brilliant. In the West Indies, he came in as a replacement for Vijay and seized that opportunity. In his short career, he has shown that he can score hundreds in Australia, Sri Lanka and the West Indies and what was really heartening was that he could adapt to T20 and score a hundred. It goes to show that he has the game and he also has the mind to adjust at this young age. It really augurs well for Indian cricket.

R. Ashwin’s all-round skills

In the West Indies, there was a conscious decision from the management to push him up the (batting) order. Ashwin has shown in his career that he is capable of batting higher up in Test match cricket. Credit to him, he grabbed it by scoring two hundreds. You can’t ask for a better all-rounder in the team where he goes, gets hundreds, then picks up a five-for and wins matches. This home season, you want him to play all those 13 Tests and pick up tons of wickets.

Domestic pitches and the churn

When I was captain, the first question in a media conference when we played in India was ‘what do you think of the pitch?’ I am more concerned about what kind of cricket we play on that pitch. The Indian media certainly scrutinises the pitch more than any other media. Everybody wants to either not read anything or read too much into what happens off the first ball that is bowled. If you want to be the No. 1 team, you shouldn’t worry about pitches.

The nasty chatter on social media

People need to understand that cricketers also have a life. But yes, the players are definitely aware of what needs to go on a social media platform. And, anyway during the game, nothing happens. It’s only after the game or before the game. But I know that there were times when people were asked, ‘why does he have this glass in his hand?’ I mean, come on, they are not school kids. For me, if they are prepared in terms of their cricket — and I know that they are prepared, I don’t need to worry about all these things.