A cricketer and a gentleman

In an hour of great need, Anil Kumble is the right man for the job. He brings with him enormous dignity and grace, writes S. Dinakar.

Anil Kumble has earned his right to lead the Indian Test side. The honour to captain the country in the most complete form of the game should not be seen as a parting gift to a committed soldier. On the contrary, he deserves the honour. And let’s not, at the very beginning of his tenure, fix a time limit to how long he should lead the Indian team.

Performance, and not age, should be the yardstick. He may be 37, but do not look at Kumble as someone who will keep the seat of captaincy warm for somebody else. This will be an insult to a great cricketer.

In an hour of great need, he is the right man for the job. He brings with him enormous dignity and grace.

Kumble possesses the tactical acumen of a captain. And the respect for him in the team is spontaneous, which is essential for a leader.

He stands alone in several senses; a genial man above politics and narrow, short-term gains. His career is a magnificent edifice of sweat and sacrifice. He can be inspirational, lifting the spirits of the side during adversity.

Kumble should relish the Pakistan challenge. Irrespective of the verdict, he should lead the side in the four-Test series in Australia.

The circumstances preceding his elevation as India captain have not been ideal. Rahul Dravid abdicated the hot seat and Sachin Tendulkar wanted a younger man to guide India in Tests.

Dilip Vengsarkar and his team have not exactly covered themselves with glory with some of their choices this season. However, they were spot on with their decision regarding the Test captain.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni holds promise, but the Test captaincy should not be thrust on him before he has cemented his place in the Test XI. The young man has a fair distance to travel as a Test cricketer. With Yuvraj Singh staking a strong claim for a place in the Test XI, there could be a situation where India might have to choose between Dhoni and Dinesh Karthik for the slot of a wicket-keeper-batsman.

This is a definite possibility in Australia since V. V. S. Laxman, a sacrificial lamb so far, will be difficult to dump in a country where he has a wonderful record. And it is about time too that Yuvraj is given a fair run in Tests.

Head to head, it could be a near thing between Karthik and Dhoni. Karthik is a superior batsman technically, while Dhoni, at this point, could be a tad ahead of Karthik as a ’keeper.

Dhoni, though, has this blood and guts quality about him. The brave hundred in the Faisalabad Test, counter-attacking a Shoaib Akhtar bowling full throttle, and the match-saving innings amidst much gloom at Lord’s reflect his spirit. Still, Dhoni needs to be given time to grow and evolve as a Test cricketer before he — if he fulfils the requirements — is handed the Test captaincy. Dhoni, first, has to make the Test place his own.

Kumble, on the contrary, is an automatic choice in the Test XI. He is, arguably, India’s biggest match-winner in the game’s longest version. His intensity and passion are unquestioned. So is his craft as a leg-spinner of a different kind. The aggression within him simmers.

The fact that Kumble can be aggressive without crossing the limits should work in his favour as captain. He will stress on discipline and work ethics.

Anil Kumble... India’s biggest match-winner in Tests.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Former India coach Greg Chappell called Kumble a “great cricketer and a quality human being.” And a captain needs to be both.

Karthik, for whom Kumble is a role model, revealed how he learnt to hit the bed early even on the eve of day-night games from the ace leg-spinner.

“You can get away by sleeping late before the day-nighters, but developing such a habit will hurt you before a day game, Kumble used to say,” recalled Karthik.

Chappell would often point out, “You pick up all the right things from Kumble.”

Despite his glittering qualities as a cricketer, predictable questions will be raised about the ability of a bowler to handle the Test reins. Test captaincy, for most part, has been a bastion of the batsmen in a game that favours them.

There is a view that bowling captains tend to either under-bowl or over-bowl themselves. India’s last Test captain who was a pure bowler — all-rounders cannot be classified as bowling captains — Bishan Singh Bedi had a chequered record. And his tenure ended under bitter circumstances.

An all-rounder he might have been, but Australia’s Richie Benaud was a leg-spinner at heart. He was also among the game’s greatest captains and leaders. He made things happen, worked on the opposition’s mind.

Compiled by Mohandas Menon-

In fact, a bowling captain should comprehend the nuances of ringing in the changes in the attack or the dynamics of field placing better. You can trust Kumble to excel in both these critical areas. There is also an old saying that a bowler understands a batsman’s thought process best. Kumble could be pro-active with his moves. Kumble, with a Test hundred away from home, will argue that he is no mug with the bat, that he can read the game from a batsman’s perspective as well. Time will tell.

His body language might not be the ‘in-your-face’ kind that the television-driven present day cricket demands, but then, aggression is more a state of mind. It is also an off-shoot of confidence. Kumble’s self-belief is enormous.

He is also caring and compassionate, can ease tension in the dressing room. But do not expect any favours from Kumble. He can speak his mind and will not tolerate any lack of effort; beneath the smiling exterior lurks a hard edge to his cricket.

The leg-spinner is patient and calculative, not impulsive and rash. The urge to win can be glimpsed in the force behind his appeals but his moments of disappointments do not disintegrate into lack of respect for the umpires. He is a cricketer and a gentleman. Given his experience and stature, Kumble should be able to carry the team with him.

Compiled by Mohandas Menon-

The pressures of leading the side against Pakistan could be severe. However, there is a calmness in him that should enable Kumble to handle stressful situations.

Providing a definite shape to the Indian attack will be among his foremost goals. The waywardness of someone as talented as S. Sreesanth will have to be transformed into focus and incision. Those close to Kumble say he is a good motivator.

In his brief tryst with ODI captaincy, Kumble had his moments. The ODI in Chennai (2001-02) against Nasser Hussain’s England saw the leg-spinner captaining with much intelligence. After one of the intrigues in Indian cricket, Kumble soon was out of the reckoning for captaincy.

That folly has now been undone.

As the legendary actor Robert de Niro said in the movie ‘Ronin’, “Good things happen to people who wait.”