It’s positive thinking

Anil Kumble relaxes at home with a chessboard. (Below) The Indian skipper works out at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore.-PICS: K. BHAGYA PRAKASH Anil Kumble relaxes at home with a chessboard. (Below) The Indian skipper works out at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore.   -  K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Anil Kumble expects 100% effort from his team. “It is important that we go out there and believe that nothing is over until the last ball is bowled,” he says in a chat with K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

“How do you handle this?” asks Anil Kumble, with a wry smile and a shrug of his shoulders. He then points to his mobile phone that displays a ‘tiny’ statistic — 41 missed calls, 43 messages!

After his appointment as India’s captain for the forthcoming three-Test series against Pakistan, it is only understandable that his phone doesn’t stop ringing. A day after his appointment, Kumble spoke to Sportstar on a wide range of issues that he will deal with in the coming days. He spoke with assurance and liberally used words like ‘good work ethic’, ‘never giving up’ and ‘staying consistent’. And these are just the words that could well define Kumble’s own approach to the game.

Excerpts from the interview:

Question: What are your expectations from the team and the players?

Answer: The only thing I can ask for is 100 per cent effort on the field, and to try and stay in the game till the end. I will try to encourage the players to be positive — to not give up fighting till the end. It is a very short time for me to actually try and develop something because by the time I get to Delhi for the first Test (beginning on November 22) and the team assembles there, we only have two days before the Test match. In effect I won’t be thinking too much about the captaincy. I am just trying to be prepared for the Test match.

What are the attributes that you bring to the table as captain?

I have the respect of the players, and it is mutual. It is important that we go out there and believe that nothing is over until the last ball is bowled. I have never given up. And if you have the hunger, determination and passion, things can happen anytime. It is not that just because I am the captain I do all the talking. Even as a player I did all the talking, I conveyed what I had to convey, so if I had to say something to a junior player or a senior colleague, I have always done that. But yes, now as captain, the message I convey would have added strength (smiles).

How do you look at the Test series against Pakistan?

All India-Pakistan series are closely contested and I don’t see any reason why this should be any different. In terms of Test cricket, we have done very well in the recent past. We have come back victorious from England and we have a good team that is experienced and we are playing at home which is an advantage. Last time when they were here, we started off well in Mohali but they fought well to draw the Test, then we won in Kolkata and in the third Test in Bangalore, one bad post-lunch session on the final day undid us. So we do know that they are a fighting side.

Does the absence of a coach affect the team?

I think the team has been like this for about six months. It is not that the team doesn’t have a ‘coach-coach’. We have senior cricketers who have played for 12 years and some of us have played for the last 18 to 19 years. And then you have the bowling coach, Venkatesh Prasad, the fielding coach, Robin Singh, and the manager, Lalchand Rajput. It is a home series and people know what to expect, the players have to be professionals.

In the Test team you will have three former captains — Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid — and the current ODI skipper — M. S. Dhoni. How do you look at it?

I think the media is playing it too much. At the end of the day we are playing a team game and it is always good to get inputs that are rich in experience. Each one of them has been captain and it is good to have such vast experience around you. I don’t know why people are looking at it in such a negative way. We have four captains, so it is all the more better, why don’t we look at it in a positive way?

There has been speculation over the role of the seniors, notably Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, yourself and V. V. S. Laxman, in the team. The team is also in a transition phase. How prepared is Indian cricket to handle this?

We have the talent, the ability and the maturity and it is just a matter of handling the external factors because I am convinced that we are good in the cricketing part. I think five years down the line, we will still have a quality team. The younger lot are pushing the seniors very hard and some of the seniors are still in their early thirties, so I don’t think there is a problem. As long as you are fit and hungry to perform, I don’t see any reason why they can’t keep going on. Yes, we are in a transition phase but we are capable of making it smooth.

How do you appraise our bowling?

In the last four to five years, our bowers have done exceptionally well in Tests and whenever our batting has clicked we have won matches. The young crop is good, they just need that bit of experience. As for the spinners, Harbhajan is only 27 and has a long career ahead. Piyush Chawla, who has done well in the limited opportunities he got, is just 19. Murali Kartik has done exceptionally well, Ramesh Powar too has done well and we have a couple of youngsters like K. P. Appanna from Bangalore and Pragyan Ojha from Hyderabad. It is just a matter of giving them the right opportunities.

In the recent ODI series against Australia, there was a lot of bad blood on display. In that context, how do you look at the series against Pakistan?

Cricket should be the topic and I would rather let it remain that way. I prefer that cricket does all the talking in this series and it is important that we ensure it stays that way.

How do you intend handling a youngster like S. Sreesanth, whose aggression tends to cross the line sometimes?

It is important for people to express themselves, but at the same time there is a code of conduct and there are millions of people watching. I am sure that I will be able to convey that message not just to Sree. It is important for someone like him to be talked about for his bowling. He is a quality bowler and that is what people should talk about him.

What do you feel about the ODI team shaping up under M. S. Dhoni?

He is a very mature cricketer and has all the right qualities. We can complement each other. We will try to develop a team ethic which would remain. People should understand that there is an Indian cricket team, there is a team value, team ethic and once that is understood by everybody who is playing cricket in India, then they know what is expected of them as soon as they come into the team. That is something that I would like to create. It may not be easy to do that in three weeks but I will try and ensure that we develop a team goal and ethic. It is already there but we need to give it a form and a shape.

A Test century at the Oval and now Test captaincy, are you on a roll?

Yes, life is good. If you have the will and if you think you can achieve and just keep doing what you have been doing without giving up, things do happen. I guess I am someone who, till the time I play, would love to go back thinking that I gave my 100 per cent. Yes, I am my worst critic, but as long as you keep working and stay patient, you will get what you want.