IPL 2020: The return of coach Anil Kumble

Returning to the coaching fold after three years, the former India captain feels his side, Kings XI Punjab, has all the bases covered for IPL 2020.

The IPL 2020, starting on September 19 in the UAE, marks the return of Anil Kumble the coach.   -  TWITTER/@lionsdenkxip

Anil Kumble has never rested on his laurels. And perhaps that’s the secret behind his 18-year-long career. The leg-spinner with over 900 international wickets became India captain at 37, and he retired in 2008 with a heap of records and glories.

For heroes like Kumble, it is difficult to stay away from the game for too long. As expected, the taskmaster returned as India coach — chosen by his former teammates Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and V. V. S. Laxman — in 2016.

In the brief one-year period under Kumble, India won 12 out of 17 Tests while losing just one. It enjoyed series wins against the West Indies, New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia. The Men In Blue also beat England and New Zealand in the One-Dayers at home before he resigned.

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The Indian Premier League (IPL) 2020 — starting on September 19 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — marks the return of Kumble the coach. In a chat with Sportstar from Dubai, the spin legend and head coach of Kings XI Punjab discusses the challenges of managing a team while being in a strict bio-bubble, the importance of captain K. L. Rahul and more.

How do you assess the Kings XI team combination for IPL 2020?

I think when we picked the squad in the auction, irrespective of the conditions, we tried to strike a balance, a backup and enough choices to pick from (in the playing XI). In that sense, we have all bases covered.

“(Krishnappa) Gowtham is an asset. You can have him bowl in the Power Play and he can bat,” says Kumble.   -  Special Arrangement

 

Kings XI are yet to bag an IPL title. What do you think went wrong in the past few seasons and how do you plan to fine-tune those areas?

I don’t want to go to the past. It’s been 12 seasons and all teams are sort of balanced in the IPL. It is about not looking back, but to look ahead and see how we can play one game at a time and be competitive and make sure we get the right results. It is about forgetting what anybody has done in the past. We are all on the same page. All the teams haven’t really played anything for five to six months except for a few players who were involved in other international matches. But most of the players haven’t played and I think it is a level playing field.

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You are coming back as the head coach of a cricket team after a long time. How did you prepare for this tournament?

The initial approach was to pick the right set of personnel, to choose the right people who were going to be part of my team. I am not talking about the cricket team, I am talking about my team. I am glad I have experienced people, the ones who have been part of the IPL in other teams and of course they have all played international cricket for many years and they know exactly how to assist a team. So, I think that was the first part, so I am happy I have a solid support team, the coaching staff, physio, trainers, analysts and even the team manager. Then came the very important decision to choose the captain for the season. I have known K. L., seen him as a young kid growing up in Bengaluru, and as a cricketer. It’s his first season as skipper, but he knows the team better than me. He has played here for two seasons. I think we have all the ingredients to build a solid team.

India’s Test series wins under coach Kumble

Beat West Indies 2-0 (away)

Beat New Zealand 3-0 (home)

Beat England 4-0 (home)

Beat Bangladesh 1-0 (home)

Beat Australia 2-1 (home)

India’s ODI series wins under coach Kumble

Beat New Zealand 3-2 (home)

Beat England 2-1 (home)

Will it be K. L. behind the stumps this season or is it going to be a rotation between him and Nicholas Pooran?

I think K. L. will take up ’keeping and then we will take it from there.

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You had a camp with some of the players in Bengaluru before flying to the UAE. What were your observations?

I have seen them from a young age, play for Karnataka, and look at their success over the years. Overall, the team has a good blend of senior players, experienced players, youngsters who have played in the IPL for a long time, youngsters who have played in this team for a few years.

For example, Mandeep Singh is Punjab state team captain... Although he is young, he also has a wealth of experience. We rely a lot on those. There are young guys like Ravi Bishnoi who is making his debut. It is Ishan Porel’s first season, too.

Mujeeb Ur Rahman (left) with Kings XI Punjab captain K. L. Rahul. “Mujeeb brings in his own special variety,” Kumble says about the Afghanistan spinner.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

 

Talking about Bishnoi, you have a variety of spinners. Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Murugan Ashwin, J. Suchith, Harpreet Brar, Tajinder Singh, Krishnappa Gowtham and then the part-timers. How do you plan to work around them?

It is nice to have a combination of different varieties of spinners. Mujeeb brings in his own special variety, Ashwin and Bishnoi are both leg-spinners but every different with the way they bowl. I think that’s the beauty of spin bowling.

We have multiple choices. Suchith and Harpreet are both left-arm orthodox. One is really tall so he gets the added bounce and he has been with Punjab for a while. Gowtham is an asset. You can have him bowl in the Power Play and he can bat. Plus, we also have regular batters who can bowl some spin, like Maxi (Glenn Maxwell) and Deepak Hooda. We have good spin bowling options.

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Mohammed Shami is the most experienced among the pacers in the side and he will lead the attack. What are your expectations from him?

Shami has grown over the last few years in terms of stature and performances. He always knew that the kind of talent he had, the performances he has put in, but the consistency he has shown is very encouraging. He is the experienced guy here. He has been brilliant in the practice sessions. He has been brilliant with the younger lot. Of course, Ishan and Shami play for the same state team (Bengal) in first-class cricket. So it’s good we have Shami. He will be able to pass on his thoughts. I am looking at Shami not just for his skills, but for passing on thoughts and information.

You’ve played a lot of cricket in Sharjah in the past and you have a good idea about the conditions in that part of the world. What do you feel will be an ideal spin/seam balance in the XI?

We give a lot of importance to conditions, but it’s a T20 (Twenty20) game. Here you need to balance it out, look at the opposition. So, it is not just about the pitch. There is no ideal balance. You can go with five spinners or five fast bowlers. Over the years, we have seen spinners have played an important role in T20 teams. All the spinners we have are very different from each other.

“(Mohammed) Shami has grown over the last few years in terms of stature and performances. He is the experienced guy here. He has been brilliant in the practice sessions. He has been brilliant with the younger lot,” says Kumble.   -  AP

 

Mindset plays an important role and the IPL is a long tournament. How challenging is it to coach a team in a high-pressure tournament while being in a bio-bubble for nearly three months?

It is challenging. So far they have coped up really well. I am glad we have been able to do that. It is not only me; the support team and the players themselves with their bonhomie have helped each other cope. They have been brilliant. We also had an online team-bonding session. So, they are available for the sports psychology part of it. We have a strong support group, but at the end of it, you have to keep reminding players about the responsibilities of being in a bio-bubble.

In the brief one-year period under Anil Kumble, India won 12 out of 17 Tests while losing just one.   -  PTI

 

How do you plan to do that?

We need to take their mind off and make them really feel comfortable in whatever activities they have been doing. We have designated areas in the hotel where nobody else is allowed. We can have our own gym; we have a beach area for ourselves. These things help if you are here. You can’t go outdoors; you can only practise for some hours in the heat. You have to be in the hotel for the rest of the time. The team room becomes an important aspect here. There will be a large area for some fun, entertainment and activities. We are planning a few things. You need to keep their mind occupied. If you can do that in a way where it is not a stress, and it is fun and something they enjoy, then it will be all fine.