Leading from the front

PTI

Given his track record, it was not surprising to see Anil Kumble pick up wickets at the Kotla. But what was refreshing was the way in which he handled the Indian team.

It is strange but true, some players perform exceptionally well at some venues. This is a conundrum very few have solved. India’s new Test captain, Anil Kumble has performed extraordinarily well at the Kotla, just as Mohammed Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar have done well at the Eden Gardens and the MAC Stadium respectively.

Kumble on his debut as captain excelled at the Kotla not only as a bowler but also as an astute skipper. In fact, the turning point of Kumble’s career was at the Kotla in 1992 when he bagged 13 wickets in the Irani Trophy to make a comeback to the Indian team.

As the captain of the Rest of India team then, I was looking to the medium pacers to deliver on a benign pitch. But the bounce and nip Kumble extracted on that track made my jaws drop. And needless to add, his guile proved too much for the Delhi batsmen. If my memory serves me right, it was during that game that Kumble earned the sobriquet “Jumbo” as the ball took off repeatedly after pitching whenever he bowled. Yours truly along with Navjot “Sixer” Sidhu coined the name, and it has stuck since.

Given his track record, it was not surprising to see Kumble pick up wickets at the Kotla. But what was refreshing was the way in which he handled the Indian team. The opportunity to lead his country has come a little late in his career, but a faithful soldier that he is, Kumble accepted the challenge without any fuss. He made a good start even before the Test commenced with his clear-cut statement with regard to Yuvraj Singh. The message that the left-hander has to wait gave V.V.S. Laxman the much needed confidence, for the sword always hung over this classy batsman for reasons that are beyond one’s comprehension. The stylish Hyderabadi repaid his skipper in the most fitting manner with a timely knock that got India ahead.

Kumble’s elevation as skipper is just right as Team India needs a really hardened pro at the helm with a tough season ahead. Dhoni can learn his lessons under Kumble as Test cricket demands a lot from a captain. It will be too much to expect the flamboyant Dhoni to lead the side, keep wickets and score runs as well. Besides, Team India is at a stage where a lot of important decisions have to be taken with regard to its future.

There is also the tricky issue of keeping the senior cricketers going and getting the best out of them. Kumble came out with flying colours in this respect as he made Sourav Ganguly contribute with the ball and to top it all, he even managed to persuade the Prince of Kolkata to field at short leg! By doing so, he conveyed another clear message to his team: that everyone, regardless of his achievements, will have to put the team’s interest ahead of his own.

Of course, one swallow does not make a summer and the skipper will be the first one to admit it. He has gone through a lot of tribulations in his outstanding career and as such, one can expect Kumble to be demanding in terms of consistency. Despite his phenomenal achievements, the irony is that Kumble has always had to prove himself. With the tough Australian tour round the corner, Team India needs a strong but calm individual at the helm to challenge the world champions, especially on their home turf.

The Australians start their campaign through aggravation in the press and follow it up with relentless aggression on the field. To counter their approach India needs someone whose mind-set is extremely balanced, and none fits the bill more than Kumble.

Kumble will strike the right balance on and off field unlike his predecessors Ganguly, who was at times over-demonstrative, and Dravid, who was as reticent as a monk. Of course, each leader has his own style of functioning, but Kumble is different in that he impresses upon the youngsters the importance of working on their skills as against getting distracted by the frills.

The shelf life of Kumble may not be too long, but he can make a huge difference to the side with his unflagging attitude and work ethics. The leg-spinner is approaching the 600-wicket mark and it will be poetic justice if he reaches that milestone in Australia as his detractors feel that he has not done enough abroad. For over a decade and a half “Apple Crumble” — as the late Brian Johnston called Anil Kumble — has remained as fresh as an apple and made the batsmen crumble. If his start at the Kotla is any indication, the “Jumbo” looks good enough to cruise at an altitude higher than the rest, for a while at least.