Anil Kumble: Under the microscope all the time

Even as the India head coach, there is one thing Anil Kumble is being saddled with from his playing days, an excess baggage he doesn’t need: scrutiny.

Anil Kumble has been answering questions all his life.   -  G. P. SAMPATH KUMAR

Anil Kumble is a cricketer of enormous stature but he has always been subjected to microscopic scrutiny. The jibes ranged from ‘he not being a classical leg-spinner’ to ‘the lack of hype like the one that followed Shane Warne’.

Yet, it was Kumble, who had the last laugh. He bagged 956 international wickets, led India before he retired and even scored a Test hundred at The Oval.

Considering his fiercely competitive streak, it wasn’t a surprise when he emerged as a great match-winner for India and that says a lot especially when you look at other legends like Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev in the nation’s pantheon. Cut to his current role as the India head coach, there is one thing he is being saddled with from his playing days, an excess baggage he doesn’t need: scrutiny.

Headmasters...a much despised class!

Just as his one-year contract winds to a close and there is uncertainty over him getting an extension considering the leaks emerging from the BCCI, which looks like an unwieldy ship shuddering under a fusillade of accusations, it is also time to take stock of Kumble the coach. The BCCI and the Committee of Administrators (CoA), through a press-release issued at the last-minute stating that fresh applications are being called for the head coach’s post, even while granting a direct entry to the incumbent Kumble, have cast the first aspersions, intentional or accidental, about his extension.

Captain-coach combination: Forging a winning combination

And as the Men in Blue limbered up in cold, blustery England for the ICC Champions Trophy, worse was to follow as BCCI officials opened their next set of leaks: “Psst, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, you know what? Virat Kohli is not comfortable with Kumble, the captain finds the coach too over-bearing.” Suddenly talk veered to toxic captain-coach equations of the past like the one between Sourav Ganguly and Greg Chappell.

This surely was a bizarre turn of events considering the excellent results that the Kumble-Kohli combine reaped right from the time the former India skipper was appointed as coach on June 23, 2016.

The dynamics between Kumble and Kohli and their alleged differences of opinion will remain a matter of conjecture until the men involved clear the air. But for now all we have are the triumphs etched on the field. And in that Kumble does score a 10 on 10 despite admitting to the truisms that it is the players who win matches and that a strong team makes the captain and coach look good.

Kumble’s first assignment was in the West Indies, which in the past would have been considered a test by fire. Sadly, the men from the Caribbean no longer have that ability and it was an easy starter for Kumble, Kohli and the rest of their men. India won the four-match series 2-0.

Once those baby steps as an international coach were done, Kumble could flourish in home conditions as India hosted New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia in a long season that only had the fragrance of victory.

New Zealand was swept aside 3-0, England was defeated 4-0, Bangladesh was humbled in the lone Test and Australia was nailed 2-1 in a series elevated by intensity and marred by acrimony. In the same time period limited overs games were secured too though India lost a couple to the West Indies in the United States of America.

Overall, Kumble’s report-card is good, India stacked wins, smote opposition aside and had the swagger. It is another matter that there is speculation over his equation with Kohli. By the time this feature is read there could be clarity over whether Kumble will get an extension or whether he will opt out or whether Kohli will help in anointing someone, with whom he has a rapport. Whatever be those eventualities, it cannot be denied that Kumble had a bull-run much akin to the one Ajit Wadekar had while managing the team in the 1990s at home.

Under Kumble’s tutelage, there has been an infusion of fresh blood. Men like Jayant Yadav, Karun Nair and Kuldeep Yadav made a mark. Importantly, fitness-first was enforced. Kumble ensured that any player coming back from an injury, irrespective of his stature had to play a minimum of one domestic game and prove his match-fitness. This was a welcome move. Kumble also handled tricky press conferences, absorbing as much external pressure as Kohli, and he never gave up on his men.

Just as he was as a player, Kumble the coach wanted to win matches. It was a common ground that he shared with Kohli. And being the elder statesman, it was Kumble, whom the CoA sought for an opinion on a hike in salaries for the players and support-staff.

Ideally, he should be allowed to build upon the results he has got from the team but Indian cricket is never a straight-forward entity and as the cliché goes, there is many a slip between the cup and the lip.