After much procrastination, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced Anil Kumble as the new coach of the Indian Cricket Team on Thursday. Ravi Shastri had operated as Team India’s director from August 2014-April 2016 and was one of the front-runners for this prestigious position. But, to the surprise of quite a few, Kumble has been appointed as India’s cricket coach for a year initially. India’s tour of West Indies late next month will be Kumble’s first assignment as coach of the national side. The preparatory camp for that tour begins on June 29th in Bengaluru, where Kumble will have a face-to-face conversation with the Indian players for the first time.
Kumble’s appointment as India coach has, at least temporarily, put a kibosh on the policy of appointing foreign coaches. The last time India had an Indian as coach was in 1999, when Kapil Dev was in-charge. Before him too, for almost a decade, the Indian cricket team had former Indian players – Ajit Wadekar (1992-96), Sandeep Patil (1996), Madan Lal (1996-97), and Anshuman Gaekwad (1997-1999) – as its coach, before John Wright was appointed in 2000.
In this article, we assess whether the decision to appoint Kumble as the coach of the national side is right.
Let us get started…
Yesterday was one of the days on which I had carried the newspaper with me, to read about the happenings around the world – EU Referendum being a marquee one among them – while travelling by train to work. The train was chock-a-block but thankfully, I got a seat. I sat down and took out the newspaper from my bag. I skipped straight to the sports page – as I always do – and glanced at the extensive coverage on Kumble’s appointment as Team India coach. Probably a couple of seconds passed and the person who was sat next to me, murmured: “evan vilayadamodhe onnum kalatala… idhula innatha kilikaporan (translation: he [Kumble] did not achieve anything during his playing days, he is not going to be any good in his new role).” These were his verbatim to which I did not pay ‘any’ attention. I heard his words and continued reading every news and opinion piece on the former Indian Test skipper.
Now, not a lot of people expected Kumble to become the incumbent and the peculiar nature of this appointment has made a few question Kumble’s credentials. The BCCI had advertised for the Indian coach job with a set of criteria, which Kumble met and applied for the vacancy. There were 56 others and Shastri was one of them. Kumble has not really coached a cricketing outfit and this will be the first time he ‘coaches’ a cricket team. From that perspective, you might find difficulty in comprehending the rationale behind this appointment.
Kumble’s credentials – which my co-passenger has probably forgotten or does not know about at all – during his days as an Indian cricketer speak for themselves, and were probably the watershed in him becoming the coach of Indian Cricket Team. As a cricketer, Kumble was an epitome of hard work and doggedness. He was not blessed with elan, either with the ball or the bat in his hands, but Kumble was one among a rare breed of cricketers who thrive on simplicity and doing what they can, well. That way, they manage to transfer the pressure onto their opponents and try to take advantage of the same.
When he had the ball in his hands, Kumble was extremely accurate for a wrist spinner, who, however, did not turn the ball. He was capable of landing almost all his deliveries in line with the stumps and his ability to get the ball to zip off the surface, meant that the batsman was always under pressure to put bat to ball – failing which he would either be hit on the pad or see his furniture uprooted. As a lower order batsman, Kumble was someone who valued his wicket massively and could be relied on.
How and will those qualities of Kumble during his playing days, help him in his tenure as Team India coach?
At the highest level and in cricket particularly, the primary role of a coach is to help his players improve the technical side of their game and mentally, prepare them for the challenges that lie ahead.
Indian players who are part of the Test and limited-overs sides, are technically sound. When they travel abroad, India will be tested and they will have to adapt – as like any other touring side. Psychologically, however, I think India could get tighter and Kumble could be the kind of personality to bring about that psychological change.
With Shastri as Team India’s director, they became a little too brash, engaged in sledging a lot more than they needed to and India were focussed on “giving what they got”. Of course, Virat Kohli, by nature, is an aggressive individual and his personality has rubbed onto the Indian Test players over the last year. The One-Day international (ODI) and Twenty20 International (T20I) sides, led by MS Dhoni, have a much serene look to them. But in Tests, India have not handled aggression properly – which I feel Kumble could address. He, during his playing days, was a man of huge self-control. Kumble was a spinner, yes, but even then, he rarely engaged in a confrontation with the batsman or opponent. He would focus on his bowling spell and constantly work out different ways to get the batsman out through his bowling skill and determination. Kumble can share some of his secrets to success with the Indian cricketers in order to transform the mentality of the Indian Test side, especially when they travel overseas and the hosts make the surrounding hostile in a bid to unnerve the Indians.
Secondly, Kumble was a hugely determined cricketer, who was totally willing to fight it out for his country, literally. Broken jaw and broken fingers did not perturb him and in fact, brought the best out of Kumble. You probably have heard about his broken jaw in Antigua, where, just hours after being hit on the jaw with a vicious bouncer and he spat blood as a result, Kumble came out and dismissed Brian Charles Lara with a trademark Kumble delivery and the West Indian star’s dismissal was one of Kumble’s trademarks too: leg-before wicket. Then, in 2008, during the third Test between India and Australia at the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi, Kumble suffered laceration on the little finger of his left hand. He needed multiple stitches and almost the entire palm had to be bandaged. Still, with a heavily bandaged left hand, Kumble came out to bowl and stymied Australia’s aggressive approach on a benign wicket.
Again, Kumble’s fortitude could and can seldom be seen in many of his contemporaries and those in this age. If he can fortify the minds of certain Indian cricketers, Kumble can be proud of himself and would have made a marquee contribution as the coach of the Indian Cricket Team. Someone like Rohit Sharma, who Kumble saw from close quarters during his time as Mumbai Indians (MI)’s mentor, could do a lot better at the Test level if he can become mentally stronger. And, from Kumble’s point of view, the Rohits and the Shikhar Dhawans are who need fortifying.
Finally, Kumble’s credentials as a player brought him recognition and reverence from his teammates and opponents alike. And I am sure that the current crop of Indian players will respect Kumble for who he was during his playing days. The ‘respect’ factor cannot be underestimated even at the top-most level of the game – Greg Chappell is a suitable example of how a coach can be disrespected by his own players – where you have players who have tasted plenty of success and can become a little arrogant. But, Kumble will be respected in the Indian dressing room and by the Indian players, facilitating a good player-coach relationship which in turn will benefit the team. If Kumble gets the respect he deserves, he will also find settling into his role a little easier.
Considering the above troika of factors Kumble will possibly bring to the table, BCCI, I think, have made the right decision. Indian Cricket’s governing body has taken a really long time to appoint a coach, but they have appointed someone who has the qualities to become a successful coach and make India thrive in all formats and in all conditions. Kumble, though, could be under pressure to deliver results right from his first assignment, having been appointed for just one year upfront.