For once, cricket management in India honored its word. Mr. Anurag Thakur, President of Board of Control for Cricket in India, BCCI had announced that appointment of Head Coach for Team India would be made before the squad left for the Caribbean to play a test-series against the West Indies. After due deliberations, they reached a decision last week that widely respected leg-spinner Anil Kumble would be India’s coach for the next one year. Kumble had two hurdles in the final stages; one, he was without any international experience in coaching and two, he had to prove himself better that Ravi Shastri, who had a reasonably successful time as India’s Team Director since he took over in 2014. But the legendary Kumble finally won the race and his first assignment as coach is just around the corner.
In a major off-the-field action in Indian cricket, BCCI appointed Anil Kumble as the new coach for the national team. Against their advertisement for the post in early June, BCCI had received 57 applications and Kumble was one among those names. However, when 21 names were short-listed, Kumble was missing from that list. But BCCI’s Cricket Advisory Committee, comprising of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman insisted that Kumble should be included before the selection process could be continued. It seems the race for India’s head coach was reduced to two names in the end. It could either be Ravi Shastri or Anil Kumble. Though Shastri had better credentials with a successful run as Team Director for the last 18 months, Kumble still got the final nod, despite having no international experience in the field.
For 18 years that he played for India, Anil Kumble was a personification of Dedication, Discipline, Determination and Devotion all rolled into one. The Bangalorean’s vast playing experience and stints in several administrative committees compensated for his lack of any prior coaching assignments. Always a non-controversial figure, Kumble is regarded as one of the most aggressive players of his generation. Though his stint as India captain was very short, he is gifted with leadership qualities that would come to the fore in his new role as Head Coach. Kumble is much younger to Ravi Shastri and he has the ability to vibe well with an Indian team that is now full of young cricketers.
It was in the second test against England at Old Trafford in 1990 that Anil Kumble made his test debut as a 19-year-old leg-spinner. But that team had another mercurial teenager, who stole the show in Kumble’s debut test. 17-year old Sachin Tendulkar scored first of his numerous centuries in the Old Trafford test and Kumble’s performance went largely unnoticed despite his three wickets in the first-ever test appearance. For scores of 68 and 119 not out, Tendulkar was named as the player-of-the-test in the drawn game that also saw centuries from four Englishmen and India skipper Mohammad Azharuddin. The careers of two of India’s greatest cricketers progressed in tandem for the next several years and while Sachin became a batting phenomenon, Kumble made his mark as a quality bowler. When the leg-spinner hung his boots, he had taken more wickets than any other Indian bowler. His tally of 619 test wickets was only third in world cricket behind Muttiah Muralitharan’s 800 and Shane Warne’s 709. Murali and Warne were incomparable magicians and to share podium with these two, was a brilliant achievement in itself.
Anil Kumble was not a great turner of the ball but his deliveries whizzed past the batsmen with almost a pace-bowler’s speed. They probably began calling him Jumbo for the phenomenal speed he produced for a spinner, but another reason could be his foot size that was far too big. The greatest moment in Kumble’s test career was his 10/74 against Pakistan at Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla in 1999. Cricket fans also remember Kumble for his grit, when he bowled at the West Indies with a broken jaw and took Brian Lara’s wicket.
As Jumbo gets ready for his new assignment, it is only time that will tell how good a coach he would turn out to be. Those who know Kumble are assured of his meticulous and methodical planning. However, the execution will still depend on how the new bunch of cricketers under Virat Kohli pays heed to Kumble’s game plans. Every Indian cricketer, past or present, knows about Kumble and his involvement with Indian cricket for close to two decades and most members of India’s Caribbean-bound test side are expected to get along well with Kumble’s calm and composed demeanor.