If someone draws up a list of cricket’s most pluckiest moments, former Indian captain and leg-spinner Anil Kumble would undoubtedly rank near the top. The memories are still vivid – a heavily-bandaged Kumble coming out to bowl on the third day of the third India-West Indies Test at Antigua. Just a few hours earlier, he had been hit on the jaw by a Mervyn Dillon snorter and had coughed out blood. He had continued batting on for another 20 minutes, which by itself was no mean feat.
Yet, when West Indies came out to bat, Kumble strode out to bowl, nursing a bandaged broken jaw. Despite what must have been excruciating pain, he bowled 14 consecutive overs and even took the wicket of a certain Brian Charles Lara.
It emerged on Monday that the former Indian captain is among 57 individuals who have applied for the currently vacant post of India’s head coach. Kumble is the third big name among the applicants, along with two other former Indian cricketers Ravi Shastri and Sandeep Patil.
What differentiates Kumble from those two is his lack of coach experience. While Shastri has served has the Indian team director and Patil has coached the Kenyan national team, even leading them to the semi-final of the 2003 World Cup, Kumble’s most high-profile role in a similar capacity has been in the Indian Premier League, where he has mentored the Royal Challengers Bangalore and the Mumbai Indians.
This lack of coaching experience is one of his weaknesses, but Kumble has plenty of points in his favour as well. He demonstrated a shrewd cricketing brain during his playing career, often relying on subtle changes of pace and using the pitch cleverly to become India’s highest Test wicket-taker with 619 scalps.
But if those entrusted with the task of choosing India’s next coach wanted to get an idea of Kumble’s motivational skills, they would do well to look at what he did during his brief captaincy tenure. It was under his watch that the infamous Monkeygate scandal erupted during the India-Australia Sydney Test match in 2008.
Kumble handed the situation extremely well. He shunned diplomacy and called a spade a spade – recall his quote at the end of the Test where he said, “Only one team was playing with the spirit of the game”. Beaten, bruised and under the eye of a raging controversy, the Indian team could have easily folded, especially with their next match at Perth, a venue where they had always struggled. But the captain galvanised his team and channelised their frustration onto the field, where India pulled off an emotional victory, something few had expected them to do.
Jumbo’s straight drives
Even after hanging up his boots, Jumbo has displayed a tenacity to shoot straight from the hip. At a time when former cricketers go out of their way to ensure that they remain in the good books of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Kumble was one of the few who delivered a critique of the BCCI – on the occasion of the Pataudi Memorial Lecture in 2013.
“There has been a shift in the balance of power. It is extremely important that we wear our power lightly and make contributions that are worthy of emulation, because cricket has to be above every other consideration,” he said at that event.
Kumble was also recently reappointed the chairman of the International Cricket Council Cricket Committee. During his tenure, the committee has been proactive in dealing on several vexing issues in the sport, including actively pushing for the Test Championship as a way to retain the primacy of Test cricket and limiting the dimensions of bat sizes.
Of course, there have been the occasional hiccups. After being elected the president of the Karnataka Cricket Association, Kumble faced allegations of conflict of interest in 2013, over the fact that he also owned a player management firm. But unlike many other Indian cricketing administrators who cling on to their posts, Kumble did not run for a second term when his tenure ended in 2013, stating that a state association must be “constantly evolving”. During his three-year tenure, the KSCA was the only major state association in the country run by former cricketers.
Yes, India’s leading Test and ODI wicket-taker might not have the required coaching pedigree. But it is worthwhile asking: is that pedigree really required to coach a top-level international side in an era where every team has separate batting, fielding and bowling coaches? What is probably more important is a calm, firm head at the helm and, in Kumble, the Indian team may have their best man.