At heart he is a lion. And he can still roar, writesPeter Roebuck
Anil Kumble is the best man to lead the Indian Test team on its forthcoming expedition to Australia. He could forge a strong alliance with Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the obvious man for the T20 and ODI teams down under.
Between them these sturdy cricketers have the qualities needed to coax fine performances from veterans and to instil confidence in youth. Probably it won’t happen because selectors and officials are otherwise inclined but it’d be worth a go.
More likely a more fashionable player will be given a second or third tilt at the pot.
Almost alone amongst the senior men, Kumble has not been given a chance to take charge of the Indian team. Over the last few years he has been the most constant, most probing of the Indian players yet he is seldom mentioned as a contender for the captaincy.
Instead he has served with unstinting effort. Always he has put the team first.
His loyalty is to India and his comrades, and his own interests are pushed to the back of his mind, an uncommon occurrence amongst cricketers.
From time to time he may have been beaten but he has never been broken. Kumble has set a towering example. Neither the glamour and clamour of the age has distracted him from his task.
Captains scanning the field in search of someone still wanting to bowl with the sun scorching, the batsmen dominating and the scoreboard rattling, need not look past him.
Others might appear discouraged but Kumble would stride to the crease, his hope intact, his intentions plain.
Nor does he berate a fieldsmen after a catch had been dropped, or not for long anyhow (for he is only human). He can glare but he forgives readily and then tries to make amends. His appetite for wickets has never been sated. Are not these exceptional qualities? Here is an underestimated man.
As a cricketer, Kumble has surpassed expectations. It might be the same as a tactician and leader. On the rare occasions this unsmiling tweaker has directed operations he has shown the sort of flexibility and aggression supposedly absent in contemplative types.
But then Kumble merely resembles a librarian. At heart he is a lion. And he can still roar, continues to take wickets and has even scored his first Test century, an innings that reminded observers that he had started as a batsman.
Certainly he has a couple more years left in him in Test cricket. Moreover he does not expect to play in the one-day matches and is therefore perfectly placed to form a partnership with Dhoni, a young cricketer with plenty on his plate.
Dhoni was superb in South Africa and is clearly capable of inspiring younger players. That does not mean he ought forthwith to be put in charge of a successful Test side full of older hands. Nor does success in T20 necessarily mean that the same players will prosper in the Test arena. Indeed Yuvraj, the most explosive batsmen in the tournament, has been exposed in Tests as a batsman with a dubious back foot game.
Dhoni can take charge of the Test team in two years, when his proteges, including the splendidly fertile Gautam Gambhir, Uthappa, Chawla and those contrasting pacemen, R.P. Singh and Sreesanth (the ice and the fire), are ready to replace the fading champions.
Till then it’d be wise to let him work on his own game whilst widening his experience of captaincy in one-day matches. Let us not kill the golden goose after a single egg has been laid.