Suresh Menon

Kumble has the experience and the nous to be the coach

The Fabulous Five seems set to serve Indian cricket all over again. Of Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, V.V.S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, three are in the cricket board’s advisory committee. Rahul Dravid is coach of the Under-19 squad, and now Kumble bids to become the national coach.

That none of them has taken the softer option like resting on their laurels is a tribute to the temperament that saw them guide Indian cricket through a difficult period at the turn of the century when players were accused of match-fixing.

If, as has been reported, there are 57 applications for the post of India’s cricket coach, you can’t help thinking that 55 of them might be wasting their time simply in order to allow the BCCI to appear fair and impress the Supreme Court. The choice is between Ravi Shastri and Kumble.

Test skipper Virat Kohli has spoken about how Shastri’s presence was a morale-booster for the team, but it was Kumble, as skipper of the Royal Challengers Bangalore who had a profound influence on Kohli in his formative years. Kohli has credited Kumble with keeping him on the straight and narrow at an age when, flush with early success, he might have let his emotions get the better of him. It was Kumble who called Kohli the best young batsman in the world and prepared him for the job of leading India.

Kohli looks set to captain India in all three formats of the game soon. Kohli is not only the best batsman of the side but also brings to the game an aggression and self-belief that was characteristic of Shastri in his playing days. Kumble, less flashy than Shastri but more experienced in a range of administrative and mentoring jobs, will be the ideal foil to the skipper, his calm, controlled manner both soothing and inspiring. In some ways the coach-captain relationship is like a marriage. Similarity in temperaments could occasionally lead to ego clashes.

At 45, Kumble is young, articulate, has been President of the KSCA, handled the National Cricket Academy, and walks around with a detailed plan for Indian cricket on his computer, such is his involvement with the game. If he is appointed, it will herald a generational shift: a coach as comfortable with the lap top as with the cricket ball. As player, his record speaks for itself, and as a tough, no-nonsense captain, he would probably lead an all-time India XI.

Better credentials

Shastri hasn’t done much wrong, but Kumble might have the better credentials. It will have to be one or the other, unless the BCCI, unable to decide between the two leading candidates, plumps for a third. It has happened before — players and captains have been appointed on this principle!

I am not sure if being an Indian coach requires special qualities not connected with cricket — like the ability to understand Indian culture or speak an Indian language. Dhoni has said this, and that’s interesting because not so long ago, the argument went in the other direction. An Indian coach, it was said, tended to be a creature of board politics, and usually having played fewer Tests than some of the senior players, tended to be less than confident around them. Understanding culture led to exploiting it. This was the standard argument for the foreign coach.

Yet the recent foreign coaches quickly learnt to become “Indian” and not always in a positive way. Greg Chappell, for all his technical expertise and ability to pick flaws in a player’s approach blotted his copybook by involving himself in the politics rushing to the media with ‘scoops’ and failing to maintain the distance that made for dignity.

John Wright was a players’ man who realised early how the chips fell. He was intelligent enough to let things be and dealt with the egos of the BCCI in a manner that benefitted the team.

Duncan Fletcher had his admirers among the seniors, but it was difficult to tell what was going on behind those dark glasses he wore. His contract prevented him from articulating anything to the media, and that suited him fine since he wasn’t particularly communicative anyway.

Gary Kirsten was probably the most professional of them, popular with the players, effective in getting his point of view across and least likely to lose his cool.

Coaching the Indian team can be a tricky business. You have to tread softly around the superstars, listen to but ignore well-meant advice from the vast army of “experts” in the country, handle the delicate egos of the administrators with care, treat the media with a combination of respect and disdain, and all this before you have even entered the field for the throw-ins.

Kumble understands all this, and has understood it since his teens when he first played for India. Kohli, who should be in charge for the next decade, looks up to him. It is a marriage made on a cricket field.

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 10:06:56 AM |

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