Nobody has forgotten how Anil Kumble soldiered on with a broken jaw in the Antigua Test in 2002. Less than a month from now, he begins a different innings at the same place. What hasn’t changed between then and now is Kumble’s character – polite yet aggressive with leadership qualities that stand out in trying times. The Indian team, brimming with talent and the potential to become No.1 across all formats, needs this very character to steer them.
Much has been written about Kumble’s lack of coaching experience and credentials. Kapil Dev was the last high profile former captain who was appointed India coach and the world knows how that ended. But things have changed. Indian cricket is far more professional than it was 16 years ago. The coaching setup has expanded with experts handling specific requirements.
In case the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is keen on a complete overhaul, it will be exciting to see who replaces Sanjay Bangar and Bharat Arun. This India team could in fact resemble the elaborate star-studded coaching and advisory apparatus of the Mumbai Indians. Neither the BCCI nor fans would complain if good results come in.
Kumble is expected to have his own set of batting and bowling coaches too, who will take care of much of the technical aspects for him. His big challenge though, is time.
Kumble’s ‘probation’ period is bookended by the Test series in West Indies and the Champions Trophy in June next year. But this will also include a long home season the BCCI has been marketing fervently for some time. The former captain will need to show thumping results in the marquee series like those against Australia and England apart from the Champions Trophy. Winning comprehensively in West Indies, however, should be the ideal way to kick-start this process since it is the only overseas Test tour for at least the next one year. The expectations will be high given the number of matches India play this season but it also means Kumble will have more chances of getting the team back on track if it stutters.
The BCCI has allowed itself the cushion of at least two years before the next World Cup if Kumble doesn’t deliver. But if he does, he could get an extension.
Apart from the team as a whole, it would be interesting to see how Kumble, whose expertise is bowling, will help sculpt R Ashwin’s future. Out of 176 career Test wickets, Ashwin has taken 152 in the subcontinent. Though this IPL hasn’t been the best for him, at the home Tests, the offspinner is expected to take truckloads of wickets. Kumble’s guidance could play a huge role in how Ashwin becomes more effective in overseas conditions.
But above all, Kumble’s most important role will be ensuring a smooth transition for the team from Test mode to shorter formats. It is assumed Virat Kohli will be captain in all formats though MS Dhoni hasn’t given any indication of quitting. India plays 17 Tests from July to March but they are also scheduled to play eight ODIs and three T20s in the same time. Kohli and Dhoni have different takes on leadership and Kumble’s job is to ensure that the team doesn’t stay in Test mode going into an ODI series or vice-versa.
The up side to playing so many matches is the time Kumble will get to spend with the team. Not only does it allow for the bond between coach and players to grow but it will also give the new entrant the opportunity to build a team philosophy.
Some India players have been criticised of being too aggressive on the field or too cynical at press conferences. The former bowler will have to temper the outlook and the public face of the team. The idea is to have a balanced India team that does well across all formats at home or overseas but stays grounded and humble. That’s a tall order, even for Kumble.