It’s unusual for a former great to become an international cricket coach; Anil Kumble is now in rare company.
It’s more common for journeyman cricketers to take on what is a demanding role. On retirement, the star player is usually reluctant to burden himself with the time demands or the exhausting travel schedule of an international coach. That’s before he contemplates any controversy that might arise from a poor team performance.
Also, the earnings of the modern cricketer have increased dramatically since the inception of the IPL, to the point where star players are comfortable in retirement. Challenges outside the game often have more appeal.
However India, apart from having a public fixation with who will be coach, previously appointed a former great player in Greg Chappell.
Kumble has a couple of advantages over Chappell. Firstly, he’s in sync with the Indian mentality and secondly, he doesn’t have to deal with star players nearing the end of their careers.
Australian selectors are not averse to dropping a star player --- even the captain --- if they feel his form is waning. There’s virtually no chance an Indian selector will demote a star player. Indian selectors, perhaps wary of the backlash, are content to wait patiently until the star retires, even if it’s obvious the team is in dire need of regeneration.
The officials who appointed Chappell as coach said they wanted to introduce an Australian mentality into Indian cricket. That was the last thing India really wanted, what with Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar nearing the end of their careers. When Chappell attempted to apply a bit of Australian logic to the situation, the outcry was deafening.
Kumble has a head start and he hasn’t even commenced his role. He was a magnificent cricketer, a competitor to be admired. He was the fiercest of competitors but I never once saw him do anything untoward on the field that would tarnish either his or the game’s reputation. Nothing epitomises Kumble’s competitiveness more than his desperate lunging shot to bring up his Test century at The Oval.
If he can instil that same desire throughout the India team --- and he already has a Test captain with similar competitive urges --- the side will benefit. However, this will only happen if he encourages Virat Kohli’s aggressive captaincy instincts --- much as Ravi Shastri did --- rather than trying to tone down his enthusiasm for chasing victory.
It’s interesting that India have gone outside the original remit --- a preference for previous coaching experience --- to appoint Kumble. It’s crucial a coach understands what it takes to win at the highest level. Kumble not only knows, he also has the clout to convey this message to the current players. He is also far removed from this playing group not to have to worry about concerns over how he might give favourable treatment to a mate.
His biggest challenge will be adapting to a role where he can’t alter the course of a match with his deeds.
I’ve never been a great believer in coaches at the international level. To me, the best advisers are team-mates who are competing against the same opponents. The best coaches should be engaged at the lower levels where the most good can be done while the players are still in the development stage.
India seem to be addressing this need with the recent appointment of Rahul Dravid to mentor junior teams. Indian cricket is indeed fortunate to have two ex-players of the calibre of Kumble and Dravid who are prepared to dedicate time to helping young cricketers.
Kumble’s appointment is initially for one year. This is probably desirable for both parties, as the BCCI can evaluate after one year and that’s about the length of the honeymoon for a former star player.
If Kumble decides to continue in the role, there’s a chance he’ll find out if India treat their coaches differently to star players. If there are hiccups along the way, will there be the same reluctance to sack a luminary coach, as there is to demote a star player?