From early in his playing career, Anil Kumble has had a sense of surprising all, and the former skipper and spin great landing the national coach’s job on Thursday was simply in keeping with that trend.
As a teenager, Kumble quickly switched from bowling pace to spin after being called for chucking in a local match. And his fast leg spin, where economy of turn actually worked to his advantage on Indian pitches of low bounce, saw him rapidly go up the wicket charts, demonstrated how quickly he had understood what worked for him.
This despite constant talk that he didn’t really fit in, in an Indian cricket milieu where the image was of classical spin bowling, built on the exploits of the spin quartet of Bishan Singh Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, BS Chandrasekar and S Venkatraghavan.
However, Kumble showed he belonged, helping India win one game after another at home to set the template under Mohd Azharuddin’s captaincy in the 1990s.
Although the BCCI advertised for the coach’s post for the first time, to conform with the transparent functioning the RM Lodha panel has insisted on, it appeared the job was for Ravi Shastri to lose. The former skipper, who was team director until India’s World T20 campaign ended in the semifinals, had the strong backing of Test skipper Virat Kohli.
The duo had struck a strong relationship since Kohli took over as Test skipper in Australia in early 2015, and during the series wins in Sri Lanka and South Africa late last year. Although Kumble didn’t have experience as an international coach or formal credentials for the job --- both are part of the nine-point criteria announced by the BCCI -- the standing in the game of the International Cricket Council’s cricket committee head was without doubt.
Although too many candidates didn’t seem to respond to the advert initially, the game changed once Kumble put his name forward. His experience is restricted to being a successful IPL mentor with Mumbai Indians, overseeing both their title victories. But the demand was for a motivator.
Kumble had captained all three of the BCCI cricket advisory committee members --- Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman --- and helped to reached out to his former teammates on what his plans to take the team forward were.
Kohli’s backing for Shastri was clear, but Kumble will be capable of keeping a tighter leash on the players. Besides, Shastri had made it clear in media comments that it was time for MS Dhoni, skipper of the limited-overs teams, to step down and Kohli to take over in all formats. Choosing Shastri would thus have created an awkward situation. It is well known that Dhoni, who played under Kumble and took over as Test skipper when he retired in 2008, highly regards him. That would allow the former India skipper to bond with both Kohli and Dhoni.
As a player, Anil Kumble became only the second man to claim all 10 wickets in a Test innings. He emulated England spinner Jim Laker and the feat was made even more special as it came against Pakistan in 1999 and helped India win and level the two-match home series.
As skipper, his biggest test came at the 2007-8 tour of Australia in the wake of the monkeygate scandal involving Harbhajan Singh. Kumble criticised the Ricky Ponting-led Australia camp, saying only one team had played in the right spirit of the game as he rallied his beleaguered spin partner.
On the field, his decision to give Ishant Sharma a ninth over in an almost interminable spell led to the youngster claiming Ponting and triggered a batting collapse, setting up a rare defeat for Australia in their citadel and a consolation victory for India.
He also recalled Virender Sehwag, who had been kept out of the team for a year. The explosive opener struck a century in the next Test, in Adelaide, going on to score his second Test triple century in Chennai against South Africa in the next game, announcing he was back.