Anil Kumble has learnt the game the hard way, battling all odds to become one of the greatest spin bowlers in the world. Now as the coach of the Indian team, Kumble has his task cut out and in this exclusive interview he explains his vision for the team, why he took up this job and what methods he plans to employ to make India the number one team across all formats.
He realizes that he should not be the focus of the team as a coach’s job is to facilitate and not lead. He also has a unique concept which he wants to introduce so that the team is known for its Indianness. Explaining at length what that means, Kumble wants the team to symbolise Indian values, like behaving with each other like an extended family and showing respect for the seniors. However, he says, that does not mean that the players will not be free to express their disagreement or blindly follow directions.
His stress will be on inclusiveness, where every decision taken by the team will be based on consensus.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: What made you decide to take up coaching?
I have always loved challenges and this I won’t say is challenge alone it is also an opportunity. I have always put up my hand. I took a conscious decision to take a break from the IPL this year, as for the last eight years all that my kids have known in their summer breaks is the IPL. This year we went on a holiday to Europe and I was wondering what my future plan should be. Then this opportunity came up, and my wife said yes, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone ahead. The kids were also fine with it. I also felt this is a fantastic team and it is the right time too.
Q: But aren’t coaching and playing two different professions that require different approaches?
I understand that. I was part of the RCB and the Mumbai Indians as their mentor. And it was no different than coaching as you are involved with hiring coaches, being part of strategizing, though you may not be involved with running the nets on a day to day basis. Though IPL is a different ball game, I felt I can do this. I may not have the certificate as a coach but as someone who has played for India for 18 years, I know what the players want, understand their needs and also what they want from a coach. I thought I had this ability.
Q: When you talk of ability, what is it required to be a coach?
I have said this before that a coach needs to manage the players, manage their egos, motivate them, especially when they are down and he has to always work in the background.
Listen | Kumble’s plan for Team India
Q: Would you say it is more of a dirty job?
You can say that, but it takes time to understand the players and for them to understand you. It will take time, I have just begun to interact with them. But I believe, and this comes from my own experience of what I expected from a coach, that he needs to communicate. Like when you pick a playing XI, the other five or six players need support, need to be told why they are not playing. I think that kind of communication is important for a coach. You also need to prepare the team, be ready for every eventuality. It is like preparing for an examination. You can’t say let me prepare for only five questions and be ready with answers for only those. You need to read the entire text book and be ready for all kinds of adversities. That is my role. Planning is very important and I think I have the ability to do that in a very organised way.
Q: Can you give an example of how a coach comes up with solutions to a problem?
I have always admired John Wright, though I have played under different coaches. The longest serving coach I played under was Wright and he was very organised with his methods, with planning nets, coming up with ideas, as you need to come up with different ideas and implement them to make it interesting for the team.
Q: What kind of new ideas?
For instance, we started a sub-group in the team where the players were responsible for taking decisions. Whether it was a batting group, a bowling group or a fielding group. You need to own your decisions. This is what I am trying to do in this team as well. My role is what I can do off the field. But once players go on the field it is they who have to take all sorts of decisions. The captain will take decisions but at the end of the day it is the ten others who he will be leading.
Q: So you also have planned these sub-groups?
Yes, but again it is something that should be owned by the team. I mean whatever I plan needs to be owned by the team. It should not be as if these are my decisions and that is what I have been doing in the last four-five days (Bangalore camp) with the boys. They have to own up to whatever decisions are taken and I am trying to create that environment where whatever decisions are taken, the players feel they are their decisions. I only enable, I only assist. I try and help them in making the right choice, but not force decisions on them.
Q: Could you give any example of how this works?
It is too early to say. I mean at this stage all I can say is the kind of approach I have taken. Whether the players have accepted it or not I will know as we go along. But this group is very open to ideas and I must confess, given the current generation and the way they are perceived, I thought they would be…
Q: Brash and arrogant, not receptive to new ideas….
Yes, I thought getting them into a room for an hour or so and seriously discussing certain issues would not be easy and after ten minutes or so, they won’t be listening or responding. But I was surprised to see that not only were they very receptive and embraced new ideas but we spent more time than what was stipulated. I was impressed with every group. We had split the boys into three groups and I don’t want to go into the details of what we sat down to achieve, but to see their response was really satisfying for a coach; to feel that these boys would go to any length to fulfill the tasks you have given them.
Q: I understand you won’t reveal any strategies, but on a broader level, what kind of team do you want to develop?
It is important we create an Indian way. And what is that Indian way? What do we want to achieve? We want to put across certain messages which they embrace.
Q: When you say Indian way you mean culturally or…
Everything. Take all the best practices in Indian culture, mesh them in a way that all of us own what we want to be seen as, known as, how do we want to play the game, how do we want to practice, how do we want to be seen as an Indian team.
Q: So how different will this team be from say John Wright’s team?
Obviously John had made an impression with the kind of effort he brought to the team, organising the team itself. Earlier it was all ad hoc, there was no plan to the certain decisions we took as a team. I am someone who likes to plan. I need to plan for a week. I need to know what the next week looks like. And that is exactly what I would do with this team as well. OK, this is the first week of activities we have planned for the West Indies, or whatever else we do. You can also structure what you need to do in terms of planning meetings. Those are very important for team environment. The last thing you want is an unhappy person in the team because it is not good to force something upon someone against his wishes. That is what we want to achieve as a team. What makes them tick what does not make them tick. I am new to this. I am an outsider who has just come in and it is great to be part of the Indian squad.
Q: Coming back to be known as the Indian team, could you elaborate on this?
You know we are trying to put together something which will be the Indian way.
Q: What is the Indian way? Respect for elders, no sledging, I mean what exactly do you mean?
Well, I said earlier I don’t want to force something upon them like a schoolmaster. Whether it is discipline or whatever you want from the team. That may work in some cases but not always. You want the team to embrace what they want to do. I did mention how many times do they want to train, or when not to train, what are the things they will commit to, as an individual and as a team, irrespective of the results how do you want to approach your own game and how do you want an Indian team to be looked at? Results will be the next step.
Q: Could you elaborate more on the Indianness of the team? Like not sledging?
I don’t mean to say sledging is not Indian culture or is somebody else’s culture. What I meant was you would want to bring a feeling of Indianness, that is extended family, respect for one another. And the best practices in the Indian family would be, generally, follow whatever elders say, but here we want to be a bit more open and express our views even if they differ from that of the seniors. Here it is having family values and say, if a senior has taken a decision, I will follow it. However, you should also have the freedom to disagree but in a more civilized way, where everyone has the opportunity to express himself. In the end, it is all about inclusiveness. It is important that you include everyone in the decision-making. Only then you can bring in ownership.
Q:Would you put a lot of stress on individual goals..
Not necessarily. Not stress on things, but we would definitely sit over the next two months and assess and certainly sit with individual players and chart out what their individual goals are, what the team goals are and then come up with a plan as in these five days I have spent with them it is impossible for me to do all this. We have been lucky so far here in the camp. I know, I have been to the West Indies, and know how challenging the conditions can be. The first Test match is on July 21, so we still have time to prepare.
Q: Do you think your stature as a player and what you have achieved might affect the players? They may be in awe of you and that could hamper communication?
A: I don’t think that is a barrier. I don’t think I need to do anything regarding that. But we are certainly looking at certain team activities that will make them feel comfortable about their new coach. That is all I can say.
Q:What is that activity?
A: You will get to know. All I can say is they may have probably watched me play while growing up, but all that is different. I am the coach now, I have a role now, a responsibility and I know where to draw the line between the coach and the players. For me it is always the players first. I am in the background. No matter what my stature is, what I may have achieved, that is all in the past. The team comes first and that is the message I am constantly putting across. Individual players come next and coaches and others much later. And if my stature becomes a barrier I will do everything to ensure that this barrier is broken. At the moment I don’t see any issues with it as we are doing certain activities which will engage everyone.
Q: You don’t want to reveal what it could be?
A: No because the players themselves don’t know. It is already planned, I need to go there now (the interview was taken before the drum-beating session took place, you can link this with its video that is available on Ytube)
Q: You have been part of the team which performed outstandingly outside the country. That can’t be said of this team. How do you plan to address that?
A: Through a change in mindset and that has to happen not when you board a flight to play outside. It needs to happen at home. It is a team sport and the emphasis is on winning irrespective of conditions.
Q: We have seen vicious turners at home recently that help us win comfortably, but does that not affect our performances outside. Are we going to look at some balance…
A: No, I think home advantage every country seeks. I think other than West Indies, where the wickets are not very different from India, every other country has home advantage like India too has.
Q: I am talking about balance.
A:Yes that balance will certainly come if you really want to look ahead and play consistently well in Test cricket. Then you need to bring in that balance.
Q: What was your emphasis in the vision document for Indian cricket you presented before the Cricket Committee which appointed you as the coach?
A: To be the number one team across all formats and to do that we need all stake-holders, be in at the junior or senior level, to be aligned towards the common objective of filling the gaps in senior cricket. For that one needs to be in constant communication with all the stake-holders. We talk about the bench strength and we need to keep them prepared.
Q: You have said Test cricket will be your priority. How do you plan to do that in this age of T-20 cricket?
A:Let us accept the fact that it is a challenge. This year we are playing Test cricket at new venues and that will get addressed in people coming in and wanting to watch. I also believe this team will play a brand of Test cricket where people will come and want to watch. But it is going to be a challenge. But whatever needs to be done should be done, be it day-night cricket or pink ball cricket.
Q: What is your take on pink ball? Kevin Peterson has said that if we play pink-ball then all the earlier stats need to be changed?
A:It is a great innovation. Obviously it will mean strategies will have to be changed. It has been done in Australia. They are going to play one more test. India is doing that with the Duleep Trophy. The outcome will be closely monitored. As far as stats go, as a cricketer I never played for them. It is important when you compare but remember at the end of the day it is a game and you need to adapt, like we have to the T-20 game. After say ten years, if someone is great in the T-20 format you won’t say he is a rubbish player because he has not done well in Test cricket. Similarly, if someone has done well in Test cricket you won’t rubbish him if he has not done well in T-20.
We need to accept new realities, make certain changes, adapt and move on.
Q: Bowlers are generally not accepted as the glamour boys of cricket. Even you did not get the kind of adulation, despite a far greater contribution to the Indian team, which certain other players got. Will this hamper you now even as a coach?
A: If you want consistent performances in cricket then the bowlers have to perform. That is the bottomline. If you take 20 wickets only then you win. If you score 600 runs but not take 20 wickets you don’t win. Everyone understands this. Bowlers may not get the adulation but I fully understand the role of the bowlers in Test match cricket.
Q: Do you feel a one-year tenure as coach is a challenge or a limitation?
A: Neither of the two. I don’t see it as a one-year tenure. Even when I became captain -- first of all I never thought I would become captain -- and when I became one, I knew it wouldn’t be a long stint as it was towards the end of my career. Here too I am not looking at it in terms of years. It is an opportunity and whatever I can do I will. I don’t look at the consequences of the job.