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Exclusive interview with Kumble

"The only thing that can stop me from bowling are my shoulders," says Kumble in a candid chat with Rajdeep Sardesai.

india Updated: Oct 09, 2009 13:23 IST

India’s skipper was handed a job he never expected. At 37, Anil Kumble begins what could possibly be the toughest tour of a long career in Melbourne today, when India take on Victoria at the Junction Oval. Just before leaving for Australia, Kumble spoke to CNN-IBN Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai in Bangalore about the bridges crossed, the challenges ahead, his team's chances, his passion for the game and for life. Read on for excerpts from an interview that manages a rare look at the man in the country’s hottest seat.

Did you, in your wildest imagination, just a couple of weeks ago, think that you would be the captain of India? Did you think the chance had passed you by?
When I was vice-captain in 1996, I thought I had a chance, and later on, there was a possibility. But never in my wildest dreams had I imagined that it would come at such a stage in my career.

You've scored the first series win against Pakistan, the first in 27 years. You are actually enjoying being captain.
Yes. It gives you a sense of involvement. The involvement would be much more when you are bowling, but now you have to think for the other guys on the field as well.

Didn't you feel the pressure? India captains don't seem to enjoy captaincy these days.
I like a challenge. Captaincy has always been a challenge for me. The myth was that bowlers don't make great captains. And then, along comes Anil Kumble and you seem to make all the right changes. At the end of the day, the bowlers have to get 20 wickets to win a Test match. I'm sure they do have a little bit of brains to get those wickets.

Winning this series against Pakistan, how important was that for you? Was there a decisive moment in your captaincy?
I have always believed that the first Test of a series is very crucial. I thought that having lost the toss at the Kotla, to get Pakistan out for less than 250 was very important and then, we didn't bat really that well in the first innings. But we got back really well in the second to get them out with a lead of 200. So, in that sense, yes.

Then that declaration. Maybe you could have won your first Test match in your hometown had you declared earlier?
Possible, but having lived in Bangalore for so long, I still couldn't forecast the weather. I didn't realise it would intervene.

Sourav Ganguly told us that you told the team something on your first day as captain. What did you tell them?
It was just the usual team meetings.

You must have told him something. Did you tell Ganguly if I win a match like you, I'll also take off my shirt?
No, no. I had to do that after the Bangalore Test because that was a lucky shirt and we have this habit of pouring all kinds of stuff on it. So I wanted to ensure that the shirt was safe.

Ganguly also said that you are aggressive. The best description someone gave me was that you are a smiling, silent assassin, till you have a cricket ball in your hand.
Aggression is not just the emotion that you show on the field, but at the end of it, you have to ensure that you play the game aggressively and the ball has to do the talking.

You sometimes think like a fast bowler.
I wanted to bowl a bouncer on the last day in Bangalore. I have been trying and I keep telling bowlers to keep bowling bouncers. As a bowler, you need to be aggressive.

Is that something you learnt in school? I hope school didn't teach you aggression. Were you a bit of a bad boy or were you the good guy?
I used to be pretty short tempered initially, but I think I have mellowed with age. Most people in this city, like the weather, are pretty gentle. I am gentle. Till you said 'with a ball in my hand', I am different.

Has it ever sunk in, all that you've achieved over these years?
When you look back, it gives you a sense of satisfaction, pride, and also, all the hard work that I have put in. When you look back at the record, it gives you a lot of satisfaction.

Has captaincy given you a fresh lease of life?
Captaincy has definitely given me a shot in the arm in terms of the enthusiasm.

You had broken your jaw (against the Windies, Antigua, 2002), and you kept bowling. Did you ever think you didn't want to bowl or you were determined to bowl even with a broken jaw?
The only thing that can stop me from bowling is my shoulders. So if the shoulder was fine, then I would go out there to bowl.

You have always been this extremely unassuming person. Is that the kind of person you are?
Even when I was announced the captain, and also after I got 10 wickets, people wanted me to show emotions. But that doesn't come.

Looking back at this 18-year-old career in Test cricket, what's your favourite moment? Was it the 10 wickets against Pakistan, or was it scoring that century at the Oval?
I always thought I had it in me to score runs and get a Test hundred. I think 99 out of 100 times I would choose the 10 wickets. But this time I will choose that Test hundred.

When you were taking those 10 wickets, when did you start thinking about 10?

After I got six, I thought I had a great chance. Before that the best haul I had was a seven-for. Six happened, seven came, then eight and nine happened in two balls.

(Javagal) Srinath said he deliberately bowled wide because he wanted you to get 10 wickets. He said he wouldn't have been able to return to Bangalore had he taken the 10th wicket.
He did do that for one over. It would have been embarrassing for me to ask Srinath to do it again. So, it was important that I wrapped it up in that over when I got the opportunity.

You started off as a medium pacer and then you became a spinner. Why did you choose the most difficult thing?
I was bowling medium pace, and then senior cricketers in the club said I had a suspect action. So I had to change. At that point, my brother said, 'Why don't you take up leg-spin? There are not many leg-spinners around.' That's how I started.

You have taken 584 wickets. Have you set yourself a target? Muralitharan has taken 700-plus wickets and says he wants 1000.
At this point in time, 600 is definitely around the corner. but other than that, I am ensuring that we go out in Australia and win.

Are you going to continue till 40-45?
No. Once you are 37, you start saying, 'okay, next match I'm going to play, then the following match I'm going to play,' that's how it is. So, you start counting match by match.

You say you are playing match by match but your teammates don't agree. They all say you're special and a legend.
The respect that you gain not only from your teammates but from the opposition, and the fraternity, is the most important thing.

Your opponents also fear you. I asked Adam Gilchrist, and he said the one cricketer he feared playing on Indian wickets was Kumble.
It's a compliment coming from someone like Gilchrist. I hope the fear continues for the next four Tests.

What's the secret of your success as a bowler?
Basically, try and prepare the way I used to 17 years ago in terms of the mental make-up, and try and go out there and do the job.

Did you ever feel that you should have been captain much earlier than at 37?
When you look back, yes there were a couple of opportunities where probably I could have got a chance. But then I have always said this that it's not in my control. But having said that, I think it's come at the right time.

If we beat Australia, will you then think that's the final frontier, 'should I think of retiring?'
I thought of retiring a long time ago. But captaincy has given me shot in the arm and a great motivation. It's important for me to think the next four Test matches are crucial, not just for me personally, but also for Indian cricket. Not many in the team would probably go back to Australia four years from now, so, it's very important that we go out there and get the job done.