'We are not the pin-up boys'
If you're looking to describe Indian captain Anil Kumble, you reflexively pick serious.
Not a guy with a propensity for dramatics, or a preference for ear piercings. In 1999, I spent a day with him after his 10-74 against Pakistan, and during a speech to school kids, like a young professor he stressed to them the value of the three D's. "Determination, discipline, dedication".
Was this Mr Kumble? A businesslike, buttoned-up hero, the brand ambassador for, of all things, a university? A no-messing-around kind of guy who goes head-hunting with an old ball?
But Anil Kumble is more than that. He's an emotional cricketer. Really. His face isn't blank, it's like a moving picture of rage (coming into bowl), annoyance (misfield off his bowling), desire (all day long), delight (any wicket). Ask him and he says: "I try and do everything I can to win". Businesslike? Maybe not.
Here's another thing about Anil Kumble. He's amusing. Really. He's India's first bowler to be awarded the captaincy since Ravi Shastri got the gig for a single Test about 20 years ago. So it's fair to ask him if he's sick of the glorification of batsmen in India, to which he says, politely: "It's not the glorification of batsmen I object to, but the non-glorification of bowlers. We're never given the credit".
Bowlers in India aren't viewed as ..well.. as sexy as batsmen, perhaps?
"Well", he says, smiling down the phone, "we're not the pin-up boys. Don't sell soap or cola".
I ask him if people have read him wrongly as a man, and he says: "I don't care as long as they read me wrongly when I'm bowling". The stern captain as comedian, who would believe it?
Primarily, though, Kumble is as meticulous as he looks. If he agrees to an interview, he's there. On time. If you ask a question he's not prepared to reply to, say about a team-mate, his tone will inform you not to ask it again. He's what we expect Indian cricketers to become but few do. A professional.
It's why when he arrived for the first Test against Pakistan he distributed what he terms "a document" among his players. What was in it?
"What I expect from them. (That) this is what it takes to be part of the Indian team," he says. He then gave a document to the board, about which he says only this: it's about "how I want them to help me".
Because there is no dishonesty to Kumble, he accepts that the calendar on his cricketing life is running out of pages. He's never been a make-up-the-numbers kind of cricketer, more a leave-an-imprint kind of sportsman. As a bowler, he won matches. As captain, he wants to leave something behind.
He wants his document, call it a vision, to percolate down, he says, right to the under-15 level, so even young cricketers understand, early, what is required to be an Indian cricketer. Stuff like .... well, determination, dedication, discipline.
'Play fearless cricket'
Kumble's words are familiar ("play fearless cricket", "team goals come first"), but a fresh voice can stir a dressing room. The spinner knows that egos can collide, misunderstandings can occur, this is the very nature of team. Perhaps it is why he stresses "it's an important thing to be transparent" and insists when problems arise he will "resolve the issue not the individual". What he means is, with him it's never going to be personal.
He is a strongly commonsensical man, not one for cabals or conspiracies, and unsurprisingly stated to his team how he will captain. He told them "everyone will get a decent run"; he insisted "everyone will be clear about their role". He is attempting, as so many Indians captains have, to start something small. Change an attitude. Type the first lines towards India becoming a professional team in every sense of the word.
When you win, those philosophies are reinforced, and victory over Pakistan, despite their brittleness, was an encouraging beginning.
Kumble is a fearless sportsman
But now, a bowler of intelligent fury is going to require all his strength, of shoulder and character, in Australia. Of all cricketing tests, this is the most revealing, for the remorseless Australians are adept at peeling back a man's weakness. Under their gaze, batsmen can look too old, bowlers too young and captains too uncertain.
It is fortunate that Kumble is unyielding, and anyone who remembers him from the time he sported a South Indian hero's moustache, and a Sanskrit professor's spectacles, knows that.
In short order, the captain must sort out the opening conundrum (my opinion: leave Rahul at No.3), convince those openers Lee-Tait are just an Australian media myth, know when to take himself off and rest, return the sorcery to Harbhajhan's fingers, add a few kph to Pathan's delivery, keep the body language positive when the flies gather and Ponting bullies, and maintain his temper. Did I mention it's a good thing he has sturdy shoulders?
Kumble has taken 584 Test wickets (more than the rest of his bowlers combined) because he never accepted second-best from himself. He will not tolerate any less from his team. He should be judged fairly, not merely on victory but if his team competes intensely from Melbourne in late December to Adelaide in late January.
Kumble has a vision for the team
Every match means a lot to Kumble at 37. It's why his face is so mobile. It's why he wrote that document. Junior cricketers in India should ask for it. But till it arrives they should simply watch their country's captain, for his life is a lesson in itself and can be told in three words he treasures. Dedication, discipline, determination.
This debate is closed. Following is a selection of comments you sent.
Kumble earns respect for himself, he is not a kind of a cricketer who would ask for respect.
Serouze Kazamani, USA
This is a good article. 3D's that Kumble mentioned epitomises this great man. I hope he is successful and the Indian selectors don't panic even if we don't win the series in Australia.
Kumble is a very over-rated captain. He's very defensive-minded as we saw in the third test v Pakistan and tactically was very ordinary throughout the series and you don't want such a captain against Australia. 4-0 for Australia is my prediction.
Beburg Zehri, Canada
Kumble can do it - instil a confidence in the team, get them to play a self less game as a team, and execute varying strategies to win. Aussie teams have won in the past precisely for these reasons. While we have had captains in the past who could some of it well, here is a man who can play the game in the same professional spirit. While Aussies may have the trump card in off the field unpeeling of individual's follies in the media, it is still in this team's control to stay focused. If the captain is fearless, it is huge step forward to winning ways.
Rohit Sharma, US
Being a great cricketer is different from having leadership qualities. Time will tell. Best of luck Anil.
A very well defined article about a humble and often unsung servant of Indian cricket. Truly Kumble is a inspiration to all the younger guys in the team. It will be interesting to see how his vision will be assimilated and translated into performances by the rest of the team.
The day after Anil took those 10 wickets in 1999, I was the school kid in that school (DPS RKP) who gave a speech congratulating Kumble on his achievement. I remember that day very clearly and your comments have brought back memories! I even managed to score that Coca Cola ball cap he was wearing and its been with me since. Kumble is truly one of the best sportspersons in the world as far as I can say.
Tushaar Tirath, Canada
Anil Kumble is the only Indian player I've seen who has successfully managed to produce a synergistic result by seamlessly integrating meticulous intellectualism (something every school going Indian child is drilled with from a very young age) and competitive sportsmanship (something that is often overlooked in Indian society). I just hope that aspiring sportsmen realize the value of Kumble's primary attributes of humility, diligence, concentration and discipline which have kept him a top performer all through his 17 year career.
It is an excellent interview. We need more leaders and players like Kumble to make India number one team in the cricket world. His three words, dedication, discipline, and determination are key to success for not only cricketers but other professionals also.
Ravindra Nath Sharma, USA
Great insight into the mind of Kumble from the author. Kumble is a great choice as captain once Dravid decided to hang up his captaincy boots. While his captaincy in the recently concluded series against Pakistan was top class, it was not a real test given the flat pitches and lacklustre opposition. Remains to be seen how he fares against the mighty Aussies in their own backyard who surely are going to test both the Indian batsman and bowlers. Also, should Saurav Ganguly fail against the Aussie pace battery, will Kumble summon the leadership required to drop him, or will he succumb to political pressures? Finally, I feel Kumble should curb his anger and frustration against team mates on the field especially during a mis-field as mistakes can happen, and an in-your-face outburst could easily demoralise and humiliate the fielder in question, putting a lot of pressure on him.
Chellury R Sastry, USA
Excellent article. All the best to Anil Kumble and Team India.
Sumant Bhalla, India, USA
A wonderful article to the biggest contributor to Indian Cricket. They day I saw that man walk back to the field with a bandage around his head I was convinced he should be the captain. A man who leads by example. But the fact that he is respected by the opponents- even Australians who usually play mind games with the captains- shows the kind of steel he is made from.
Australia is in for a surprise. None of their on the field and off the field intimidation is going to work against Anil Kumble. I am predicting this series will be lifted by India. Bye, bye Australia.
Umang Shah, USA
Anil Kumble has been a consistent wicket taker for India for a long time. We have seen him as a good bowler and a good member of the team. It is too early to predict whether he will turn out to be a good captain. There is not too much any captain can do, when his fellow players are failing in their roles. But when they are in form, a captain should set a good example of being impartial and non political. A captain should keep his cool all the time. Especially when playing Australia or South Africa. Anil has been given the litmus test, being made the captain against the strongest team in the world.
< i>Nagaraja Rao, Canada
Anil will prove that bowler can do job under pressure even he is captain. Good luck Anil.
Anil Rajyaguru, United Kingdom
I agree to the fact that Kumble is the best leg spinner India has and will probably be for a long time. As far as his leadership it is too early to predict the outcome. The Pakistani team we faced was not at it's full potential they were missing a few of their key figures the results could have been different. The upcoming Australian tour will be a true test not only for Kumble but for the whole Indian Team. They have a psychological advantage over us and can break our recently gained confidence. We have to adopt the Aussie policy of fearless cricket from each and every player in our team.
Ashok Patel, USA
A very interesting read. Wholly agree that with the statement that bowlers are not given their due in Indian cricket and as a result of this we seem to produce many great batsmen but very few high calibre bowlers. After Kapil Dev there has not been a bowler who has captured the nation's imagination. Unless we Indians start to give due credit to bowlers starting at the school and zone levels, we will always struggle on bowler friendly pitches such as the ones in Australia, England and South Africa.
Thomas Joy, Washington, USA
A captain can only guide the team. If this Indian team don't deliver in Australia, Kumble would leave with a huge disappointment.
Madhu Shankar, USA
Dhoni would do a better job than Kumble in Australia. It is difficult to understand why Dhoni who is very successful one day captain will not be able to handle the Test matches. The Australian captain Ponting does a good job in all forms of the game. My prediction is India will go for a draw in every match and lose 0-4.
I never admired Kumble as an athlete. I always thought apart from his bowling, fielding and batting are below par. I never thought he had flexibility of an athlete. But he has proven innumerable times how capitalising on your strengths and a fighting spirit takes you places. Just shows how mental strength can overcome physical limitations.
There isn't enough data to make a comment on Kumble's captaincy. We are using Kumble's qualities as a person, competitor, and making a captaincy assessment. We all know it doesn't quite work that way. Dravid is a classic example. India's win over Pakistan was very uninspiring, test cricket at it's worst reminding me of old days of drawn, lacklustre test matches. Indian batsman made tons of runs, against a team without it's top three bowlers, on dead pitches. I think we will get a rude wake-up call in Australia, and I fear Kumble would be the scapegoat.
It's not totally about Kumble. Yes, Kumble can make some difference to the team by his attitude and determination, but still one has to play good cricket to win. There needs to be an underlying talent to enforce/instil these attitudes and succeed. I feel that the Indian batsmen match up or sometimes better than Australian batsmen, but the Indian Bowlers don't have it in them. Bowling is going to cost us the series. Prediction: Australia 3:0
Neel Nagarajan, USA
Being originally from Pakistan it pains me to say this but I always felt India on most occasions have been more talented that Pakistan. But like most Pakistani teams they do not play as a team. I always felt Kumble is a no nonsense guy. I think he will be a wonderful captain and one will see India fight more than what we are used to seeing. Only tragedy is it took him this long to get to this position. In my opinion he should have gotten this in the place of Dravid. But I suppose better late than never.
Faiz Hanif, USA
One of the very best articles I have read about describing a sporting personality. I have bookmarked this article!
To add on to your article, I also believe, any personality will command respect by his actions ON/OFF the field! Anil surely does, and we are happy to see him carrying the nations weight on his broad shoulders. I think it's going to be a tough series, I am really hoping the team give their 100% and its going to be a worthy watch. Good luck to Team India!
Harsha M Gowda, USA
An intelligent write-up about the qualities that Kumble brings to the captaincy. Whilst there was a case for allowing Dhoni to take the captaincy for all forms of Indian internationals, I am convinced after reading Rohit's article that the selectors have done the right thing !!
It is indeed a shame that Kumble was not given the mantle long back -India's record could have been much, much more better. Also, even now he is good for the one-day version, but its sad that he had to retire from that form of the game because of the bad treatment that was meted out to him by the authorities that be. A valuable and an important asset has been treated shabbily all along.
Vinod Sandanasamy, Florida, USA
Kumble along with Tendulkar is a national treasure for India, but unlike the latter, largely unsung.
Raj Dee, UK
I agree completely with the article. Kumble is from my home city of Bangalore and one of my cousins was at Uni with him. He has been dedicated, disciplined and determined right from then.
Naga Venkatesh, India, UK
A wonderful and timely article on India's most unsung heroes of all time. What I liked in Rohit's article is his sense of balance and calmness, just like Anil Kumble. Here we have a yeoman with a steely grit and a core as sturdy and truthful as a thousand year old South Indian temple in Belur, and all we have done for 17 long years is to neglect it. Rohit has justly summed up saying that Anil Kumble's life is his mission, vision and gift to the generation of sportsmen and sports lovers in India.
I agree to the fact that Kumble is one of the best and finest players to have played cricket for India. But, sadly I feel that he should have been given the captaincy long time back, especially before giving it to Dravid because Kumble had always been considered in high regards among his team mates because of his professionalism and fighter attitude. Well as the saying goes "better late than never", I believe that Kumble and his men will be successful this time around when they take the field against the Aussies down under.