The Indomitable Kumble

kumble.jpgThe Indian Cricket team has always been known for their batting prowess. Very rarely do the headlines read anything else other than a glowing report of the latest knock by one of the big four or another sterling performance by the middle order. And on rarer occasions do they laud a bowler. The occasions that they do it is usually one bowler who gets all the credit (and deservedly so) – a man called Anil Kumble. Usually forgotten by the media and the selectors when issues concerning cricket came to the limelight or any major decisions that had to be made. Till recently. Till they decided to make him captain. And boy oh boy, what a decision that was!

More…As far as one can remember the post of the Indian captain has usually been dominated by batsmen. The last successful bowler-cum-captain was Kapil Dev and he too, was more of an all rounder. The decision to make Kumble captain no doubt would have shocked many a pundit but it is the right decision and a long overdue one at that. And ironically all this stems from the decision by fellow Karnataka cricketer and friend Rahul Dravid’s decision to give up the reins. The BCCI apparently considered all the alternatives before appointing the captain. And for me there could be no better decision. For Anil Kumble, this is indeed a long overdue. As he himself says he had given up all hopes of leading his beloved team. And yet when the time has come he has proved to be quite adept and more than capable of handing the job. The recently concluded series against Pakistan (a rare and much needed victory) proves this statement. A richly deserved victory where the captain led from the front. Something that the Indian captains are not known particularly for. Save a 175 from Kapil Dev or yet another stand out century by Rahul Dravid to avoid a follow on, the captaincy aspect seems to affect the attributes of the players adversely. Even the Bengal tiger – by far the most successful captain of all times for India – hardly ever had to contribute or did. It was his leadership qualities that inspired the team to their numerous triumphs – not his contributions with the willow. And yet Anil Kumble has proved that he is the man for the job and not just temporarily. The 1st day’s play yesterday at the MCG just shows his talent and ability to lead from the front and inspire his team. At a time when the Aussies were ready to run away with the game he stepped in and did what he does best – ignore everything else and just focus on the situation. One where he needed a breakthrough desperately. And he was ready to bowl his heart out as usual till he affected one. As it happened all it required was his favourite delivery. It did the trick but he didn’t stop there. He went on to grab another four for himself on a pitch that offered very little to the bowlers. And in the process bundle the Aussies out for a respectable total. A champion performance from a true champion.

Kumble is one of the few Indian cricketers who is respected and feared worldwide. Even Ricky Pointing and Matthew Hayden have paid tribute to his never-say-die attitude. It is not just this attitude but his focus and commitment to the game which is worth appreciating. One does not need reminders of him bowling with a heavily bandaged jaw in West Indies or his tireless spells on batsmen friendly pitches. Even with all odds against the Indian bowlers, Kumble has never called it quits. He is seen begging for the ball even when the opposition is well and truly on top. One of the youngsters once described him as the great old oak of Indian cricket. He’s been there and done that. For a spin bowler who cannot turn the ball, Kumble is the third highest wicket taker in the world. A fact that speaks volumes about his ability to keep nagging away at the batsman tirelessly at a particular line and length before bowling the googly or the wrong ‘un. He was the only batsman in the recently concluded England series to have scored a century – and that too at the prestigious Oval cricket ground. His batting has never been his forte but his mindset and his willingness to fight till the end has helped build his reputation. Soft spoken he maybe but there is no doubt about the aggression and the focus that he projects. Ask the various teams that have tried to subdue and overcome him by their various strategies. Or alternatively ask the statisticians. Either way the facts don’t lie. Anil Kumble is more than ready to lead us. And he is much more than capable to do so. Here’s to the smiling assassin leading us to a victory over the World champions. If anybody can he can.

Budhaditya Banerjee