Anil Kumble had an illustrious career as a player and he would surely hope to replicate as a coach. The legendary cricketer has a mixed start to his coaching career. After defeating West Indies by 2-0 in the four-match Test series, his team lost to the same opposition by 1-0 in the T20I series. With India scheduled to play 13 matches at home this season, it can make or break season for Kumble.
The highest wicket-taker in Test recently spoke to Cricbuzz on various topics.
On his first coaching assignment:
It was fruitful. I was welcomed by the team. Having played and mentored a few of them in various capacities in different franchises in the IPL, I mostly knew all of them personally too.
A couple of them, people like Ishant, I had played with (for India). I guess initially with some of the players there was a little bit of hesitancy. That’s why we created the drum jam session which they obviously didn’t expect.
The two weeks prior to the first Test match in Antigua, when we were in St Kitts, helped me know the team better and understand their requirements. It also allowed me to settle in gradually. In the West Indies, it is relaxed after games. So it is a lot easier to bond and be together as a team, unlike in England, Australia or South Africa or at home, where it is very difficult to get out and be together as a team. So, in that way, I think West Indies was the perfect start.
On the biggest takeaway from the West Indies series:
The biggest takeaway for me was that I realized this team is extremely committed. They are all extremely skilful and what was really impressive was that when asked to do anything, they were ready. There are times when key players miss out and disappointments are a part and parcel of a team sport. But it was all taken in good spirit. The players are all great friends off the field, which is really nice to know. The camaraderie in this side is something I am really impressed with.
On whether he is inspired by any coach:
There have been many coaches I have played under. Someone who probably was there the longest was John Wright. John was someone who did some of these things that I am talking about now, and as someone who was in the background.
The coach’s role is always that – the captain is the boss. We try and help the captain by giving him inputs that are needed so he makes a decision based on that, or whatever he feels at that point in time.
At the end of the day, the last word is with the captain and that goes without saying. Even when I was captain, I expected that the coach was just in the background and he didn’t force his decisions on me. And that’s exactly how it is even now – the captain takes the call.
On how the decisions like leaving out a big player work:
It’s a decision that we take. Obviously, the coach is responsible for having a chat with the players. Only 11 can play, there are disappointments and you feel that disappointment when you tell them. It is never easy. Selection is probably the toughest for a coach or a captain, for that matter. When you picked your 11, how do you tell your 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 that sorry, you guys are not playing and what is the reasoning? So it is quite a challenge. But I think this team understands that and my role was to ensure that things were smooth. It was pretty easy for me to try and smoothen things out. I think this team certainly understands, and the results have been good. It’s not easy for an individual player to miss out, especially someone who is established, but the circumstances were such that, we had to make that decision.
On whether he handles the successful players and the players who are under scrutiny differently:
We try and leave the outside pressures out. That’s something which obviously is the key. As far as the team is concerned, the one message that I like to give the players is that nobody is under any scrutiny from the team’s perspective. From a coach’s perspective, all of them are the same. There are specific roles given to specific players and as long as they perform the roles to the team’s satisfaction, I am happy.
If the scrutiny from outside is that oh, this particular player is not really doing the things that is perceived to be done, we don’t really worry about it. My feeling is that is you can’t have all 11 players the same. You need different players and different characteristics in them for us to be consistent in any situation. And that’s what all the players bring to the table.
That’s why you have a (Cheteshwar) Pujara, you have a Rohit (Sharma). I know it’s not fair, the kind of scrutiny especially these two players go through whenever they get an opportunity. So one thing is for sure, whoever gets an opportunity will certainly be given a longer run so that these pressures are not at least coming from the team.
On handling two captains:
The first official interaction or the first coach-captain scenario with MS was supposed to be in October, but it got fast-tracked to Florida. It was only for five days. But MS has been the captain for the longest period in Indian cricket. He was brilliant. He obviously knows captaincy better than anybody else in terms of what the team requires. Having played with MS and knowing him really well, I don’t think him coming in as captain for the limited-overs internationals will be an issue at all.
On being under so much attention:
I understand there is a lot of attention because of the stature and what I have been able to do as a player. That’s the first thing I told the team.
I said, ‘Look, forget about what I have done as a player. Yes, it is there, but now I am the coach and I am like an elder brother to all of you. It’s just that I have the experience and the wisdom, hopefully, of doing the right things or the wrong things over the last 18 years and that’s something that you guys can just come in and ask.That I will share as we go along, based on what we require on the field and off the field.’
I know everybody else looks at it very differently but I certainly look at it that way. And with the players, it is going to take some time for them to look at it that way as well.
On whether his big stature as a player has made the players afraid or respectful:
No, no, no, I think they are respectful. I don’t think they are afraid of me (laughs)! Probably they were afraid of me when I was playing, but not now! That’s the first thing I told Virat as well.I said ‘Virat, I know you have seen me as the captain of RCB and here you won’t get any stares, don’t worry!’ So, yes, they are respectful of what I have been able to achieve but I don’t think they are scared or anything.
But obviously, attaining that (level of) comfort will take some time. That’s me, it will take some time for everyone to get comfortable with me.
On having a good bench strength as India is scheduled to play 13 Test matches:
Back-to-back 13 Test matches with about 3-4 days’ gap – and even in that three days’ gap, one day of travel. So it is going to be a challenge. We were conscious of that even in the West Indies.
If you looked at the way we trained and gave people time off, it was keeping all this in mind. That’s one of the reasons why even now, after we have come back, there will be a few players who will miss out on playing in the Duleep Trophy.
It is crucial that the squad remains physically fit and goes through those 13 games. It is going to be crucial how we plan our practice and workloads. It will be important that we keep everyone fit.Fitness-wise, this team is certainly up there with any international team, so that’s a good thing. They are all aware of the importance of fitness, rest, and diet and the captain obviously, leads from the front.
At home, pitches are all set to garner attention once again:
I don’t think it has ever changed. When I was captain, the first question in a media conference when we played in India was, ‘What do you think of the pitch?’ That question has never changed. But from my point and the team’s point of view, I am more concerned about what kind of cricket we play on that pitch rather than what the pitch will do.
We need to focus on the kind of cricket that we want to play and that’s something that has been really impressive over the last so many years. I think the Indian media certainly scrutinizes the pitch more than any other media.
If you want to play consistent cricket, be the No. 1 team and consistently win matches, pitches shouldn’t be a bother. I just want to be focused on what we do on the surface rather than the surface itself.
On his first long tour in many years:
It’s been a challenge, probably the longest that I have been outside without the family – two months- since the 2008 Sri Lanka tour. I think the kids anyway have understood now. The first question is, ‘When are you leaving?’ I have told them and they are aware. This year, it is only going to be at home. So hopefully weekends or whenever they can, they can come over. They are coping. It’s not easy but it has been okay.
It was quite difficult (for me). But the good part was I was in an environment where I always want to be – a cricketing environment, the dressing room and to be among the current crop of players. You can’t ask for anything more.
On Virat Kohli:
The last time I saw Virat closely, working on his cricket, being a part of the squad, was with RCB in 2012. From 2012 to 2016, there is a massive difference. All the difference and change has been for the good. He’s extremely professional in the way he goes about his game.
I have not seen anyone this professional in terms of looking after his fitness, preparations and work ethic. He probably realized that to be a part of the international set-up and to perform consistently, one needs to be like that, and he has done that. We can see all the good and hard work that he has put in has shown on the field. It clearly shows that he wants to be the best and he leads from the front.
His intensity is really good. He wants to win all the matches and that goes with everybody in the team. Virat obviously shows it as well on the field. His intensity and aggression is something that I would like to ask him to continue. He was brilliant on the tour. Obviously, we were disappointed after the Jamaica Test match, we lost out on time and also we felt that we were in a great position to win the Test match.
But immediately we learnt from that and in St. Lucia, when there was hardly any time to pick up 20 wickets, we managed to do that. That’s a credit to him and the team.The team responded brilliantly and he also showed as a captain that he had to be different. He is a quick learner and backs himself to execute.
On KL Rahul:
I think Rahul has been brilliant. In the West Indies, he came in as a replacement for Vijay and seized that opportunity. He played really well in the practice games. In his short career, he has shown that he can score hundreds in Australia, Sri Lanka, West Indies and what was really heartening was that he could adapt to T20 and score a hundred.
It goes to show that he has the game and he also has the mind to adjust and make those adjustments at this young age. It really augurs well for Indian cricket that this young kid has come in and established himself. He has adapted to what the team requires. He is very young, he will only learn more and get better from here.
On Ravichandran Ashwin:
Ashwin has always shown what he is capable of. In the West Indies, there was a conscious decision from the management to push him up the (batting) order. The thinking was that with him batting at No. 6, especially when we played five bowlers, Saha gets relieved of feeling the pressure that he is the last recognized batsman.
Ashwin has shown he is capable of batting higher up in Test cricket. Credit to him, he grabbed it by scoring two hundreds in the Test matches. He is a fantastic all-rounder.
You can’t ask for a better all-rounder in the team. He gets hundreds, then picks up five-fors and wins you matches. He has been brilliant and I think this home season, you would want him to play all those 13 Tests and pick up lots of wickets, because he is a crucial member of the team.