If you ran a tag cloud on all the news and opinions related to Anil Kumble’s appointment as India’s coach, “transparent process” and “professionalism” would be among the disproportionately large ones distracting your eye from everything else. Most former cricketers have welcomed the appointment, though nobody seems to be able to put a finger as to why they feel so. The official line from BCCI President Anurag Thakur has been about Kumble’s “match-winning record” over the years. The next one year of association with the Indian cricket team will not have him bowl leg spin, and hence that explanation seems bewildering, more than explanatory.
Quite expectedly, and as it should be, there has been criticism about choosing a coaching rookie over far more experienced applicants, and parallels have been drawn to Kapil Dev’s short, largely unsuccessful stint in the late ’90s. It is a dilemma that reflects in the BCCI’s decision to keep the contract’s length to just one year, setting expectations straight right away. Ajay Shirke, softspoken for someone at the higher echelons of the BCCI, has perhaps come closest to summing it up.
“This is a professional appointment and that is the reason we want to be in a position to review our decision. But I hope that we won’t need to do that”
Despite the risk that comes with reading too much into such statements, there is more than an element of truth and logic to this. The days of Ajit Wadekar, Madan Lal and Kapil Dev coaching the Indian side are about as far removed from today’s game as machine learning or artificial intelligence are from the days of typewriters and Morse codes. Today’s head coach is an assimilation and decision making hub of sorts, with support staff for every aspect of the game ready at hand – biomechanics experts, specialist coaches for batting, bowling, fielding (why, even throwdowns), dieticians, sports psychologists – the list can go on. It is a role that requires man management, apart from having to know what to ask of a trusted team of advisors who will take over the bulk of the “specialist’s” responsibilities.
Kumble has been the Chairman of the ICC’s Cricket Committee since 2012, is a former chairman of the BCCI’s Technical Committee and the National Cricket Academy, has headed his home association KSCA, apart from mentoring two different IPL teams. It is a strong CV by any measure, one that speaks highly of his knowledge of the game and managerial repertoire, skills that are essential for the head coach of a national team. If, as has been widely reported, Kumble has been carrying on his laptop a comprehensive plan for Indian cricket for the past two years, it is a decision that becomes even harder to argue against, and citing his lack of formal coaching experience and certification is more a quibble than a deal-breaker.
While Ravi Shastri, Kumble’s competitor for the job till the very end, has not done much wrong over his 18 months as Team Director of this Indian side, and has shared his disappointment in his characteristic firebrand manner to the media, he will see why, even on paper, Kumble’s diverse credentials would have tilted the scales in his favor. India play a large part of their games over the next year at home, and it is an opportunity for their spinners – R Ashwin in particular – to take their game a few notches up, under Kumble’s watch. It is just one among the many prospects to look forward to, for this generation and the one after this, as two close mates from Karnataka – Kumble and U-19/India A Coach Rahul Dravid – take charge once again.