Anil Kumble doesn’t come across as someone obsessed with selfies. It wouldn’t furnish him with as much satisfaction as those framed with his chunky SLR. But had selfies been a rage in 2002, he wouldn’t have minded taking one of his bandaged visage in Antigua. That was perhaps the only picture he would have regretted he couldn’t click on his own.
You now the story quite well and more so the picture. It was perhaps the photograph that fully nourished the stereotype of Kumble: one who always wore his heart on the sleeve, selfless and indefatigable.
In his exhaustive career, he has toured these islands four times — thrice for full-fledged series and once for the World Cup in 2007. Back home in his personal collection, he could have a pile of albums that have fully soaked the colour and spirit of these vibrant islands. There must also be some snapshots deeply entrenched in the lens of his mind. Revisiting these venues might have brought back a deluge of memories, both heart-warming and mind-splitting.
In his first trip as coach, nine years after he last played in the Caribbean, there was a congruity to where he began and ended the series. It fittingly began in Antigua and ended in Port of Spain, where he played his last limited-over game in the ill-fated World Cup. The pictures he had taken on the latter occasion might have had a grim, grey texture to it. Something he or his batchmates wouldn’t want to revisit again. But this time, his camera would have absorbed happier pictures, of the skipper with the trophy aloft and his spiritual understudy Ravichandran Ashwin smiling proudly with the Man-of-the-Series plaque, the team posing cheerily after the presentation. He will return home with with the satisfaction of overseeing the team win their first series under him without much ado or fuss. The hosts haven’t mounted a serious challenge, but he knows how unkind these shores have been to past coaches of his country.
His own prototype
It’s as presumptuous as premature to form a full picture of Kumble the coach and his ways based on just one series, and he shouldn’t be assessed in light with his predecessors. Kumble is his own prototype, has his own means and methods, his own individuality and ethics, though he has inculcated into his style the finer aspects of the coaches he has worked with. You could spot elements of John Wright, his unassuming, brotherly approach. From his successful methods he had gleaned out the buddy programme and team integration exercises. Like Gary Kirsten, he is approachable for any player and has a hands-on approach . At the same time, he is as intense and no-nonsensical as Greg Chappell. Like the Australian, he had made it clear that there’s no place for slothful minds and lazy bodies. The 50-dollar fine for latecomers to the team bus was just an example.
Prior to the series, Kumble was more like a corporate manager, taking his wards for team-bonding gigs, like the drumming session in Bengaluru. Then to unwind them before the series, he took them to snorkelling and scuba diving. Here he was more like a mentor, helping them out technically and mentally. In every net session, you could spot players waiting to pick his brains, to imbue tips from his experience garnered over nearly two decades of top-flight cricket. Kumble would take each of them to his side and listen to them patiently.
Unsurprisingly, bowlers flock around him more often than batsmen. For instance Amit Mishra. In every session, you could seem Kumble spending considerable time with him, demonstrating him where to bowl and which lengths to pursue.
It’s not large-scale technical tinkering that they worked on, but minute aspects of the game. Says Mishra, “He keeps telling me that different aspects of batting and bowling, how to bowl to tail-enders and while batting in the lower order how to bring about more confidence in your own batting. So all the experience he has helps in little things. Like if wickets are slow, vary your pace and small but important things like that.”
Evidently, there is a sudden verve and roundedness about India’s bowlers.
Kumble lends a patient ear to the batsmen as well. He ensures that batsmen who are dropped for a certain game, whether it be due to loss of form or a tactical change, don’t lose their confidence. Says Pujara, “He has been very positive with the way I have batted in the past and contributions I have made. And he said he is very happy with the way I have been batting.” For someone like Pujara who is doubt-ridden and unsure of his certainty in this side, those words were soothing.
Kumble’s own perception of coaching is simple and practical. “As a coach, all you want is to prepare them to the best of your ability and all areas are covered, skill-wise, fitness-wise, strategy-wise and prepare them so that they are able to go out there and assess any situation on their own,” he had remarked before the tour.
While Kumble has to pass bigger tests to fully establish his coaching credentials, in his first series as coach he has propagated the same values of intensity, selflessness, meritocracy and level-headedness as he had in his playing days. And as Kumble era has well and truly rolled on, his chunky SLR will be clicking away snapshots for posterity. The postcards from the Caribbean were picture perfect.