Newsmaker: Rift wide open

Tags: Newsmakers, News
If one sees the teams that he was a part of during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Anil Kumble will not feature in the top bracket going sheerly by talent. He wasn’t really the kind of bowler who gave batsmen sleepless nights before a match, simply because they knew what was coming from the lanky leg-spinner: An unerring tight line, minimal turn with the ball travelling quicker through the air and each delivery blended with relentless aggression. Though over time Kumble added more variety to his limited repertoire, it was his ability to back his core skills with unrelenting consistency that made him an indisputable great and the most successful bowler in India’s Test history.

However, when it came to stardom and charisma, the Karnataka cricketer always played a catching game with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag, among others. Yet, in a long and often downplayed career, Kumble has claimed almost every Indian bowling record.

More than being an ideal sportsman, it was his sheer dedication that set Kumble apart. Be it bowling long spells in unfavourable conditions or taking a rearguard action with the bat, Kumble was the man for all seasons. And not to forget his extraordinary capacity to bear pain, as was proved in the fourth Test against the West Indies at Antigua in 2002 when he bowled a 14-over spell with a fractured jaw, taking the prized wicket of Brian Lara.

It was because of all these attributes that cricket lovers rejoiced when Kumble was appointed the head coach of India in June 2016. Not just because he was a great player, which he was without a doubt, but because of his complete dedication to the cause of Indian cricket, backed by innovative thinking, hard work ethics and a balanced head to take care of it all.

But just when everything seemed to be going right, Virat Kohli forced Kumble to quit! Not because Kumble had a poor track record. India played 17 Tests last season, winning 12 (2-0 vs West Indies, away; 3-0 vs New Zealand, home; 4-0 vs England, home, 1-0 vs Bangladesh, home; 2-1 vs Australia, home), losing one and drawing four. India also performed well in ODIs, defeating New Zealand and England in the one-day series.

Neither did Kumble leak dressing room secrets or try to create rift between teammates. Unlike one of his famous predecessors, Kumble never put any player’s place in the squad in jeopardy. Simply put, he had to go because the skipper didn’t like his style of coaching. It was a clear case of clash of egos, and as happens in most cases, the captain had the last laugh, albeit at the cost of Indian cricket.

Kumble, 46, had just helped India reach the final of the Champions Trophy, where it lost to archrivals Pakistan. Though his yearlong contract expired at the end of the Champions Trophy, he was expected to continue as the Indian team headed to the West Indies for a limited over tour. Kumble himself had reapplied for the coach’s job, besides accepting the offer from the Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC), comprising Tendulkar, Ganguly and VVS Laxman, to continue till the end of the Caribbean series.

However, things turned nasty after Kohli met the CAC members following the Champions Trophy final and expressed his reluctance to take forward the partnership with Kumble.

A man of Kumble’s stature had every reason to feel let down and he minced no words in the statement he released after making his decision to step down public. “I was informed for the first time yesterday by the BCCI that the Captain had reservations with my ‘style’ and about my continuing as the Head Coach. I was surprised since I had always respected the role boundaries between Captain and Coach. Though the BCCI attempted to resolve the misunderstandings between the Captain and me, it was apparent that the partnership was untenable, and I therefore believe it is best for me to move on,” Kumble said, revealing the rift with Kohli, who had denied any discord with the coach prior to the beginning of the Champions Trophy.

The tiff between Kumble and Kohli allegedly centred around the former’s image of being a hard taskmaster and strict disciplinarian, who continuously pushed the players.

Right from his playing days, Kumble showed zero tolerance for any sort of nonsense. He worked hard to be at the top of his game and expected everyone around him to do the same. As a cricketer, Kumble always put the team first. Even at the time of his retirement during the home series against Australia in 2008, Kumble didn’t hesitate to step down with one Test still left in the rubber, simply because he didn’t want to carry on with an injured finger. “I had already decided to leave after this series, but decided to quit once I realised I won’t be 100 per cent for the Nagpur (fourth) Test,” he had said. For Kumble, being 100 per cent fit for the team’s cause mattered the most, even after a enjoying a highly successful career spanning over 18 years. Also, he was never intimidated by star power. He didn’t have any reason to be, simply because he won more matches for India than any of his fancied counterparts.

And as a coach, he only tried to introduce the same values to a new bunch of cricketers. It paid off too with India climbing to the top of the ICC Test rankings during his stint as the head coach. But unfortunately, Kumble had to go because world cricket’s newest superstar didn’t like his methods. His resignation undermines the role of the CAC, which failed to convince Kohli to change his stand. It is the same committee that appointed Kumble last year, besides backing him to continue with his job. It also questions the role of the all-powerful BCCI in keeping the ego of the players in check.

The unfortunate saga that unfolded over the past week once again brings back the parting words of historian Ramachandra Guha, one of the four members of the Supreme Court appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) to run the BCCI, who quit the panel on June 1 citing personal reasons. “And surely giving senior players the impression that they may have a veto power over the coach is another example of superstar culture gone berserk?” Guha wrote.

It is high time Indian cricket gets rid of this superstar culture in order to honour its real superstars.

aritramukhopadhyay@mydigitalfc.com

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