Contributed by CWO
A couple of years ago, I came across an article about a corporate business man and his leadership skills. Although I do not remember the article’s name or the person who was quoted in it, a certain aspect of that article stays with me even today. The six qualities that he listed as imperative to define a good leader were:
- A deep understanding of the business
- Willingness to admit a mistake
- The ability to listen
Let us set our sights on Anil Kumble and see how he measures up against the above criteria. His is a hard gig. After all, he has, as Team India’s Test Captain, one of the most challenging assignments in International cricket! Anil Kumble started his career seventeen years ago, at the age of twenty. He has played under five captains; including Sourav Ganguly — India’s most triumphant Test captain. After seventeen years in the game, at the ripe age of thirty-six, Anil Kumble became India’s 30th Test captain in Team India’s 76-year history of playing Test cricket.
Anil Kumble always had integrity, but he had to prove this under the pressures of leading. Being the captain of India brings more pressure than any other Test cricketing nation. The watchful eye of one billion passionate fans dissects every decision made, scrutinises every loss, and rewards every achievement. Indian cricket fans are among the most — if not the most passionate fans in the world. The perfect opportunity for Anil Kumble to show his integrity came after the second Test at Sydney against Australia in 2008 where India suffered a very controversial loss in a Test that was boiling over with controversy. It was Anil Kumble’s second Test series as a captain, and perhaps his hardest Test. It was up to him to decide what route to take: whether defend his player, his country, his loss; whether to demonstrate restrained integrity or petulant anger. Anil Kumble epitomized the definition of integrity when he revealed his apology to Ricky Ponting over the Harbhajan Singh controversy. He even pointed out that Australia had not played that Test in the right spirit, and addressed the umpiring controversy. He said what had to be said without offending his hosts. He made up his differences with Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting; and withdrew charges against Brad Hogg.
A deep understanding of the business
Does Anil Kumble have a deep understanding of the business? Of course he does. He has played in over one hundred Test matches, and based on his experience, he quickly embraced the Team India Test captaincy. He won the first Test series he captained against Pakistan. He then went on to achieve a phenomenal victory against Australia in India’s 3rd Test against the Australians at Perth. In doing so, he had conquered the lion in its own den! He also denied Australia a new record in the number of consecutive Test wins. He also helped redeem India’s honour. Anil Kumble has shown a great understanding of Test cricket.
This is the reason why many Test captains fail. They tend to lose the consistency of their own performances when they become captain! Partly, this could be ascribed to them caving under pressure. Partly, this is justifed by the distractions that one has when one is a player as well as captain. Unlike a soccer captain, say, a cricket captain makes many on-field tactical decisions and the focus on this can often take consistency away from their own game. However, Anil Kumble has not caved. In fact, he has done quite the opposite. Since becoming captain, he has taken 46 wickets in 11 matches. He has been India’s lead wicket taker as well as a match winner. For years, many an Indian victory has resulted from great performances by Anil Kumble. Since becoming captain he has not disappointed. Anil Kumble is as consistent as ever.
Willingness to admit a mistake
Anil Kumble has always made it a point, since his reign of captaincy started, to take the blame and admit his mistakes. He berated himself for his poor performance in the first Test against Sri Lanka where he went without a wicket. He showed this in his post game interview where he blamed himself by saying, “I take it [my lack of form], but we all tried hard”, and supported the efforts of India.
The ability to listen
There is no greater example of his ability to listen than when India played Australia for the Border-Gavasker Trophy. It was the third Test at Perth. Ishant Sharma was at the conclusion of a huge spell where he had bowled seven overs on the trot on a hot and sticky day! He was bowling a terrific spell and had Ricky Ponting in all sorts of trouble. Anil Kumble was about to take him off. Just then, Virender Sehwag talked to Anil Kumble and suggested that he allow Ishant Sharma bowl another over. Anil Kumble was receptive to the suggestion and let Ishant Sharma bowl another over. Ishant Sharma did not miss the opportunity! He dismissed Ricky Ponting in that over.
So far we have seen every quality of a leader encompassed in Anil Kumble. The final and the most important quality, perhaps, is decisiveness. Has Anil Kumble been decisive, and has he shown us that he can win games with smart decisions on-and-off the field? It may be a little early in his captaincy-career to decide if he has made many correct decisions or not, but his Test match results so far show us that he has indeed made many correct decisions. His decisions have led him to one series win, one series loss, and one series drawn.
When Rahul Dravid resigned, after taking the Indian Test team to new heights, the leadership responsibility was placed on the shoulders of Anil Kumble. According to many experts and media outlets, Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the leading candidate at that stage. However, it boiled down to a decision around what was best for Indian cricket; especially for Test cricket. While M. S. Dhoni has had a lot of success in other forms of cricket as a captain, when it came to Test cricket, Anil Kumble was always the perfect man for the job.