Daily Archives: 4 November 2008

Anil Kumble: A legend of our times…

When Anil Kumble announced his retirement from all forms of cricket — that’s right, not just cricket, but from all forms of cricket — I was immediately reminded of Adam Gilchrist’s shock retirement during the Adelaide Test match against India. There was a parallel of sorts in the retirements of these two contemporary greats of modern cricket. Adam Gilchrist had, earlier, indicated that the tense Sydney Test was what prompted his retirement thoughts. Anil Kumble too indicated that the tour of Australia, and particularly the Sydney Test match, was what prompted him to think about the rigours of playing mentally and physically tough cricket constantly. Already, the fractious Sydney Test match had claimed its first victim in Andrew Symonds who was disenchanted with the circus that surrounded the game; the circus that emanated (in my view) from the actions that he must claim some responsibility for. Now, that Sydney Test had claimed its third victim in Anil Kumble!

However, it was that Sydney Test that defined for me one of the most dignified players of our generation. Through the morass of Sydney, he alone stood tall, with poise, empathy, alacrity, simplicity and integrity.

In the words of Harsha Bhogle: “In course of time, like with the legends, we will remember Kumble by his numbers. They are extraordinary but the picture they paint is beautiful and incomplete. They will not tell you of the dignity with which he played the game, of the integrity he stood for and of the extraordinary respect he carried in the cricketing world; as a bowler but even more so, as a man.”

In reality, although the Anil Kumble retirement was coming and one sensed that it was around the corner, I thought Kumble would continue till after the two-Test series against England in December 2008. However, Kumble had other plans and got out of the road of Amit Mishra’s progress the moment he acquired a crushing injury to the little finger of his left hand. Anil Kumble felt that his body had taken a beating after 18 years — and a few shoulder operations. Moreover, he felt comfortable that he was handing over the spinners’ baton as well as the captaincy mantle to able soldiers.

Indeed, Kumble is probably leaving Indian cricket in a better shape today than it was when he took over the reigns as captain.

When Kumble took over the captaincy reign in 2007, Rahul Dravid had suddenly resigned. The tour of England left Dravid with few friends in (and little support from) the establishment. Rahul Dravid, the captain was disenchanted and disgruntled. The team had no coach and had to make do with Chandu Borde as “coach” on the tour of England. While the establishment wanted the decks cleared in the shorter versions of the game, the clarion calls for the retirement of the “Fab Five” were getting shriller. What was needed was a stabilising force and a cool head. The establishment was unwilling to risk Dhoni as the Test captain. Sachin Tendulkar, after showing some initial interest, had turned down the job. To give the captaincy to Sourav Ganguly would be a retrogressive step. The selectors turned to Anil Kumble. We at i3j3Cricket predicted the choice of Kumble as captain. It was a wise move especially since there were two important tours against Pakistan and Australia coming up.

In walked Anil Kumble.

A year later, the team has a more stable look to it.

India has a coach who prefers the obscurity of the last seat of the bus rather than the one closest to both the steering wheel as well as any microphone!

Harbhajan Singh has stepped up and accepted his role as the senior spinner in the game. Without anyone quite realising it, he stands on the cusp of getting his 300th wicket in Test cricket! And in Amit Mishra and Piyush Chawla, India has two reasonably good spinners. India also has Pragyan Ojha with his brand of left-arm spin. This time last year, there were a few question marks on India’s spin talent.

Although the fast bowling bench strength has sported a healthy look, it is only in the last year that we have seen the emergence of Ishant Sharma as an exciting talent on the world stage. Along with Zaheer Khan, the Indian fast bowling option sports a healthy look. It is quite likely that Ishant Sharma, with his flowing locks and exciting action, will be the most exciting pace bowler in the world today!

And with pace bowlers like Munaf Patel, R. P. Singh, Irfan Pathan, Sree Santh, Praveen Kumar, Manpreet Gony, Pankaj Singh, Siddharth Trivedi, Ashok Dinda and Pradeep Sangwan, India can boast of a healthy look to its fast bowling stable.

Batting has always been India’s strength. But it looks like there are players that are able and willing to step into the large shoes of the batting ‘Fab Four’ when they leave the world stage. Gautam Gambhir has made enormous strides in the last year under Dhoni and Kumble. In the middle-order, there are players like S. Badrinath, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh and Cheteshwar Pujara to look forward to a future when players like Sourav Ganguly (in five days’ time), Rahul Dravid (perhaps in a 9-months’ time from now), V. V. S. Laxman (perhaps in 18 months’ time from now) and Sachin Tendulkar (perhaps in 36 months from now) leave the arena.

And finally, we have a captain-in-waiting who is able, young, lively, energetic and hungry for success.

We are witnessing the start of the end of an era in Indian cricket. But there is a future that doesn’t quite look as bleak as it possibly did a year ago.

And Anil Kumble can claim some credit for this transformation. He is certainly leaving the place better than he found it.

It started with him developing a “vision” statement for Indian cricket. It is his blueprint that is being implemented today. He wanted to beat Australia in Australia and wanted to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. His efforts at beating Australia in Australia was achieved spectacularly at Perth with an against-all-odds victory. He may be successful in helping India regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy if India plays another five days of good cricket at Nagpur.

Before his first Test match as captain, he handed his “vision” document to his team. He had no coach like John Buchanan or Greg Chappell or Tom Moody or John Wright to craft it for him. It was his vision. It was simple and yet deep.

He wanted the his wards to “Play fearless cricket in a team where team goals come first.”

What’s more? He insisted that the BCCI percolate this “vision” to the Under-15 level.

Here was a cricketer who had the health and well-being of Indian cricket pumping in his every heart beat.

Who can ever forget his bowling spell in Antigua when he bowled 15 overs with a badly fractured jaw? Kumble had been struck on the jaw by Mervyn Dillon while batting. The jaw was splintered into position although a few teeth were moving!

Viv Richards, the West Indian batting legend, has surely seen many a brave deed on the cricket field. But that one event compelled Sir Viv Richards to say “It was one of the bravest things I have ever seen on a cricket field”! Kumble bowled his heart (and his jaw) out to strain for an Indian victory. It didn’t quite happen. He returned home to get the jaw fixed but not before saying, “At least I can now go home with the thought that I tried my best.”

And it was not just his cricket either.

He carried himself with dignity and humility. His words and actions after the Sydney Test match made the world sit up and take notice. He did not need to beat his chest. He did not need to thump tables. There were others that were doing enough of that. He got about his job quietly and impressively. He said what he had to with poise, alacrity and dignity. The world noticed and were dumbstruck by the severity as well as the simplicity of his message.

There is something about cricketers from Bangalore. Right from the times of the off-spinning gentle colossus Prasanna, who was once referred to by Ian Chappell as the best spinner he had ever faced, we have had players like Chandrashekar, Gundappa Vishwanath, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath, Rahul Dravid, Venkatesh Prasad, et al. The one word that captures all of these players is perhaps “dignity”. There is a certain lack of brashness and arrogance. There is a certain poise, humility and dignity about all of the players in that list. They are gentlemen first. Almost all of them are all well read. They are soft spoken (Robin Uthappa is a strange exception to this rule, I hasten to add). They go about their business in a quiet, compelling and committed manner. And yet, they leave their mark and their impact in a significant manner.

But in this of greats from Bangalore, none, in my view, will be greater than Anil Kumble. Like Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble depended on 3 D’s: “Determination, discipline, dedication”.

These are the qualities that made the MCC recruit Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid into its World Cricket Committee. The committee includes, Mike Atherton, Mike Brearley, Geoffrey Boycott, Martin Crowe, Tony Dodemaide, Rahul Dravid, Andy Flower, Mike Gatting, Majid Khan, Barry Richards, David Shepherd, Alec Stewart, Courtney Walsh and Steve Waugh.

To put things into perspective:

  • Anil Kumble played 132 Test matches (bowled 40850 balls), gave 18355 runs for his 619 wickets (at an average of 29.65 and a strike rate of 65.9).
  • Bishen Bedi played 67 Tests (bowled 21364 balls), gave 7637 runs for his 266 wickets (at 28.71 and at a strike rate of 80.3).
  • Chandrashekar played 58 Tests (bowled 15963 balls), gave 7199 runs for his 242 wickets (at 29.74 and a strike rate of 65.9). Interesting to note that Chandra’s strike rate and Kumble’s strike rate are identical!
  • Prasanna played 49 Tests (bowled 14353 balls), gave 5742 runs for his 189 wickets (at 30.38 and a strike rate of 75.9).
  • Kapil Dev, generally regarded India’s best bowlerr ever, played one less Test match than Anil Kumble for his 434 wickets! Kapil Dev played 131 Tests (bowled 27740) balls, gave away 12867 runs for his 434 wickets (at an average of 29.64 and strike rate of 63.9)

In other words, Kumble has bowled 4/5ths of the total number of balls bowled by the Prasanna-Bedi-Chandra spin trinity who bowled a total of 51680 balls, giving away a total of 20578 runs for their 697 wickets (at an average of 29.52). In other words, Kumble has taken almost as many wickets as India’s spin-trinity. Surely, that is the work load for a warrior!

Suresh Menon writes, “[Kumble] bowled India to more victories than the entire spin quartet of the 1970s, yet he was condemned to being defined by negatives. The pundits told us he did not spin the ball, that he did not have the classic legspinner’s loop, that he did not bowl slowly enough to get the ball to bite. Kumble was described by what he did not do rather than by what he did.”

Dileep Premachandran called it best, I thought, when he write, “After all was said and done and the match called off, he came back out to be chaired around the ground, part of the way on the shoulders of the man who will succeed him as captain. For someone who scaled the greatest heights, it was one of the very few occasions during the 18 years when his feet actually left the ground.”

Towards the end of his career though, Kumble did show his irritation with the media in India. In the face of stinging criticism after the two defeats in Sri Lanka and amidst the growing shrillness of the tone in the Indian media over the continued inclusion of the “Fab Five” in the Test team, Kumble lashed out at the unjustified criticism and, more particularly, the unjustified and uncharitable comments . He deplored the trend for sensationalism in the Indian media that led to wild speculation around the existence of a voluntary retirement scheme that was offered to the ‘seniors’ by the BCCI!

However, in the end, Kumble left the game on his own terms. He arrived fighting for a credible spot in the team. There were many that questioned his ability, his uncharacteristic action, his studiousness as well as his desire. He fought all of that to become a quiet warrior and a dignified champion.

He left on his own terms too and that, to me, was a complete picture.

In his retirement, one hopes that he will continue to serve Indian cricket as he did when he was a player. Indian cricket needs players like him: Players who have Indian cricket’s hopes and fortunes in their every heart beat. Players who have achieved a lot in their playing time. Players who created an impact. Players who left the game better than they found it. And more importantly, players who played the game with integrity and with dignity.

— Mohan

Positives and Negatives from the 3rd Test

At the end of each Test of this series, we scored positives and negatives from the Test just Match concluded. At the end of the 1st Test in Bangalore, we scored India just marginally ahead, with 13-12. Mohali was a match in which India-dominated everything and ended up 25-0.

After the conclusion of the 3rd Test, which ended in a draw, both Australia and India can take some positives. I’d like to think that Australia came out of the Test match with their noses in front… just! Both teams need to dwell on a few negatives too.

For each of the dimensions below, I distributed 5 points between the two teams.

The result: India 2.0, Australia 3.0

In my books, both teams came out even from this Test match. Unlike the 1st Test in Bangalore, where Australia may have won had it pressed on with greater urgency — particularly in the timing of the 2nd Innings declaration — there was nothing here in the Delhi pitch to suggest that a result would be possible even if the teams had played on for another day or two! However, after facing a huge mountain, Australia played exceedingly well to come within spitting distance — had to use that term as a tribute to Big Merv, who is there in India at the moment — of the Indian total! Not many teams would have been able to put up such a creditable backs-to-the-wall effort. Australia did, and full marks to them for having done so.

India played 1 bad days’ cricket in 10 days and that basically cost the team. If the Indian team had held its catches, it is remotely likely that India may have gone into the 4th Test 2-0 up! Instead the teams go to Nagpur with a draw sufficient for India to regain Border-Gavaskar Trophy (BGT). Australia needs to win to draw the series and to retain the BGT. Australia will need to make all the running at Nagpur.

India, however, can be satisfied in the continuance of a recent trend (albeit, bucked by the tour of Sri Lanka). Often, India’s famous wins have been immediately followed by an embarrassing loss. Adelaide 2003 and Johannesburg, December 2006 are painful examples. To erase this blot was an important step that India needed to make in order to make that move from being a good team to a very good team.

Consistent performance is what great teams, like Australia, are able to bring to the table. More recently, however, India has been putting in performances like The Oval, 2007 (although I still feel that India should have gone for a victory there) and Adelaide, 2008. And there are other recent examples. Although Colombo 2008 bucked this trend, I do feel that India is slowly turning the corner when it comes to consistency of performance pressure. From that point of view, a draw is something that India will take gladly out of the Kotla game.

A draw was, of course, a terrific result Australia. It keeps Australia in the series. But, unlike Bengaluru (where Australia won 14 of the 15 sessions of the Test match and still drew!), at Kotla, the SBS Score Card at the end of the game read 7.5-7.5! This was an even Test match.

Hence the 2-3 score to Australia on this dimension.

Overall bowling effort: India 3.5, Australia 1.5

I start this by noting that India is the only team that has taken 20 wickets in a Test in this series! At the Kotla, although neither team looked likely to take 20 wickets, only India made something happen with the ball. Even in the 2nd Innings it was more through batting laziness and batting sloppiness that Australia got the four Indian wickets (I am not counting Ishant Sharma’s night-watchman wicket here).

The Australian pacemen were bowling up-and-down stuff and the spinners didn’t do much at all. A concern is that Stuart Clark has just taken 2 wickets in this series thus far — and one of them is Ishant Sharma!

That wasn’t quite the case with the Indian bowlers though. The new ball bowlers made something happen. Amit Mishra, playing in only his second Test match will have learned a lot from the Kotla experience. And Virender Sehwag was a total revelation. Given that India did not have Harbhajan Singh and given that Anil Kumble was out of the Test match for a long period at a crucial time, I thought India came out of this department with a slightly better edge. On this tour, given a slightly more responsive pitch — with more turn through the middle and a bit more bounce — I have greater confidence that the Indian bowlers will use it than I am of the Australian bowlers.

With Harbhajan Singh slotting in for Anil Kumble, I do not see a major change in India’s bowling stocks for the Nagpur Test match.

Australia looks somewhat bereft of ideas in the bowling stakes and needs a bit of an overhaul in this department. It would all depend on the pitch, but Australia does need to look really hard at Jason Krejza. I can’t see the value to the team of Cameron White, especially if he is used after Michael Clarke as a bowler!

Overall batting effort: India 2.0, Australia 3.0

I score Australia ahead in this dimension because of the splendid backs-to-the-wall effort by the team. Not many teams can play as well as Australia did to wipe out a 613 run deficit! The pace was set by the assured manner in which Matthew Hayden and Simon Katich opened. This Zen-like pace was continued right through the innings. Every batsman chipped in and contributed to the team-cause. It wasn’t the most pretty sight, but it doesn’t need to be. Australia has often confused aggression with attractiveness. Ask Gavaskar and he’ll tell you that you can be aggressive even in tight defence! That is what khadoos cricket is. And that is what Australia played. They didn’t let the opposition into the game and slowly shut the door on an Indian victory.

Of course, this followed the khadoos effort of the Indians in the 1st Innings. There are two reasons I give the Australians the edge in this dimension though, (a) All Australian batsmen contributed, while for India, Sehwag and Dravid did not contribute, (b) It is not easy to carry out a backs-to-the-wall effort so clinically and with an absence of panic.

I can’t see Australia changing its batting composition or order.

India, however, will need to get Laxman in at #3 and, unfortunately, this means that Dravid drops to $5 in the Nagpur Test match. This is necessary in my view.

The Fielding, Intensity and Fields: India 2.0, Australia 3.0

This is not really a surprise. There were quite a few lapses in the field from India, particularly on day-4. A few run-out chances went begging. A few sharp chances — particularly close-in — were spilled or not attempted. India does need to lift its game in this regard. Unlike the Bangalore effort, I thought Gautam Gambhir was much sharper at forward short-leg in Delhi. This augurs well for India. However, it is the out-fielding that is of greatest concern. One would have thought that under Dhoni, the fielding intensity would pick up a notch. But strangely, the worst fielding commenced when Dhoni was in charge! Having said that, I am not sure we need to see the captain stomping around in an open demonstration of displeasure.

Leadership: India 2.5, Australia 2.5

The only reason for scoring this even was because of India’s poor intensity on day-4. Ironically, this phase commenced when Dhoni was captaining for Anil Kumble! I thought Dhoni’s tactics in opening with Zaheer Khan and Amit Mishra was a bit strange. Moreover, continuing a somewhat listless Zaheer Khan for a while longer than necessary was also similarly strange. The best bowlers the previous day had been Ishant Sharma and Virender Sehwag and they ought to have opened. Moreover, it may have been easier for Virender Sehwag to bowl with a slightly newer ball which was only 5-6 overs old! Having said this, had Ishant Sharma caught that catch off Amit Mishra’s bowling, who knows how the match would have ended up? But more importantly, it was the lack of intensity on the field on day-4 that the Indian captains (Kumble and Dhoni) need to take responsibility for. It seemed that the Indians had decided that all they needed to do to win the match was to show up on day-4!

Australia would have been way ahead in the leadership stakes but for the somewhat bizarre choices that Ricky Ponting made on the field. He under-used Simon Katich and over used both Shane Watson and Michael Clarke in my view. Simon Katich, the finger spinner, was more likely to cause damage than either Michael Clarke or Cameron White!

So, in terms of the overall result, I score it: India-12, Australia-13!

Overall, Australia can perhaps claim to be marginally ahead at the end of the 3rd Test… just! And that is mainly due to the tremendous batting effort. However, Australia has to make all the running at Nagpur. I do see a danger for Australia in the sense that the bowlers have not really looked likely to take batsmen out and India is the only team to have taken 20 wickets in a match in this series thus far.

Harbhajan Singh should return for India and that should, if nothing else, spice things up! Gautam Gambhir, if he plays, will need to share Chloe Saltu’s headlines with Harbhajan Singh, the player rather than Harbhajan Singh the spectator!

Anil Kumble will be there to see if his ‘Vision’ for Indian cricket is in safe custody. I believe it is. He will want to see that the job that he started will continue through. Sourav Ganguly will be playing his last Test match and V. V. S. Laxman will be playing his 100th Test Match at Nagpur.

Had Kumble played too, five India players will have played 100 or more Test matches in the same Test match — not sure how often that has happened in a Test match!

But all of this will be somewhat irrelevant when the two captains stride out for the toss at Nagpur. It should make for a cracker of a Test match there.

— Mohan