November 09, 2007

Kumble best bet for the short term

By H Natarajan

It’s a terrible indictment of the system that Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar, two of the most senior most players, do not want the Indian team captaincy. The power, pomp and privileges of being India’s cricket captain is humungous and often stated as the second most powerful job after the Prime Minister. But the refusal of what was once believed to be a coveted honour by two widely-respected men has set tongues wagging.

The quick and successive exits of Greg Chappell and Dravid as coach and captain respectively were pointers that not all’s well with Indian cricket – both inside and outside the team. From all indications, Tendulkar was ready to take over as the Test captain, but his sudden change of mind has thrown spanner in the selection committee’s works. Tendulkar is not a whimsical person. If all that remained was a formal announcement in naming him the captain, it’s obvious that he had given the matter lot of thought before giving his consent.

Tendulkar’s dramatic decision may have catapulted Mahendra Singh Dhoni as the front-runner to take over the reins relinquished by Dravid, but there are compelling reasons why the selectors should look elsewhere when they meet in a day from now to choose the new leader.

a. A tour of Australia is undoubtedly the biggest challenge in modern cricket. The Aussies are the best in the world and in their own backyard, they would be that much tougher.

b. The tour ahead is, in all likelihood, going to raise strong response from the players and the crowd after what the Aussie had to cop on their recent tour of India. A player with long experience may handle the situation than the relatively inexperienced Dhoni.

c. Test cricket is a completely different ball game compared to the abridged format. It will be too much too soon for a man who has no previous experience of playing Tests in Australia and who is also manning the extremely critical job of keeping wickets.

It’s a failure of the system in India that we did not groom a younger man for the vice captaincy. Somebody like Mohammad Kaif, who led India to victory at the Under-19 World Cup, had the attitude and ammunition to become India’s Test captain, but with the sword of Damocles hanging perennially over his head, he could not cement his place on the team.

Yuvraj Singh could have been the best bet of the younger lot. He has the necessary experience, but his attitude was always under question. Virender Sehwag too did his cause no good by his non-conformist ways and inability to hold on to his place in the side.

The best that the selectors could do under the circumstances would be to adopt stop-gap measures. That would mean looking at the candidature of Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Anil Kumble. Ganguly’s fielding is an increasing cause of concern and his place in the side is not 100% certain. Laxman, too, has not quite been a certainty in the side which leaves Kumble as the best-available option – and for a number of reasons:

a. He has loads of experience leading Karnataka.
b. He has served as India vice-captain for long.
c. He knows what to expect in Australia having toured Down Under twice.
d. He will embark on the tour with the confidence gained from brilliant performances on his previous visit.
e. His stature built over 17 long years gives him instant respect of the entire team.
f. His place in the side is unchallenged.
g. He is unflappable and cool in crisis.
h. He is a proven match-winner who will lead by personal example.

But most importantly, he has always come across a student of the game – a cerebral cricketer. His demeanor may be quiet, but his heart is made of steel. He is as tough as any in international cricket and his finest example of guts and grit is best known by his decision to bowl with a broken jaw against the West Indies. That moment also exemplified the fine team man that Kumble is.

Anybody who has anything uncomplimentary to say about Kumble’s age would do well to realize that he is a man who has consistently raised the bar in his quest of excellence. And it’s this admirable trait that has seen get a hundred at the fag end of his illustrious career. I wonder if anybody got his first-ever Test hundred at age, 36 or after 118 Tests and 17 years of international cricket.

The India captaincy is something Kumble deserved a long, long time ago. Indian cricket now gets a chance to make amends by giving him that honour before he bids adieu to a truly magnificent career.

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