Former captain Anil Kumble was on Thursday, 23rd June appointed the Indian cricket team’s head coach for one-year tenure, bringing an end to the prolonged suspense over who will take over the reins of the side.
The 45-year-old Kumble pipped former Team Director Ravi Shastri, Australians Tom Moody and Stuart Law and a host of others to clinch the high-profile position following an elaborate selection process headed by a three-member Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC).
The committee comprising greats Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly had interviewed 10 candidates for the job in Kolkata on Tuesday in a marathon session which lasted close to 10 hours.
Kumble is a legend, one of India’s greatest ever cricketer’s with an unquestionable record. He was a tough, pragmatic cricketer who made the most of his ability and was always willing to push himself for the sake of the team. Those are qualities that should stand him in good stead as the coach of a young side.
But the board has stopped short of hedging its bet entirely on Kumble; by giving him only a one-year contract because he has never been a head coach before, they want to “have the cushion to reassess their options”. Board president Anurag Thakur said that Kumble provided the best blueprint for taking Indian cricket forward.
In other words, the appointment is not a ringing endorsement of Kumble, but appears to be more of an it’s-worth-a-punt-and-lets-see-what-happens sort of appointment. It’s a short-term decision that sends a signal to the players that “this guy might be our guy but then again he might not”. That in turn could make it more difficult for the players to buy what Kumble is selling because they can’t even be sure he will be around in the long term, especially after their experience with Ravi Shastri.
By all accounts, Kohli and the players were in favor of Shastri being appointed head coach, but that appears to have cut no ice with the committee or the board. Even if the players back Kumble a year from now, who’s to say they won’t make a different choice again?
The short duration of the contract also comes with the potential to create a dilemma for Kumble himself. Much like the chief executive of a public company, Kumble could find himself facing a choice between implementing a long-term vision that will put the team on a firmer foundation but might not pay off in a year, and making short-term decisions to ensure the best possible chance of getting an extension (assuming he wants one). Will he feel comfortable backing players if they struggle for form or will he feel pressure to recommend they be dropped because he needs to show results in a short space of time?
The other question that hangs over Kumble’s appointment is the track record that great players have as coaches. As Joy Bhattacharjya pointed out in the Economic Times, “There is a long list of high profile cricketers who were complete flops as coaches.”
That’s not to say Kumble can’t handle such a situation. He was a no-nonsense and thoughtful player and will likely be the same kind of coach. But given India is playing 17 Tests over the next nine months — a record 13 of them at home — much will depend on how Kumble gels with Kohli and how quickly he can get the team to buy into his vision, something his predecessor Ravi Shastri did brilliantly.
The chemistry between Kohli and Shastri was fantastic, with a former India captain telling me that he thought they were soul-mates. Those are tough shoes to fill, especially since Kumble is a different personality from Shastri and Kohli. That said, the former leg-spinner is second to no one when it comes to steely determination and the desire to win, which is to say he and Kohli want the same thing and that should help create a bond between the two.
At this point, Kohli is the future of Indian cricket and the prince will one day be king of the limited-overs sides too.
Kumble is the third head coach/director of cricket that India have had in the last three years. Changing coaches again next year would not be in the team’s best interest. A young team needs a consistent message and a strong voice in the dressing room. Kumble has the potential to be that voice, especially since he has been there and done that and knows what it takes to win, especially away from the sub-continent. His words will carry weight. Though his methods as a coach are untried and unknown, a three-year contract would have been a strong statement that the BCCI believes in them.
Kumble will take charge from the upcoming of tour of West Indies which starts July 9.
Shirke said there were 11 names in the final list including four foreigners.
The BCCI received 57 applications for the post and trimmed it down to 21 before handing over the list to CAC that interviewed the candidates shortlisted by them. Among them were Ravi Shastri, Lalchand Rajput, Pravin Amre, Kumble, Tom Moody, Stuart Law and Andy Moles.