First things first. Veteran spinner Anil Kumble is the right man for the job of Team India coach. He has a whopping 956 international wickets. He was Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1996 and made it to the ICC Hall of Fame in 2015.
Kumble was a methodical and process oriented captain for Team India. He was President of Karnataka State Cricket Association and Chairman of the ICC Cricket Committee.
Kumble has been known more for his work rather than controversies. He has the respect of both captains MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli. Nobody doubts his dedication and his image of bowling against the West Indies with a broken bandaged jaw and picking up legendary Brian Lara’s still evokes admiration.
However BCCI President Anurag Thakur instead of welcoming the appointment curiously told everyone that Rahul Dravid was his first choice and not Kumble. That’s not a good way to start such a partnership.
Moreover, surprisingly, Kumble has been hired for just one-year as if he is on some sort of trial. That’s not the kind of confidence you want from the BCCI. Coaches are usually appointed for three years and sometimes two years. Extensions are in the range of one-year though. Getting the first stint as just one year is quite odd and that’s hardly been discussed.
Secondly, it is no secret that Ravi Shastri was eyeing the job being Team Director all this while. He has made no secret of his loss.
He cryptically told the media, “I’m not surprised. I’d say disappointed.” That could be because the interview panel consisted of Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly. It is no secret that Kumble is closer to these three than anyone of the other 56 applicants.
Someone commented on Twitter that it was rigged and Kumble was the hot favourite from the very beginning and Shastri had no chance. Curiously, Ganguly wasn’t present when Shastri was being interviewed.
While speaking to a media outlet, he refused to answer a question on whether the appointment of Kumble was “pre-meditated”. On Ganguly missing his interview, Shastri said, “You should ask what problem Ganguly has with me instead of asking me.”
Shastri also said on the whole issue, “It’s like planting a tree and then cutting it down just as it’s beginning to bear fruit.” This means that he valued his Team Director’s job very much and wanted to continue.
The problem is that Indian cricket abounds with intense politics. The 1990s ended with a power struggle between coach Kapil Dev and captains Mohammed Azharuddin and Tendulkar.
The troika of Jagmohan Dalmiya (cricket chief), John Wright (coach) and Ganguly (captain) was a superhit, but after the exit of Dalmiya and the entry of coach Greg Chappell, it all fell apart. Ganguly and Chappell in fact finished off each other’s careers.
In India even the coach cannot escape politics. That’s a key point which Kumble is well aware of. Currently there is great churning in the BCCI. Dalmiya, Sharad Pawar and N Srinivasan were the old guard and they have gone. Sunil Gavaskar and Shastri seemed to be readying to take over from these, but they seem to have been supplanted by Ganguly and Kumble.
However old guard Shashank Manohar is still around as ICC chief and Thakur is an upstart and is just 41, the youngest BCCI President in 50 years. How will all these levels play out considering Thakur said Dravid was his first choice?
That’s not all. There’s also the issue of Kohli and Dhoni. Shastri was pushing for Dhoni to come back to Tests and Kohli backed Kumble.
Are we seeing a new power struggle here? One hopes not.
As it is we have a unique situation. Junior Kohli is the senior captain (Tests) and senior Dhoni is the junior captain (shorter formats). There is pressure on Dhoni to cede total place to Kohli
After Kapil was a disaster coach, it was decided that we should have a foreign coach who would at least start off as a neutral entity at the beginning of his term. There was some merit to this.
Wright professionalized cricket and we started winning foreign Tests under him, playing more consistently at all levels.
Chappell rid the system of complacency and we started winning foreign Test series and ODI chases consistently under him.
Gary Kirsten was probably the best and had he taken an extension, we would have gone to the next level.
No matter how much you criticize Duncan Fletcher, the fact remains that we won our only 4-0 Test whitewash (that too against Australia) and our only ICC Champions Trophy outside the sub-continent with him at the helm.
In conclusion one must say that if anyone can make an Indian coach work for Team India, then it has to be Kumble. One really hopes for the sake of India cricket that politics doesn't singe one of the nicest blokes in world cricket!