Switching roles smoothly

Interview

Switching roles smoothly

Anil Kumble says he is happy with the way the Indian team is progressing on the international stage.

It came out of the blue, suddenly and without warning, but typically, it came too without melodrama or fuss. As the host broadcaster flashed the news that Anil Kumble was retiring from international cricket that very day, crowds began to throng the Feroze Shah Kotla to cheer and celebrate one of Indian cricket’s greatest sons.

The Kotla and Kumble share a special relationship, dating back to the Irani Cup in 1992 that resurrected the leggie’s international career. It was in the fitness of things, therefore, that the Indian captain chose that venue to call time on a glorious career, on the final day of the third Test against Australia last November.

November 2, 2009 will mark one year away from the international game for Kumble, now 39 and the owner of 956 international wickets – 619 in Tests and 337 in one-day internationals. It has been a busy 12 months for Kumble, a representative on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Athletes Panel, a part-time TV commentator, the newly-appointed vice-chairman of the State Wildlife Board and, of course, an effective T20 player who piloted the Royal Challengers to the final of the IPL in South Africa, and therefore to a place in the Champions League.

In this free-wheeling chat with Deccan Herald, Kumble reflects on the last 12 months, and on his near 19-year journey on the international stage that he strode like a colossus.

Excerpts:

Does it actually feel like it’s been one year since you retired from international cricket?

I have been involved with the IPL and then the Champions League, and I did a bit of commentary in the middle, so it doesn’t seem like one year has passed. But yes, when you look back, in terms of dates, it’s been a year and it has gone by in a flash. I feel I haven’t really had the time to sit down and reflect upon all the things that have happened in the last 20 years. It feels as though I am still a part of the cricketing process. In that sense, I don’t feel I have retired from international cricket.

You have had your hands full even though you are no longer a full-time player…

The WADA experience was really good, although I have only attended one meeting, during the World Athletics Championships in Berlin. I was fortunate enough to see Usain Bolt run the 200M live at the stadium. That was one great experience, as was meeting other world-class performers, getting to know them in that forum. Although the meeting was just a two-day affair, the knowledge about doping, about anti-doping and the problems that you actually have when you resort to doping in the long term, its effects and after-effects, all that was an eye-opener.

The commentary experience before that was really nice. I thought I didn’t want to get into it straightaway but then there was the opportunity and it was the Twenty20 World Cup, a major event. It was for a very short time as well, it meant I wasn’t away from home for too long. That experience was really nice. My fellow commentators were very cordial and encouraging, I really enjoyed the experience. That kept me up with cricket. The IPL experience obviously was really special.

The vice-chairmanship of the wildlife board which transpired recently is something totally outside of cricket. That will be a challenge for me and I am looking forward to it. I am as passionate about wildlife as I am about cricket. Hopefully, with the co-operation of a lot of people and the general public, I will be at least able to make a difference — it’s something I am really looking forward to in the next couple of months.

Are you a great cricket-watcher?

No, not really. I do sit and watch a little bit, follow it since I do have my column to write the following day. My column, however, is mostly not about the match, I tend to focus on leading up to the following match. I keep following the game generally, but not ball-to-ball. It’s a conscious effort to stay away from watching cricket full time after retirement.

Have you at any stage in the last one year wondered if you made the right decision as regards retirement? Do you miss the thrill of playing international cricket?

No, I certainly don’t miss playing the game. I am really happy that I quit at the right time. Whatever I could achieve on the cricket field as an individual, I have certainly done that. As a team, you always have ambitions that you want to achieve but that didn’t happen in my career. For me to wait that long wouldn’t have been possible. I am really happy with the timing of everything. I am not really missing anything. I do have the IPL, I have got the Hong Kong Sixes, I am constantly in that mix. I don’t really miss it.

You spoke about team ambitions not achieved, about it not being possible for you ‘to wait that long’…

Possibly a World Cup victory, but even now, the World Cup is almost one and a half years away. Also, you always want to win series, and series after series. One of the other ambitions was maybe being called the number one team, that didn’t happen. But I guess that’s the process you are a part of, and I am really happy with the way the current Indian team is progressing. Although they have had a couple of hiccups, they seem to be on the right track in terms of achieving whatever we as a team set out to achieve. As long as that happens, you are happy about it.

You can’t really achieve everything in your playing career. You hope that you have tried and been a one-step improvement on the previous generation as a team. That’s what you expect from the next generation of cricketers, that they would have one step ahead of what you have done or what your team has achieved. It’s a process and I am really glad to see the team moving in the right direction.

Your personal favourites from among the sea of accomplishments?

Personally, the ten-wicket effort against Pakistan will remain something special, something that I will always be remembered for. And the hundred at The Oval in 2007, I was really fortunate to achieve that. Being the captain was particularly fulfilling too, you will always be referred to as a former India captain. That is a nice title to have. I was also proud of what we did as a team in Australia early last year. After that tough second Test in Sydney, to come back and win in Perth was really special, something that the boys and me as captain are extremely proud of.

‘Glad to have done the role well’

The Indian Test captaincy came very late in your career. What did it mean to you, and would it have been unfinished business if you had retired without leading in a Test match?

It is a very great honour, you always dream of leading the team. If you are that kind of a person, whether as a part of the bowling attack, as a part of the batting unit or even if it is a team meeting, you want to lead the discussion, you want to start off something. You have your ideas, you want to put that across to the team and share it. I kept doing that right through my career.

Till very late in my career, I had led the country in only one one-day international, I was vice-captain for a couple of years. So it was really nice that the Test captaincy came at a time when personally, I had perhaps achieved everything else. It was nice that I could focus on the team, try and bring about an attempt to start thinking about team results.
I was 37 when I got the captaincy. I knew I wasn’t going to play for long, I was playing only the Tests and you don’t get to play too many Test matches.

I knew it was just a matter of time before Dhoni took over. My captaincy stint was a way of trying to ensure that the team was in harmony and in a right space. Gary (Kirsten) had just come in, we didn’t have a coach before that for several months. It was my job to ensure that Gary felt comfortable and the team felt comfortable about Gary’s presence. I am really glad that transition happened smoothly. That was my role, I am glad I have done my role pretty well.

As for unfinished business, possibly. It wouldn’t have been a regret, but it would have been disappointing if you were not given that responsibility. I am really glad that honour came my way, it’s always nice to be called a captain or a former captain.

‘Leading from front was the motivation’

Even in retirement, the fire rages and the spirit is intact within Anil Kumble. His appearances on the big stage are restricted to the Indian Premier League – and the Champions League last month – but despite being no more than a semi-active player, the former Indian skipper has lost neither his hunger nor his bite.

How tough is it to motivate yourself for the IPL? Do you put additional pressure on yourself to perform well because you are no longer an active international cricketer?

I guess that is the ultimate focus for me. It’s not easy to keep yourself motivated but you have to do so. It is not too much of a fitness issue because it is only 20 overs, but you do have to train regularly, which is something I try and do for the IPL and the Champions League -- keep myself fit. The bowling will come out automatically. It will take a bit of time to adjust, but fitness would be the key. As for the motivation, that’s something I constantly work on. I couldn’t get over the loss in the IPL final till I played the Champions League, because that was the next match I was playing. Maybe other guys played international cricket for their teams and had moved on, so it was easier for them, but it wasn’t for me.

How much of a kick did you get from taking charge of the Royal Challengers midway through IPL II and taking them from the foot of the table to the final?

It was a challenge because I got to know that I would be leading the team only two days before the match when KP had to leave. Till then, there was no mention of my name anywhere. I certainly had offered to be a part of the captaincy mix since I had retired from international cricket and I would be available for all the matches. So I offered my services. It was nice that I was recognised and asked to lead the team. I enjoyed the challenge, it was different.

In T20, you have to think on your feet. No matter what plans you make inside the room, you can’t really plan for everything that happens on the field. You have to take decisions on your feet, try and back your decisions and hope they work. In my case, they worked; I was delighted with the way we regrouped as a team. The best part about the challenge was that the players, the management, they all came together and backed me.
It was good to see two bottom-rung teams of the previous season play in the final, though the result could have been different!

It must have helped, too, that you led from the front?

That really helped because anybody who is in that position should lead from the front. In a 20-over game, there are pressure situations every second ball or every over. I decided that whenever there was a pressure situation, instead of trying to look at somebody else, I would take it up myself, keep myself open to those situations. If they come, I go up and take the responsibility rather than delegate it to somebody else, especially in the bowling department. That was a motivating and challenging factor for me because otherwise, it is very difficult to keep pushing yourself and motivating yourself.

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