India v Australia 2008-09 /

India v Australia, 2nd Test, Mohali

Jumbo's challenge

Anil Kumble is far from superfluous, and he must be given the right to confront his biggest challenge yet

Reggie Hartman-Goodin

October 16, 2008

Comments: 28 | Text size: A | A

Nowhere to hide: a bowler has to live his struggles in the public eye © AFP

Welcome to the club, Anil Kumble. The Fab Four are now the Fab Five and the two f-words together have become more abuse than praise recently.

You are past your peak as a bowler, they say. You will be 38 in two days' time.

When you captain the Indian team and you have a bad day, or worse, a bad Test, people are going to talk about retirement. They will tell you to go.

All of this doesn't necessarily mean Kumble has suddenly become superfluous, even as it should be acknowledged that youngsters will always get more leeway and more chances to fail. Being a bowler, in particular, comes with a special pain.

If a batsman is struggling, he gets out early, or scratches around and then gets out. Off he goes, out of the frame of the TV screen, to be seen only in the second innings. A bowler has to live out his struggles in the public eye. He has no place to hide. He has to bowl on and on and then take a break. And then he bowls on and on. Every ineffective delivery counts against him. Every hopeless appeal made in frustration is registered. Every movement is dissected for signs of an injury he might be hiding. It all seemed to happen that way in Bangalore with Kumble, who kept trying, over after over, until he had bowled 43 of them without a wicket in the first innings.

The scrutiny is not completely unjustified: he has taken 17 wickets in his last eight Tests, at an average of more than 60. And Kumble's angry reaction in a newspaper column does not quite betray the ideal mindset a captain ought to have just two days before a Test.

But you can see part of the reason why Kumble is angry. It is the rhetoric that irks him. Some presume he carried an injury into the Bangalore Test, some are shouting from rooftops: if Harbhajan can get wickets, why can't Kumble?

It is plain absurd. Kumble bowled a lot of overs in the first innings; injuries can be picked up during a Test, or some old niggle can worsen too. Nor are wickets being sold as if in a supermarket. We must not forget that he was unlucky in the first innings. Simon Katich, on 34 then, got away with an lbw decision when he looked pretty much straight in front. Michael Hussey was dropped when on 1. One wicket on a pitch like that could have done wonders for a spinner's confidence, as it did for Harbhajan after he dismissed Katich in the second innings.

Some felt sorry for Kumble, because they couldn't bear to watch him struggle as he did in Bangalore. There was Kumble, trying to fight an injury, groping for rhythm, appealing for everything like a kid, and desperately unfortunate: he even dropped two return catches. Still, it is unreasonable to expect only either the Kumble of old or no Kumble at all.

Yes, there is emotion involved in not being able to reconcile the Kumble of 2008 with the man who, given a similar pitch, would have run through any side five years ago. But every great batsman should be afforded the chance to look ungainly, and every great bowler the chance to look innocuous. Kumble is a great bowler without doubt; he has nothing left to prove, and he can walk away whenever he wants to.

Perhaps, though, he has a point to prove to himself. That on one of the rare occasions in his career when he has had to justify his place in the team - and he happens to be captain at the time - he can prove his worth. He is rightly celebrated as one of the most selfless and relentless servants of Indian cricket. But move over five-fors on unhelpful pitches in England and Australia: this is Kumble's biggest challenge. And he should be given the right to take that challenge on - at least as long as he is not blocking the path of any deserving youngster.

It is unreasonable to expect only either the Kumble of old or no Kumble at all

That's where it gets tricky. Watching Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Munaf Patel bowl in the Irani Cup and in the nets at the pre-series camp was both comforting and discomfiting at once. Here were three Indian pace bowlers, at the top of their games, keeping each other, and batsmen, on their toes. Yet at the same time one knew that, try as they might, the Indian XI is not big enough for the three of them. India were never going to depart from their two-spinner policy at home; if they did they would have had to drop either the captain or the other spinner, one who has just made a creditable comeback from a ban.

It is particularly tempting to think of Munaf on that Bangalore pitch in place of Kumble, what with the reverse-swing and the up-and-down bounce. It is no disrespect to Kumble's contributions to Indian cricket if this thought crosses the mind, even if Munaf doesn't have the numbers to show. It would have been a bold departure on the part of the team management.

But Kumble is the last person who would want to be known as a captain who couldn't make the cut as a player. It would perhaps have been easier for him if someone else were captain. But the decision lies with him, and he genuinely believes he can contribute to India's cause, despite his recent form.

The equation, if emotions and pitches are set aside, is simple. On the selectors' part, they have to just answer one question: is Kumble taking the place of someone who can do better? If the answer is no, we need to leave him alone, and try to appreciate his struggle. On Kumble's part, if he is fit - he didn't bowl in the nets today - he will celebrate his 38th birthday on the field at the PCA Stadium. The last time he played a Test there, he was the Man of the Match.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Nampally on (October 16, 2008, 18:31 GMT)

A thought provoking article, specially for all senior Cricketers. While age of an individual is not the only consideration for retirement, it is well known fact that the reflexes, agility, fitness & speed of an individual diminish with age, especially after 35. One hates to admit this but it is a proven fact. Legendary cricketers like the Fab 4 and Kumble in the present Indian team must give serious consideration to this and exit gracefully at an appropriate time. It is embarassing to drop these cricketers because of their legendary status. Kumble is one of the finest spin bowlers India has ever produced. If he wants to be remembered as a great bowler, he should quit while he is still taking wickets. In the first test he was unlucky in not picking up at least 3 wickets due to dropped catches including 2 C & B by himself. He would be doing a disservice to himself & to the team if he plays in the 2nd test with doubts about his fitness. Hopefully he will decide this to the benefit of all

Posted by SultanOfSwing on (October 16, 2008, 13:14 GMT)

It's interesting to read some of the comments made in response to Reggie's article. In response to hitter30's comments about Gavaskar not retiring at the right time, I would like to say that when Gavaskar retired from Test cricket, many people said that he could have played for another 2 years at least. I still remember Gavaskar's valiant knock of 96 against Pakistan at Bangalore, and that was his final innings.

Yes, Kapil may not have retired at the right time and now Kumble seems to be going down the same path, which is unfortunate. The basic question is should senior cricketers (those who have served the country for more than 15 years) be given an option to announce their retirements? I think they should, provide they retire at the right time and not linger on in the team on the basis of their past glories. Or in case of Kapil Dev, who overstayed for at least 2 years in pursuit of breaking Richard Hadlee's record.

Posted by bhushan08 on (October 16, 2008, 12:33 GMT)

I am glad some people (donthaveaclue) at least are realising the false hype around Dhoni, he dropped a catch (off kumble) of hussey which effectively pushed India out of the game. His record is indeed absyml and shocking but incredibly he still gets around all this due to the aura of 'greatness' made only due to T20 and ODI.

I think Mohali will suit Kumble more than Bhajji (due to extra bounce) and if India indeed had to go with one spinner I rather have kumble bowl than bhajji.

Mishra and chawla are adequate replacement for kumble? justa a few months back piyush played on a dust bowl wicket (tailor made for spinners) against SA and struggled, so much for replacement!

Posted by arunsam on (October 16, 2008, 10:46 GMT)

Nice article, Reggie! Yes, Kumble is one of the greatest bowlers of cricket all time, no doubt. But the game is all about how you are doing on that day, no use of past records. Now he should work hard to improve his bowling. Because the opponents are well read about Kumble's bowling and there is not much variation. Mendis succeeds by his unpredictable deliveries. When the senior players (Fab 5) thinks yes for the question 'Am I taking the place of someone who can do better than me?' can retire them self gently. Otherwise it wont be good for him and team.

Posted by Nipun on (October 16, 2008, 9:38 GMT)

Very poorly said.A batsman does not get a chance to rectify his mistakes,but a bowler can concede 100 runs in 25 overs & yet end up getting 5 wickets,even if all of them come with full-tosses.A batsman can hit 5 gorgeous cover drives for 4s,but one mistake from him or a good ball will get him out;for 20.A bowler has more chances to hide his off-rhythm. The Indian media has been strong enough to force a strong character like Sourav to retire.It is no doubt that they would go similarly wild about Kumble's off form.Having said that,these guys-Rahul,Anil,Sourav,Laxman-are in a different class altogether(Sachin is not mentioned because he belongs to a level which mere mortals can't reach).They might be woefully out of form,but their class is permanent.Let these greats bow out on their own terms,because they have done everything to deserve this opportunity.

Posted by Kanukollu on (October 16, 2008, 9:36 GMT)

Its sad and often happens only in India... For a player of his caliber, Anil Kumble is on the receiving end....Someone who took 600+ wickets in Tests with 18+ years of competetive international cricket under his belt had to go through scrutiny for just being not able to deliver in 1 test match. If you look at his entire career, its the third time in 131 tests that he went back wicket less. I often wonder why the media is so harsh in India... why do we criticise our own players and give a chance to the Aussies to build up on this? Kumble has been a legend and will remain the same inspite of all this rubbis news in the media. As Kumble rightly said, we as a nation, should give our players the due respect for their great work for many years... If it continues to happen, we'll lose great players and their contributions in no time... Lets hope that India doesnt get into the same situation as the Windies in early 90's when their great players left the game at a time and it never recovered...

Posted by tusharkardile on (October 16, 2008, 8:56 GMT)

Kumble would have been dropped if he had not been captain or so near the end of his career. It looks ugly to drop a legend near his retirement. He is playing a gamble by selecting himself for Mohali test and sadly the stakes are very high and there is no pressing need to play that gamble we do have match winners waiting in the wings. There is no easy answer here...

Posted by donthaveaclue on (October 16, 2008, 8:55 GMT)

How does Dhoni get credit for a session in which the bowlers bowled better and the fielders were on their toes? Also, the pitch was not as helpful to the likes of Kumble as it might seem from the odd variable bounce. I've blogged at about our fixation with T20 and the IPL which is causing an uproar everytime a 30+ member of the side slips up while ignoring to the long-term impact to the game.

Posted by kricrazy on (October 16, 2008, 8:11 GMT)

In this mad rush to blame/criticize Fab Four/Five - no one bothers to even mention that Dhoni's record is abysmal in Test cricket as a batsman.He is probably not even ready to be in the test team for a long term as a batsman-keeper (dropping Hussey when at 1 is a far greater "Crime" ). He and his "young" comrades' records are never really looked in great detail. When some one like Laxman was dropped in the past, he went back to the Domestic Circuit and made tons of runs ( he probably has the highest double/triple centuries in domestic first class cricket in Indian team ) and the other Fab Four also have had great domestic record that demanded them to be picked. Rohit/Raina and others have very poor domestic records making it a no case for selection ... yet. Coming to Kumble, he should be given the honor of deciding to leave when he wants to - but looking at his recent performances, it must be soon unless he turns it around...So, Mohali would beckon his and the team's best performance!

Posted by Aswin_ganesh on (October 16, 2008, 7:52 GMT)

Kumble has been India's biggest wicket taker for years, especially on Indian pitches. So, considering his recent form, i thought he should have played only when he was completely fit. Speaking about his retirement, I think it is left to the selectors. They should keep in mind that test match cricket is a wholly different ball game which requires, experience, talent, and endurance: Kumble has all these qualities, but unfortunately, he is injured and out of form. If Kumble really wants to play for some more years, he should play only selective matches when he is fit and confident. Saying this, I am apprehensive whether the selectors would allow this. Morever, Kumble should also consider the fact that he may/ may not cost India the match due to his poor form. Having said so, he is a renowned fighter; I won't be surprised if he bags a lot of wickets in Mohali and bowls India to victory. If he does not do, Kumble has no option to go. Let's hope he performs well.

Posted by roshanbohra on (October 16, 2008, 7:51 GMT)

nice article, however i dont think kumble is taking up the place of someone who is already better than him but surely taking up a place in the side which maybe he does not deserve based on his recent form. everyone talks about letting the fab five decide when they want to retire, fair enough but that does not mean the fab five have to play in every match, the indians almost lost the first test to an ordinary australian bowling line-up, had there not been any rain/bad light interuptions, or had australia had a better spin option, the indians were dead and burried, the fab five have done a great job for india but there is no point living in the past, the fact is soon the fab five will retire and india will have an inexperienced side, with senior players like yuvi who have played cricket for 7-8 years but are still inexperienced at handling pressure. LET THE FAB FIVE RETIRE ON THEIR OWN TERMS BUT IF THEY ARE NOT PERFORMING PLEASE DROP THEM AND FIELD A STRONG SIDE THAT CAN WIN

Posted by ABP235 on (October 16, 2008, 7:14 GMT)

One of Sachin's ad on TV (for Aviva Insurance) asks a question: "Are you delaying a decision to secure their future". I would like to apply that statement to Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble to start with (not much worried about Dravid and Laxman though, and Saurav has already decided to quit). Arent they continuing to occupy their places knowing fairly well that their performance over the last 5-10 tests hasnt been consistent and they have been struggling through injuries? No one disputes their yeoman contribution to Indian cricket. But that cant continue for ever. Both of them have played international cricket for 18 years and that is far too much on the body. Why are they giving the excuse of experience and blocking youthful exuberance and talent of others? By any means, Piyush Chawla and Amit Sharma are far superior and conventional leg spinners. but the bigger issue is, Mohali needs a pacer, and we have Munaf Patel licking his fingers! How long will Kumble keep them off?

Posted by bbhaal on (October 16, 2008, 7:06 GMT)

Poor article! remember it is the same Kumble who took five for in the first day of the first test aganist Australia at Melboune last summer.statistics say that he has won more test matches for India than anyother bowler. Coming to srilanka series ,it would have been a complete whitewash if any other team had played than India even on flat track aganist Mendis.His kind of a bowler is very rare.infact plays once in generation.It will take some time to read him. Watch out for kumble in mohali,where the pitch is known to offer good bounce.whenever there is a good bounce i am very much confident that kumble is the key to win a test match .

Posted by Abhimanyu on (October 16, 2008, 6:46 GMT)

"Is Kumble taking the place of someone who can do better? Yes, he is. Kumble is taking Amit Mishra's , Murali Kartik's, P Chawla's, and Ohja's places for sure. Also Kumble was a big let down for the Indian team. Very poor captaincy, dropped 2 catches, and do not forget he also missed 2 run-outs (in one he failed to collect the ball, in the other chance he did not back-up a throw from the fielder). It was very sad to see a injured player (Kumble) playing such an important Test match. I am pretty sure if it was someone other junior player he would have been dropped from the entire series. But according to Kumble (who is very happy with a draw) it is absolutely fine to drop 4 catches per Test match, which means taking 24 wickets instead of 20. Somehow Kumble forgot to mention this at the post-match ceremony. I guess this has to do with Kumble dropping 2 of those himself, so he did not want to remind the media about this.

Posted by donthaveaclue on (October 16, 2008, 6:44 GMT)

How does Dhoni get credit for a session in which the bowlers bowled better and the fielders were on their toes? Also, the pitch was not as helpful to the likes of Kumble as it might seem from the odd variable bounce. Our fixation with T20 and the IPL is causing an uproar everytime a 30+ member of the side slips up while ignoring to the long-term impact to the game.

Posted by bhushan08 on (October 16, 2008, 5:49 GMT)

nice article, though I am really amazed by some comments in response to the article. Some one said Dhoni is better captain and he would not have allowed australia to scroe so much! Amazing, it was because fo the field placement by kumble that Aus struggled to 400 in almost 2 days, something which they normall get in 4 sessions! and defensive fields? hello, watch the match, Aus had even more defensive field but that was described by 'cricket experts' as ingenious, strategic. Double standards? Coming to Kumble, its not that he bowled badly (atleast in first inings), he could have easliry ended up with 3-4 wickets on day one itself. Reggie has already highlighted some instances and you can add Ricky pointing to it also (bumb ball controversy). In fact on day 1 he bowled much better than bhajji but then our views are skewed by numbers and not quality! oh and on Dhoni, he flopped as a batsmen (again in a crucial test inings) and he dropped hussey off kumble when he was on 1, enough said

Posted by Kolhatkar on (October 16, 2008, 5:00 GMT)

Wrong conclusion, Reggie. Your own stats prove that Kumble is not taking wickets and since Perth has not had one decent wicket taking spell. Mendis and Murali totally outbowled him even when he got to bowl in the 2nd and 4th innings. He does not make the cut as a player and he is an inferior captain to Dhoni or Sehwag. Mishra and Chawla are bowling better than Kumble. More importantly, Mohali is the place where Munaf had a great debut. India ought to field three seamers even if it meant playing Pathan at no 7 ahead of Dhoni because if Australia win the toss and bat, both spinners are wasted in the first innings. Ask - if Kumble was not the captain would he be dropped? The answer is yes. His age is not an issue. His suspect shoulder is. His bowling is. His captaincy is. His and the selectors' obstinacy could cost India the series.

Posted by TwitterJitter on (October 16, 2008, 3:34 GMT)

You put the right question. "Is Kumble taking the place of someone who can do better?" My answer is yes. There is at least one spinner, possibly two, who are better than him in his current form alone. No one disputes that he was a great player and contributed to numerous victories by running through sides in second innings. But that was in distant past. Since SA series this summer, his performance has been dismal. On merit alone, he does not a deserve a spot in final 11. At the end of the day, the team needs to field its best XI. Whether he retires or not is up to him. If he can prove his form in domestic circuit he has every right to make a come back, but just not in his recent form. Even his captaincy is very defensive mostly content for a draw. You could see the difference in aggressiveness when Dhoni was captaining the side in his absence.

Posted by The_Darkhorse on (October 16, 2008, 3:12 GMT)

Spot on mate! There's just too much pressure being put on Kumble at the moment, when the Indian media should be getting behind their players and direct their efforts to the aussies instead. Just give the guy a break, he couldnt have done anything more to deserve it. Gavin Frantz

Posted by Sprewell on (October 16, 2008, 1:22 GMT)

"is Kumble taking the place of someone who can do better?" answer to this is YES. How many poor Test Series would a legendary batsman go through whilst performing below ~20 run average before being dropped(assume this is roughly equivalent for a bowler who averages ~60 with the ball)? I'd say the batsman would be dropped by now. Munef Patel or a spinner should be given a chance in this next test. Not an old stager who has become inneffective (not to say Kumble cant still turn it on its just his recent performances, age and body suggest its becoming more difficult & unlikely). I think he is an inneffective captain on and off the field, very defensive, so i think its time to give India's future a chance and try someone new. However if he does play, im sure he will give his all, but recent form probably suggests he wont be at his best in which case there are probably better performances to come from some younger players. My prediction, Kumble, the bails have been removed, Game Over!!!

Posted by MohanB on (October 16, 2008, 1:04 GMT)

Great article, one of the best I read.

The question "is Kumble taking the place of someone who can do better?" needs to be asked of every player on the team, regardless of how great their achievements were in the past. The selectors' job is not to worry about offending the players or their fans. Their job is to pick the side that has the best chance of winning the next match.

It's sad to see star Indian players clinging to their places and getting upset if anyone dares to question their inviolable right to be in the team. I'd rather see them walk away at the top of their game, leaving the selectors desperately looking for replacements. McGrath and Warne retired when they were still good enough to walk into any team on the planet. So did Gavaskar. I can't imagine Ganguly, Kumble or Tendulkar doing the same. Sadly, they are now barely good enough to be in their own cnational team.

Posted by sidgaris on (October 15, 2008, 23:23 GMT)

Well said Reggie!! Seriously, I think everyone needs to shut up and let him decide when he wants to retire and not just Kumble, this applies to every player. Fine agreed that he didn't bowl well but I mean who are we to tell when someone should retire. We should let the player decide when he wants to retire and let the selection committee decide whether he is good enough to be in the team.

Posted by go2nadh on (October 15, 2008, 22:42 GMT)

Reggie Hartman-Goodin, Not sure who you are what is your level of Expertise with this game.But you have an Opinion and you have the support of Cricinfo to rub such harsh/Blind/irresponsible comments on one of the senior most player of Indian team. Read your Post again..Does it sound reasonable. There was no need to be be so sarcastic and make someone funny. It would have been professional if the statistics on kumble's record in the recent matches were displayed,Verses attacking in an uneducated manner. I am one of the people who is eagerly waiting for fresh blood in the Indian team.But for that i don't want to sound our yesterdays hero's a jokers. I don't think the majority of the billion nation is stupid to support the fab four/five and the media is the only one intelligent to find the fab 4/5 are past their selling date. Atleast try to put some decent column next time.

Posted by Winfried on (October 15, 2008, 22:06 GMT)


It's not just about whether Kumble is taking the place of a more effective bowler. It's about whether Kumble is taking the place of a better captain. Had Dhoni been captain for the first match, Australia would have scored fewer runs (Kumble's field placement was bad - lots of easy singles).

Posted by hitter30 on (October 15, 2008, 21:31 GMT)

With no disrespect to Mr Anil Kumble or any of the senior player , the one question which bothers me or may be lots of cricket crazy fans " Why the famous players in their era don't want to quit the game unless they are kicked out ?".The same story happened with the legends of Indian cricket Kapil dev and Gavasker (many to count, except few sensible persons with brain), they were only playing for the records which is no more with them also. Apparently they just block the entry of newcomers which they might not have faced or if they faced it they forgot. If they are not playing for money (lets believe them when they say they love to play cricket)then why don't they play in national league, if i am not wrong even cricket is played in that level. The most embarrassing thing behind all this is even if they were great in their time they don't understand their responsibility for the new generation nor they are doing justice to the national team with their poor performance in the field.

Posted by kalyanbk on (October 15, 2008, 20:59 GMT)

There is no doubt Kumble has won the most number of test matches for India. He is thoroughly deserving of Indian captaincy for his professionalism and determination. However it is normal for people to praise you when you do well and criticize you when you do not perform. It is now simply for Kumble to perform and get wickets in the next few test matches.

Posted by Troyv on (October 15, 2008, 20:48 GMT)

Well first of, I cant say i agree with the above article. Just because Kumble bhai didnt bowl good in one innings doesnt mean that it is time for him to retire. Shane warne bowled till he was almost 37+. Even he had some rough days. That didnt mean he had to retire. He went out on his own accord. Kumble bhai has 600+ wickets in test and is also one of the best spinners in the world. I would say that it was just one of those days for kumble bhai and i think he should come back strong for the second test and bowl well. After all it was kumble bhai who brought india a lot of test wins with his bowling. If there can be a Jayasurya for Sri Lanka, there can definitely be a Kumble for India.

And if DADA (Souvrav Bhai) ever gets a chance to read this post, we are truely going to miss your batting in the middle order. We will miss those lofted shots, coming down the track and hitting the ball over the boundary. We will miss a great player and one of the best captains India has ever had.

Posted by venkattraman on (October 15, 2008, 20:43 GMT)

This is a very nice article summing up the fact that there is nothing wrong in questioning Kumble about his recent performances. Mendis took 26 wickets going past Alec Bedser and here is another great leg-spinner struggling to take wickets on the same pitch. Nothing wrong in questioning that. But at the same time, asking Kumble to step down or blaming him for going into the Test with an injury is absolutely wrong. He will definitely come back. Also, Munaf's earlier performances definitely don't justify his selection in Test cricket. Maybe he needs to get some chances to warrant his selection and it is difficult to see that happen unless Zaheer or Ishant get injured.

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