India v Australia, 3rd Test, Feroz Shah Kotla October 28, 2008

Kumble faces familiar burden of proof

Cricinfo staff
Life can change completely in a year. And if you have lost form drastically during that year, and also turned 38, those changes could border on the irreversible

At the Kotla, Anil Kumble will know he will be judged as a bowler, and also as a captain © AFP

Life can change completely in a year. And if you have lost form drastically during that year, and also turned 38, those changes could border on the irreversible. About 11 months ago, Anil Kumble walked out onto his beloved Feroz Shah Kotla, for the first time in his career as India's captain. India would go on to beat Pakistan, Kumble would take a paltry seven wickets (seven wickets was loose change, then, for Kumble at Kotla) in the match, and a new chapter to Kumble's career would start.

A year on, what wouldn't he give for seven wickets over the next five days? He has taken 17 in his last eight Tests. During the last Test he has seen Amit Mishra, his replacement, trouble Australia with old-school legspin while he had himself failed to create any impact in Bangalore. He has also seen Mahendra Singh Dhoni threaten to make a seamless transition from being a good one-day captain to a good Test captain. Kumble goes into the match knowing two different benchmarks have been set in Mohali. He will, he knows, be judged as a bowler and also as a captain.

Suddenly a man who has achieved it all in his career, who had nothing left to prove, has it all to prove. More so because he is likely to replace a youngster who took a five-for in his only Test so far. What wouldn't Kumble give to be a youngster again, and enjoy the long rope?

If there is pressure, he didn't show it at the pre-match press conference. "I have confidence in myself, the team has confidence in me, and I have confidence in my team to go out there and do the job for us," Kumble said.

Ironically, though, one thing hasn't changed. During the lead-up to that Pakistan Test last year, Yuvraj Singh had been knocking on the door through his one-day performances, with four half-centuries in the five-ODI series preceding the Tests. But Kumble spoke the harsh truth then: "It's tough on Yuvraj … He'll probably have to wait a bit more to become a regular member of the Test squad."

I have confidence in myself, the team has confidence in me, and I have confidence in my team to go out there and do the job for us

Mishra could be the Yuvraj this year, minus the public consolatory message. He will definitely have to make way for Kumble, as made clear on Monday by Gary Kirsten. But Mishra could still play because of the toe injury that Harbhajan Singh picked towards the end of the Mohali Test. Harbhajan bowled only three-odd overs in the nets in the past couple of days but Kumble said net practice was not an indicator of a player's fitness. "People try to assess if a person is fit or not, based on the number of deliveries he has bowled in the nets," he said. "I don't think - [given] the amount of cricket we play - it is important if someone bowls at the nets. He still has a bit of discomfort. He is a key part of our success. We will give him the maximum [possible] time to see if he is 100% or not."

It could also boil down to whether India want to push Harbhajan even if he is not 100%, because he brings with him a psychological edge over the Aussies, especially when playing at home. Otherwise India would go with two legspinners for the first time Mohali 2006, when Piyush Chawla made his debut alongside Kumble.

Kumble's predicament remains just a sub-plot, a fascinating one at that, to the bigger story: that India go into Kotla with their best chance to push Australia to the other end of a dead rubber. Normally it's Australia trying to deny other teams a consolation win in the last Test of the series, but India stand more than a realistic chance of closing the series over the next week. And they have most of the aspects of their cricket going for them: the openers have got them off to quick starts, the under-pressure middle order had held its own, and the fast bowlers have completely outclassed their Australian counterparts.

The focus, in that light, falls back on Kumble and his fellow spinner. Therein lies the irony. Throughout his career, and in the first half of his captaincy, Kumble has been the unobtrusive trier who comes and does his job without fuss. He wouldn't like it that, towards the end of his career, he is the man being talked about the most.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Vineesh on October 29, 2008, 7:39 GMT

    I agree with one thing kumble is a defensive captain just like dravid & sachin. But one match wont make a great player. I have enjoyed anil's bowling over the years and would like him to continue for at least another two three years as a bowler. Dhoni's captaincy was impressive but his batting is worrying for me. He has not proved till now as a test batsman. Two of his only best innings so far came on placid tracks in india. He was a big failure outside india. Even in india if the pitch do something(even if it spins or swings) he struggles. Lets hope he improve his batting with captaincy just like grame smith.

  • Gajanan on October 29, 2008, 3:35 GMT

    This is not the best Indian team. Everyody knows that the team that won Mohali match is the best team with Dhoni as captain. Unfortunately, hero worship is more important than national interests in Indian cricket. Even selectors are afraid to displease Kumble. Indian cricket fans will have to pay the penalty if India loses this one.

  • Jothin on October 29, 2008, 3:11 GMT

    This is ridiculous, he is 38 years old and life moves on even for the greatest of champions, we should just get on with life, give the young guys a go and give them time to develop and mature into champions themselves. If we cling on to history we would be making a big mistake and is very unfair to the younger ones. The king is dead, long live the king.

  • Pavan on October 29, 2008, 2:20 GMT

    Firstly, Kumble is the best Indian bowler, ever. While the Fab 4 contributed collectively to the Indian batting, Kumble has carried the Indian bowling, often single handedly, overseas and in India. However he is at the tail end of his career. But is he good for another 2 Tests - absolutely yes. And as Captain too.

    We are fortunate to have excellent replacements - Dhoni (Captain) and Misra/ Chawla (leg spinners). Pressure on Test positions brings out the best in the cricketers and I suspect it will in Kumble too.

    Secondly, and more importantly, can India secure the series win? India deserve to be favorites, but by no means is it a fait accompli. Mohali was a rare Test - 9 out of 11 Indian players had a great match - a true team effort. But typically 3-4 big performances can win Test matches (Kolkata 01, Adelaide 04),1-2 bad umpiring decisions (Sydney) & the toss can even up the contest. To win India will have to play well, after all India won in Perth & Aussies can win in Delhi.

  • Mahesh on October 29, 2008, 0:54 GMT

    when kumble took over the captaincy last year, i thought he had it in him to go for another 2-3 years. but now, after a year of sub-par performances, the pressure is squarely on his shoulders. it is probably unfair on him, considering everything that he has done for the team over the last 16 years.

    but with three young spinners impressing on the domestic circuit (mishra, ojha and chawla) and mishra's enthralling debut, it is going to take a monumental effort from kumble to stay in the team beyond this series. the captaincy is secondary because dhoni is obviously capable and ready. if kumble cannot take wickets, he's gone, as sad as that is.

    personally i'd like to see a successful kumble lead india for another couple of years. we know that physically, he is as fit as anyone else in team.....

  • Paresh on October 29, 2008, 0:18 GMT

    One thing beats me. Why do the champions have to prove themseoves? Aren't they champaions because of their ability and demonstration over a period of time to be called champions of their game? It seems that Indian fans only have bad memories. They always remember what went wrong rather than all that went right, that being the reason for the fab five to be called FAB FIVE. Instead of being happy that there are good players ready to grab the opportunity when it comes, the fans and critics are always on the edge to criticise. I think thats all because of this readily available vehicles in Internet and so called Indian media, who are always hungry to create sensation for their channels.

  • narendranadh on October 29, 2008, 0:15 GMT

    it's not fair to get-over kumble with only one failure,kumble had already gave memorable victories for India with his magical spell's,he also succeded as captain in many situation,but now luck is not in his way,talks to give captaincy to Dhoni also put prresure over him.This shows a drastical effect on his perfomance.But I don't think that it is necessary to transfer captaincy to Dhoni,this also bulds up preasure on Dhoni again.its not easy to keep in a test match for 5 days and captaincy also shows change in his performance so to me Kumble is to be continued as a captain

  • SUNIL on October 28, 2008, 23:53 GMT

    Kumble, although is going through a struggle is a legend and has the ability to bounce back any time. Yes he is 38 and hasn't taken many wwickets recently, a favourite pitch or just a good day can turn the things around. On top of that, even though Amit Mishra looked promising, he has a long way to go ahead of him where he will have to prove himself at regular intervals, otherwise we may have another Narendra Hirwani or for that matter Laxman Sivaramakrishnan on our hands. I also think that although mishra has bowled well, it was a very inexperieenced side (a lot of new guys playing for the 1st time on spinning wickets) and his style of bowling looked too conventional to me. In other words I think you have to havce something extraordinary as a spinner (like Shane warne's massive turn and flipper or Jumbo's top spin and bounce). I still hope Bhajji will be fit and we will have a winning combination- no doubt! And who wants to miss bhajji's celebration after he get's his 300 wickets!

  • Ashok on October 28, 2008, 23:03 GMT

    Kumble is the greatest Indian leg spinners of all time as his record proves. He should not be compared with Mishra. However the big question is his fitness and ability to perform at the Test level in his current form. Feroz Shah ground is Kumble's favourite ground where he has performed well. He should have added confidence even when his form is relatively poor. I expect he will perform well knowing the added confidence on this ground which is a spinners' wicket. However the bigger question is when will Kumble retire from Test Cricket so that the younger cricketers can phase in gradually. The same question is also needed to be answered by the Fab 4 in a year or two. Ganguly has already announced his retirement at the end of this series. Sachin arrived at the Test level when he was 16. Dravid and Ganguly arrived in early 20's. Is it fair to keep a young pool of talented batsmen waiting & not give them chance as given to the Fab 4 at a young age. Early 20's to 35 are the best years.

  • Andrew on October 28, 2008, 21:58 GMT

    Kumble is one of my favourite Indian cricketers of all time and I firmly believe he will lead India to victory this series. Mishra won't have too long to wait to take his chance, there is no hurry.

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