November 10, 2007

In safe keeping

By handing the captaincy to Anil Kumble, the selectors have ensured the post is in safe hands and will be transferred with minimum fuss when the time comes



Anil Kumble has accepted the job relinquished by Rahul Dravid and is the ideal candidate to preside over the transition © Getty Images

With two of India's best cricketers not wanting the most coveted job in Indian cricket, the responsibility now falls on the broad shoulders of another man no less worthy of the task. Anil Kumble has never politicked to get himself the job, nor has he clamoured for it. Now, with the selectors not wanting to go with Mahendra Singh Dhoni right away, it is his, and he is the best man for the job. At a delicate time for Indian cricket, he has the weighty responsibility of ensuring a smooth transition from one generation to another.

There are two ways to look at Kumble's appointment as Test captain. The first would suggest Dhoni be given the job, thrown in at the deep end as was Graeme Smith, and allowed the leeway to sink or swim. This is valid to an extent but it's just not the Indian way. Despite his success in the ICC World Twenty20 and having presided over a seven-ODI home series against Australia, Dhoni is still young in the job. It's a steep learning curve and Dhoni, in the earliest part of that curve, would have had to play Pakistan at home and Australia away, the two biggest series for an Indian team. India is not especially tolerant of cricketers learning on the job, and the clamour for instant results would, in all likelihood, have drowned out the voices speaking about long-term gain.

The second way to look at Kumble's appointment, and especially given that it is a fait accompli, is to see it in isolation. Instead of seeing it as a case of Kumble beating Dhoni to get the job, look at it as a case of the selectors not wanting to expose Dhoni to the toughest rigours of Test captaincy just yet. There is merit in this line of thought, and sources revealed to Cricinfo that the selectors' decision was not directly influenced by the board. When the selection meeting began in Chandigarh the decision to appoint Kumble may not have been a unanimous one, but it certainly was a majority, and by the end of the meeting - as is custom in India - unanimous.

This is no "parting gift" to Kumble in the evening of his career; if anything it is handing him a tough job at a time when, given all the circumstances, he was the best man for the job.

Whatever the circumstances, it's best for the moment to look at the development with the future in mind than what has transpired to make it so. This is no "parting gift" to Kumble in the evening of his career; if anything it is handing him a tough job at a time when, given all the circumstances, he was the best man for the job.

Although he has been appointed for only the Tests against Pakistan he should, barring serious mishaps, carry on for the Australia tour as well. This means he has a challenge on his hands against two opponents he knows well. He's played 26 Tests against the two teams, taking 151 wickets at an average of just under 30, giving away a little over three runs an over at a strike rate of a wicket every 58 balls. The economy and average are very slightly higher than his overall career figures but you would expect that, given how well Pakistan play spin and Australia's dominance in the last decade. What will please Kumble is that his strike rate against these two sides is better than his overall strike rate. His role now, though, is not restricted to what he does with the ball. His challenge is to carry the team with him.

And that's how Kumble has liked things all his life. He has relished challenge and despite some of the bite and venom going out of his bowling, has never once let the intensity flag. There's no reason to believe he'll be any different as captain. The one worry, though, especially when India play at home, is how this will affect Kumble the bowler. Historically bowlers have had a tricky balancing act to play when leading the team. The tendency is to either over-bowl themselves or under-utilise themselves. India cannot afford that, with Kumble still being a significant force in the bowling department. That he is only India's third bowler captain - after S Venkataraghavan and Bishan Singh Bedi - tells you how reluctant the selectors have been over the years to hand the job to a bowler.

Now that they have done so, it is time to support him. It's clear that Dhoni is the one to succeed Dravid, in the long term, and Kumble, at 37, is an ideal candidate to preside over the transition. When asked to do the job he will do it with to the best of his ability, and when the time comes to hand over the baton to Dhoni, he will do so with grace.

Anand Vasu is an associate editor at Cricinfo