November 12, 2007

Ripe for the picking

Of all the jobs in a cricket team, the captain's is the one to which a few wrinkles are most conducive

Kumble: "been everywhere, done everything, seen it all before" © Getty Images

As a non-Indian cricket lover, you don't often find yourself casting admiring glances at the Indian selectors, but they have just got two big decisions right. One was appointing Mahendra Singh Dhoni captain for the World Twenty20. The other was not appointing him as Test captain. These are two very different games, and for the moment, in India, they require different captains.

Dhoni was right for Twenty20 partly because of his youth - he is 26. Ian Chappell thinks that's about the right age to become a Test captain. It was for him: he was 27, he had been in the team six years, and Australian cricketers in those far-off days seldom went on much beyond 30. But that was a generation and a half ago. These days, for most players, 26 is too young. Mike Atherton became a Test captain at 25: he wasn't ready. Nasser Hussain was 31: he was ready. Mark Taylor was 30: he was ready. Sachin Tendulkar was 23 the first time, and 26 the second: he wasn't ready either time.

This time round, the selectors had a brainstorm and offered the Test job to Tendulkar. When he sensibly declined, they had a brainwave and gave it to Anil Kumble. It's one of those choices that make you go "Of course! Why didn't they think of that earlier?" Kumble is intelligent, shrewd, resilient, respected, and vastly experienced. At 37 he might be considered too old; he has been in the Test team on and off, mostly on, for 17 years. But as long as you're still good enough to be in the team, which Kumble certainly is, how can you be too old to be captain?

Of all the jobs in a cricket team, the captain's is the one to which a few wrinkles are most conducive. The captain is a player-manager. He has to be at least semi-detached from his team-mates. He needs to have encountered triumph, disaster, good form, bad form, good captains, bad captains, and (above all) the stinging rebuke of being dropped. He should have been everywhere, done everything, seen it all before. Kumble pretty much has, from a ten-wicket haul to a Test century. He has played Tests in all ten countries, he is the third highest wicket-taker of all time, and his game runs on nous.

In most walks of life 37 is still young to be the person in charge. Even in cricket there are plenty of precedents. Ray Illingworth, one of the few England captains to win a Test series in Australia, took over at 37. Like Kumble he was a spinner and doughty lower-order batsman; a much less good bowler, but a better batsman. Mike Brearley, another Ashes colossus, didn't play Test cricket till he was 34, and only became England captain by default (when Tony Greig was sacked for recruiting players for Kerry Packer) at 35.

Even Australia have had their oldie captains: Bob Simpson was 41 when he was fished out of retirement to captain the Packer-depleted team of 1977-78, and Steve Waugh was 34 when he became captain and 38 when he finished. Imran Khan lifted the World Cup at 39; Clive Lloyd won a series in Australia at 40. Of course there have also been some elderly captains who haven't been great: while Inzamam-ul-Haq may be a dear old thing, Pakistan found new zip when he handed over to the much younger Shoaib Malik. But in a game that has begun to chuck players on the scrapheap when they are barely 35, it's good to see a veteran given the chance to apply his hard-earned expertise to captaincy.

Whether Kumble is a success will hinge on many things, only some of which are in his control. But his appointment is a breath of fresh air. And it makes the England selectors' handling of Mark Ramprakash, Kumble's near contemporary, look even more ageist.

Tim de Lisle is the author of Young Wisden (reviewed here) and a former editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly. His website is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Grudge on November 14, 2007, 23:02 GMT

    Why is everyone talking about Kumble's aggression? What do you know about aggression? Look at his record as the captain for his team, Karnataka. Look at his bowling aggression.

  • Vijay on November 14, 2007, 21:21 GMT

    Good sense prevailed at last for the selectors. Though Kumble was their second choice (should have been their first really), they have called right in quite some time

  • Arif on November 14, 2007, 10:55 GMT

    Its good enough when India are playing at home and Kumble is an automatic selection. Would it always be same when they have to play 3 quicks and a spinner?? Kumble would always stay in playing 11 over Harbhajan just for being captain regardless of current form.

  • Kartik on November 14, 2007, 4:11 GMT

    Well, this seems like the classic BCCI story - almost like a rerun of some old Hindi movie being remade in 2007. Make a stopgap arrangement that puts off what must be done today to tommorrow and hope that the today's problem will vanish. While I congratulate the Board on a wise decision (more of a picking from limited options), what is going really spoil the scene for the wise men is if KUMBLE LEADS TEAM INDIA TO A SERIES WIN IN AUSTRALIA. Whom will you drop then. Whom will you retain. Whom will you groom. A delicious scenario I say

  • neeraj on November 14, 2007, 2:52 GMT

    Kumble will make a good captain, but he lacks the aggressive style that Dhoni has-if runs need to be taken, Dhoni will tell the batsmen to hit hard. If wickets are needed, Dhoni will tell bowlers to simply throw the ball at the stumps. Also, in Australia, it would help to have a batsman as captain, since the pitches there are strange for batsmen to play on. But Kumble, if he's smart, will listen to Dhoni's ideas during the Test Series. Truth be told, Kumble isn't anything permanent; he's bound to retire soon. They're just trying to groom Dhoni and finally reward Kumble for his good work as a player

  • srinivas on November 13, 2007, 18:20 GMT

    Beware Australia!!!

    Those who have underestimated Kumble have learnt the lesson the hardway. He will not speak, his deeds speak for himself. He is one of the Rarest breed of Aggressive, yet Gentlemanly cricketers. He is the perfect Rolemodel for any budding cricketers. His Main strength is DEDICATION to the Target. Even if you break his Jaw, he comes back to take wickets. that is his commitment to the team. Even though he is injured and out of the team, he guided the young harbhajan to finish the job. Now He is at the Helm of affairs, now it is your time to face the music. Kumble will show you How to win without resorting to sledging.

  • Thencheri on November 13, 2007, 16:51 GMT

    Kumble's selection as test captain is indeed most welcome.Dhoni has to prove himself as a test match player, although he is undoubtedly one of the best ODI players.Captaining a side along with wicketkeeping in a TestMatch could be very difficult since momentary lapses in concentration can result in dropping a crucial catch,say that of Hayden or Ponting,and he will be made to rue that fact.Other important factor is that both Dinesh Kartik(who will be in the side as an opener and is a better keeper) and Parthiv Patel are in excellent form and can even replace Dhoni from the team.Moreover Yuvraj Singh is the form of his life time and cannot be ignored from the test team anymore.If he has a successful series against Pakistan and Australia he could be a very strong contender for the Captaincy.He is also a dynamic player and may very well go on to emulate the other south paw Sourav Ganguly as one of the best Indian Captains.2008 may well spring quite a few surprises in Indian Cricket

  • Ivan on November 13, 2007, 16:26 GMT

    Nobody can say the Kumble did not deserve to be captain - he's done it all as Tim mentions so certainly good for him. The more important question is is he the best choice - Ganguly with his aggressive attitude and excellent track record and Dhoni with his recent successes are the two other candidates who must have been considered seriously by the selectors.

    In my opinion all three of them deserved a chance and so one can't find fault with the selectors. Kumble will have the respect of the side because of his track record and will bring great intensity to the battle. He will also not back down from a challenge.

    So let's wish him well.

  • Mathew on November 13, 2007, 16:16 GMT

    Yes, I agree with Tim De Lisle's analysis. Execellent decision by the selectors. It would have been even better if this decision was taken soon after Dravid resigned. In reply to Azfar's comment, no, just because a player is experienced he will not make a good captain. But it is widely know that Kumble has all the skills that are important to captaincy. If I remember right he also has quite a bit of experience captaining Karnataka in domestic cricket.

  • Joydeep on November 13, 2007, 15:57 GMT

    Nice thoughts expressed here by Tim. Though i guess if experience was the main criteria for selecting the captain, isn't Ganguly much more experienced than Kumble(with due respects)regarding being the captain. Our board is solely driven by issues of politics and regional bias and has much less to do with cricketing logic. Though I sincerely hope that Kumble's sincerity and dedication wins him accolades in one of the most prestigious jobs of our country... and may he return from Australia with his head held high.

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