August 20, 2010

The importance of Kumble

To deal with fame, complacency and laziness, young cricketers need to be willing themselves, and the BCCI proactive. The likes of Anil Kumble can help, and corporate India may have solutions to offer

Anil Kumble wants to work with India's young talent and help in grooming and preparing them for life as cricketers. A better person could not be found, and a more crying need could not have been identified in Indian cricket. While it is a cricketer with skills who takes the field, the person within the athlete walks along too; sometimes as a shadow, sometimes even as a cloak. In the long run, while skill is important, attitude is supreme.

Kumble was a man possessed of considerable skill himself, but as a competitor he was awesome. His skill made him a very good cricketer, and his attitude propelled that skill towards making him a legend in Indian cricket. It is such qualities that Indian cricket and the young men who symbolise it need a dose of, because currently there is an epidemic going around.

Fine young cricketers are dropping off the radar, either unable to cope with fame and its attendant pressures or being satiated too soon. Kumble doesn't possess a wand, he is not an alchemist. And anyway, work ethic cannot be enforced or injected. It has to grow within. But hopefully Kumble can remind them of the path they need to be on. In truth they know of it, or at any rate they should, but a little nudge wouldn't be a bad idea.

Once the bosses of Indian cricket take time off from looking into finances - important but not the core aspect of the game - maybe they can start looking at players. It is not identifying talented players that is the main issue, it is what to do with them once they are identified that seems a little more difficult and will require sensitive handling. India's problem, then, lies not so much in unearthing talent as in maintaining it.

RP Singh and Sreesanth are wonderful vehicles that spend more time in the garage than on the road. Yuvraj Singh is a thoroughbred in danger of wandering off the track. These are not talents that a team can lose. If they hit the basement button, there has to be somebody to stop them. Hopefully Kumble can guide them. But eventually India's young cricketers must feel the need to be competitive and world-class from within, and do what it takes. In recent times I have met a couple of overseas cricketers and an Indian great, who without prompting offered the word "lazy" as a descriptor for some of our young bowlers.

My fear is that for the first couple of years excellence stays relevant and then for some it seems to demand too much time, become too much of an effort. The low-hanging fruit seems too enticing

So either the BCCI could take a laissez faire approach and say that if some of the younger brigade project the wrong attitude they are probably the wrong people for the side anyway. Or they could take a serious look at the attrition levels in Indian cricket. It has disappointed me that more hasn't been done in that regard.

The core of what Kumble will come up with will necessarily have to do with how to cope with success. It can lead to many things, some beautiful, some dangerous. It can spur you on to excellence or it can lead to complacence. My fear is that for the first couple of years, excellence stays relevant and then for some it seems to demand too much time, become too much of an effort. The low-hanging fruit seems too enticing.

It would be too difficult to expect the coach to handle such matters, which is why many have been advocating a senior person, not necessarily a cricketer, as a permanent manager; not someone who guarantees a vote and gets an expense account but a real professional, who players can open their hearts to.

People within the cricket system tend to mock those who reside outside. They often prefer the narrow confines of their world and prevent fresh thought from knocking at the door. My wife and I earn a living talking to corporate India about lessons from sport. The greater need, I am convinced, is for the best of corporate India to offer lessons in excellence to our young cricketers. Kumble's plan should be a starting point.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here