October 10, 2011

Can Kumble set a moral benchmark?

The accusations of conflict of interest against him don't have to bring him down; they could provide an opportunity for him to enhance his stature

Among all the words spoken in the aftermath of the Sydney Test between India and Australia in 2008, one of the most foul-spirited in recent history, the ones that carried the deepest resonance came from Anil Kumble. "Only one team was playing in the spirit of the game," he said, after India had been beaten by 122 runs in a match ruined by poor umpiring and worse behaviour.

They were not original words - they were a play on the famous line uttered by Bill Woodfull to describe England's strategy of targeting the ribcages of Australian batsmen during Bodyline - and it was unlikely Kumble could have imagined the weight they would carry when he spoke them at the post-match conference.

Though his team had been wronged more by the umpires, and the Australian fielders had been provocative, India had hardly been blameless. Harbhajan Singh was later charged - and subsequently let off, on account of lack of evidence - with having racially abused Andrew Symonds. But it was Kumble who walked tall out of the mess. His words felt powerful and moving because they were backed by his stature in world cricket.

While he considers his choices in the wake of the controversy over his involvement with a player management agency, reflecting on the significance of that press conference might offer him some clarity.

Ordinarily Kumble's involvement in managing players would be welcome. A certain shadiness has always been associated with player management in India and Kumble's influence on young Indian players can only be healthy. And the players whose commercial interests his company is supposed to look after are hardly superstars. But Kumble also happens to be the president of the Karnataka State Cricket Association, the chairman of the National Cricket Academy, and the chief mentor for Royal Challengers Bangalore.

By some accounts Kumble is baffled and hurt by people inferring he has conflicts of interest. He can argue that he is capable of separating each of his roles and not letting one influence the other. But perceptions matter, and public life has its own unwritten code of conduct.

Kumble chose to fight for the presidency of the KSCA, and every right-thinking cricket fan in the country celebrated his victory. He was not the first cricketer to seek and win an administrative office - indeed, his team replaced another group of cricketers - but his was hailed as a landmark victory because it carried the promise of a style of governance committed to the growth of cricket and cricketers. Kumble had alongside him Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad, and their campaign was supported by Rahul Dravid, but Kumble's image as a man of integrity and commitment was the biggest source of optimism.

It is true that fans often assign qualities and virtues to sports heroes on the basis of their exploits on the field. Kumble's image has been built not merely around his accomplishments as a champion bowler but his ceaseless service to the team cause, his reputation as an unrelenting warrior, and his commanding voice in the dressing room. Most of all, it has been immortalised by the sight of him bowling with a bandage around a broken jaw in Antigua in 2002, a compelling portrait of valour and heroism, of a man putting the team ahead of self. To be judged against such an image can be a hopeless task in real life, and unfairly suffocating too.

Kumble can argue that he is capable of separating each of his roles and not letting one influence the other. But perceptions matter, and public life has its own unwritten code of conduct

But sports heroes are not merely victims of their images. They find rewards in them too, and with those come a certain responsibility for moral conduct. In any case, they mustn't see such expectations as a burden. Instead, to be expected to be noble and upright is a badge of honour, to be embraced not shunned.

The Indian cricket fan has got used to the idea of not expecting a lot from administrators. For most of its existence the BCCI has remained an opaque organisation and one rarely known for vision or accountability. Conflicts of interest abound. The president owns an IPL team. The chairman of selectors used to be a brand ambassador for that same team. And Kumble's predecessor at the KSCA ran a coaching institute not far from the Chinnaswamy Stadium.

That many KSCA office bearers, including Kumble, sit in the RCB dugout raises a few uncomfortable questions. It is to mutual benefit for a state association to work closely with the local IPL franchise; the question is whether the state association officials should work for the franchise. However, there is nothing grey about the man who heads the cricket association looking after the commercial interests of a few local players, however well-intentioned he may be. He hardly needs an agency to mentor cricketers. In fact, his company should have nothing to do with developing state cricketers at any level. That's his job as the president of KSCA.

Kumble is not the only high-profile former cricketer to be accused of conflict of interest in recent times, but how he responds to the charge will determine how he will be judged. It is a tribute to him that he is expected to set his standards high. His intentions are not in question here; it is a question of doing what appears to be right. Does he want to measure himself against the office bearers of the BCCI, both past and present, or does he aspire to a higher moral standard?

No one will think any less of Kumble for owning up to an error of judgement and rectifying his position. He has been a giant for Indian cricket on the field; now he has an opportunity to enhance his stature off the field.

Actually, there is a much bigger job waiting for him. There is no better person available to professionally take charge of running Indian cricket, a job that Hugh Morris does so efficiently for England as its managing director. But that should be his only job, and it should pay handsomely.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Atul on October 11, 2011, 22:46 GMT

    I am huge fan of Kumble and was extremely happy when he was elected as KCA president but I guess media hype to make kumble incharge of Indian cricket is too much. he obviously did great job as captain and player but Man who should be at helm of Indian cricket is Sourav Ganguly. he is the man who changed indian cricket, who can fight for good of indian cricket and above all he is unbiased individual. during his captaincy he supported guys from different parts of india and groomed them.

  • nik on October 11, 2011, 16:53 GMT

    no wonder Vinay Kumar and now Arvind found place in Indian team.

  • Vinayak on October 11, 2011, 16:30 GMT

    Comparing him to the other administrators is quite hilarious. He also needs to earn his bread. Dont blame him. Its just a practical decision. Look at the rest. As far as the post of Indian Cricket CEO is concerned, I doubt BCCI would wake up from their Kumbhkaran slumber so quickly. Its going to take time!

  • Prashanth on October 11, 2011, 15:17 GMT

    I completely trust Kumble. He is too good a character. He need not set any 'example'. He has done that enough for a lifetime!!

  • Shekhar on October 11, 2011, 13:33 GMT

    5000 years ago Lord Krishna in Kurukshetra said these golden words which are still true: "Desire, Anger & Greed are 3 sure gates to hell". When these cricketers have made a lot of money why do they still need more - the green eyed monster is never satisfied. Trying to satisfy one's wants is like pouring clarified butter (Ghee) into fire to put it out! Even Mr Kumble could not resist the temptation to make money at any cost. It is pointless saying that others have done it so why not Mr Kumble simply because M Kumble has pesented himself as Mr Clean. Hope & pray it is not Mr Dravid, my favourite cricketer next!

  • Ravi on October 11, 2011, 9:47 GMT

    I do not undertand what the fuss is all about. Krish Srikanth is not only Chairman of Selectors but also brand ambassador for CSK.He i also appears to be managing his son's career.Ravi Shastri is on the governing council of IPL and a TV commentator.Shastri also we understand manages Sachin. All things being equal, Kumble in my view stands tall and above the rest.

  • Gilbert on October 11, 2011, 9:11 GMT

    Kumble is very conscious of his standing in society and I don't think he will try anything to defame his character. Why not assume that he is so devoted and passionate about being involved in the game that he wants to be involved in everything.? Perhaps his enthusiasm and love for the game is upsetting certain quarters that cannot get a look in. I am for Anil to take over the running the game in India and when Dravid leaves the game Anil Kumble must take him aboard. Methinks that those that have been running the show for decades had made 'mistakes' because they had conflict of interests like the present incumbent.

  • Dummy4 on October 10, 2011, 19:30 GMT

    Hmmm, Very Well said, Sambit.

  • Dummy4 on October 10, 2011, 14:54 GMT

    This news and the response to that by Kumble himself is rather disappointing to fans who had great faith in him when he won the mantle of KSCA president. Along with Srinath who iam a big fan of expected great things. this conflict of interest is existing from thee time he accepted mentor ship of RCB. Think about this, if you are a Manish Pandey and know that the boss (also appoints the selection committee sacking kirmani) of your team (Karnataka) is mentor in the franchise you refused to sign, how would you feel. Would you not be skeptical about your selection to the team? Kumble talks about earning his lively hood, let us examine this closely. Iam not even getting into his earnings as an indian test cricketer for 15 yrs. People might want to know he also owns a software company called D&A Systems and they build sports software. He also can get other corporate jobs. At the end of the day if you want to be a KSCA president and give back to the game then you have to make some sacrifice.

  • Rakesh on October 10, 2011, 14:39 GMT

    Is this the reason why Vinay Kumar keeps finding himself in the Indian Team?

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