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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

Sambit Bal

October 10, 2011

Comments: 21 | Text size: A | A

Anil Kumble and his wife arrive for the 2010 ICC Awards in Bangalore, October 6, 2010
Kumble: for him to be expected to be noble and upright is a badge of honour to be embraced © Getty Images

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

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Posted by atulcricket 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.

Posted by nkoch on (October 11, 2011, 16:53 GMT)

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

Posted by vinvin2210 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!

Posted by pitch_it_up 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!!

Posted by Shekhar_Iyer 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!

Posted by aarpee2 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.

Posted by Gilliana 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.

Posted by   on (October 10, 2011, 19:30 GMT)

Hmmm, Very Well said, Sambit.

Posted by   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.

Posted by Haleos on (October 10, 2011, 14:39 GMT)

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

Posted by Cricket_Fanatic_vignesh on (October 10, 2011, 13:41 GMT)

kumble is not a good administrator.

Posted by whamsis on (October 10, 2011, 11:06 GMT)

Situations and responsibilities which might lead to Conflict of Interest has became a way of life. This is something which we all have to deal with. It is there everywhere, with the players, ex-players, officials and even media. Let us look at CricInfo itself as a case in point here, over the last 3 weeks or so the coverage was all about CLT20 for which ESPNSTAR are the right holders and host broadcasters. We have seen several articles in the last few weeks by marquee authors talking about different ways of looking and appreciating T20. I understand that these are individual opinions and not necessarily reflect the opinion of Cricinfo but the timing is questionable and could lead to a conflict of interest debate.

Posted by viv85 on (October 10, 2011, 10:20 GMT)

"enhance the stature of the field"....what makes u think 'of' will take a single 'f'??? in the morning u corrected it n now all over again...

Posted by BULTY on (October 10, 2011, 7:33 GMT)

From what I read in the article, I am compelled to make a comparison. The present President of BCCI is a Director of a Company, which owns the Chennai Super Kings and is directly involved in its affairs. When he could do that, what is wrong in Anil doing that? KSCA cannot manage every single person who plays cricket in Karnataka. On the other hand companies like the one managed by Anil can do that, pick up the promising ones and bring them under the ambit of KSCA. He stopped playing for RCB only due to lack of time in managing the different things he has taken on; in order not to miss the link altogether, he was made the chief mentor of RCB and as such this is a temporary arrangement. No doubt there cannot be a question mark on the ability of Anil as an administrator. As for his sacking Dravid from RCB, I don't see the decision was his alone. If he had no faith in Dravid, he wouldn't have make him a member of his team in the KSCA elections.

Posted by   on (October 10, 2011, 6:59 GMT)

Well said, Sambit. Kumble's job as KSCA President is to find and nurture cricketers to play for the state and country. Why does he needs to head an agency for that? A man of Kumble's stature should not only be clean but he needs to be seen to be clean.

Posted by Raju_Iyer on (October 10, 2011, 6:49 GMT)

I don't see how there can be a conflict of interest between managing young players and in his other roles. We have to accept that we live in an incestous world where people accept every opportunity available to them. Why look into the world of cricket. Don't parents approach their wards teachers for "private" tutions from primary school itself? As long as he is able to deliver in his various roles, that should be fine.

Posted by viv85 on (October 10, 2011, 6:31 GMT)

will cricinfo set those high standards itself? accepting a mistake is not an insult by any standard....

Posted by DaredevilsUnlimited on (October 10, 2011, 6:12 GMT)

The article has hit the nail on its head, a cricketer of Kumble's statuture should have avoided such situation more because of occupying KSCA Presidentship who should be impartial to all cricketers from Karnataka. His company even if it operates with objectiveness will always in the eyes of public take Kumle's role with a pinch of salt.He is entitled to make money but not being in thefour roles which he is occupying with conflict of intersts writ clearlyon it. He will not be different from one of the former Secretay of KSCA who under the garb of players led office bearers literally destroyed the fabrics of cricket in Karnataka for almost a decade.

Posted by   on (October 10, 2011, 5:11 GMT)

Well said, Sambit. Well said!

Posted by harshalb on (October 10, 2011, 3:47 GMT)

Bal you are bang on. Kumble must set higher standards because he is expected to. However are we saying that the chairman of selectors Srikkanth is NOT expected to set similarly high standards? Why should he be working for CSK? Why should N Srinivasan be allowed to be the board president? I am not justifying Kumble...I am saying we have to keep raising these questions for all these individuals every time their name is every level to ensure that these things are not swept under the carpet.

Posted by maddinson on (October 10, 2011, 3:32 GMT)

Kumble so far as KSCA president is totally disappointing till now. He was among my top 5 cricketers from India but I remember him for wrong reasons especially since the controversial tour of Australia. He made the biggest mistake in that series to made India's finest Test Batsman Dravid to open, though that was not highlighted because of the Sydney test. He even backstabbed Dravid during IPL while he was captain by making Rahul bat at 6-7 in T20 during his tough time. But still Dravid supported him when he was fighting election for the post of KSCA.

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Sambit Bal Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.

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