The last time Anil Kumble was part of an India camp was at his home ground, M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, in 2008. Two men were under immense pressure to keep their places in the side: Captain Kumble and former captain Sourav Ganguly. Just before the series both had struggled in Sri Lanka: Ganguly had scored 96 runs in six innings, and Kumble had taken eight wickets for 400 runs in three Tests. Kumble answered in the negative questions about retirements. This was just before the home series against Australia. A few days later, Ganguly announced this series was to be his last, and an injured Kumble ended his career even before Ganguly.
Eight years later, Kumble and Ganguly have emerged as unlikely duo shepherding the Indian team from the management perspective. Unlike Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, Ganguly has turned out to be pretty hands-on as a state association president and a member of the cricket advisory committee. Kumble, too, has had a stint as a state association president, actually winning an election, willing to put his reputation on the line by entering the contest. Now Ganguly is believed to have played a key role in getting Kumble as the coach of Indian team.
Sitting in the same spot that Ganguly sat in the press conference room when he said the words that still resonate - "Just one last thing lads, before I leave, I just want to say that this is going to be my last series" - Kumble was asked to speak about the controversy around the way Ravi Shastri, who had served as team director for almost two years until the World T20, was overlooked. Shastri had alleged Ganguly was not even present to interview him when he made his presentation. The underlying suggestion being that the decision had already been made even before the interview process.
Kumble was a relentless bowler, always at the batsman, but here he did a good impression of leaving this swinging ball alone outside off. "I was the first one to call Ravi after I was chosen as head coach," Kumble said. "He did a wonderful job with the Indian team. It is not about Anil or Ravi, it is not about the head coach. It is about the players, it is about the team. And from my point of view, whether it is me or Ravi or any Indian, we all want the Indian team to do well. We all want the Indian team to perform at its best. We all believe that there is potential for the Indian team to be the best in all three formats.
"And If I'm part of the journey, that's all I have to say. He congratulated me. I told him it's a fantastic team, a young team that we have. It could be someone else tomorrow [in place of me]. I'm not permanent in this role. I have an opportunity to make a difference. I have an opportunity to be part of the journey and if I can be part of the journey where we see Indian cricket rise to where we all want it to be, then I think it's wonderful. I feel privileged, like I already mentioned. And an honour again to be a part of the team."
Kumble was more comfortable and open talking about his own role. At the outset he repeated that he and his support staff were going to be in the background, that his legendary status as a cricketer himself was not going to overpower his team. About his preferred support staff - Sanjay Bangar and Abhay Sharma as batting and fielding coach are temporary appointments for the upcoming West Indies tour - Kumble didn't reveal much except that he was keen to work with the bowlers himself. A fast-bowling coach couldn't be ruled out, though.
"At this point in time, I thought I can get close to the bowlers, for a start," Kumble said. "Yes, we are considering options, I don't want to say what because this is my first trip as coach with the team and I'd like to observe and try and see how the team is shaping up. At this point in time, I thought that with the bowlers, it is the strategy that I can certainly play a part of and that's something which I am looking at, trying to get closer to the bowlers, understanding what their needs are and then looking at probably bringing in, if you are looking at a fast bowling coach I think is what you are trying to say. There are considerations that I am thinking of but at this point, I don't know if it will be possible to take someone to the West Indies. If that doesn't happen, then certainly I am keen to look at the bowlers. I feel that that is certainly an area where I can contribute a lot more."
Kumble was asked what he, as a player, used to look for in a coach. The answer to this was the most definitive in his 20-minute press conference. He also made clear he was going to this team what he himself used to seek in a coach. "As a coach, all I sought was organised preparations for the team and informed inputs to the captain and the team to strategise better. Inclusive of every player. You have to include every player. It's not about just the 11 who are to play. Also abut the six or seven who are not going to play.
"That's something I sought as a player because it was not always that I played in every team that played for India during my time. I was dropped, I was not chosen for tours. So I understand [what it means to] be the most important member in the team to being dropped. I understand all of that, I understand that communication at such times is very critical. For the coach to pick up the phone and send the message, 'Don't worry you are still part of the team.' That's what I will look to do. Hopefully I will be able to succeed in telling people who are part of the system that they will always be part of it."
Kumble had earlier remarked it felt a little odd being interviewed by three of his long-time team-mates. Having stepped into the team atmosphere, though, Kumble doesn't feel odd at all. "Obviously you know the roles and boundaries as a coach," Kumble said. "Other than that it's no different. All of us want Indian cricket to be doing really well, and these are exciting times. I feel privileged to be a part of that journey, and in whatever way I can help Indian cricket achieve that. It was no different walking into a meeting room with the entire team, although the faces were different. I've played with some of them; I've mentored a couple of them in various capacities. To be back in the changing room is always special."