Stay or go? Kumble has been confronted with one of the hardest decisions of his career © AFP

If you went by some of the hype - and no one does that better than India - Mahendra Singh Dhoni is a combination of Douglas Jardine and Mike Brearley: a brave and intuitive leader who has brought cricket's most powerful entity to its knees. Every other article is guilty of comparisons, foolish at the best of times. Dhoni is portrayed as the street-smart, quick-witted future; Anil Kumble as some kind of aging blunderbuss who lacks tactical nous and inspirational qualities.

How fickle we can be. It's not even a year since Kumble's team pulled off the greatest of Indian cricket victories, at a venue, the WACA, where Australia were thought to be nigh on invincible. Since it doesn't suit the story though, Perth is conveniently forgotten. Only the 320-run triumph at Mohali matters.

Short of striding out in Kumble's blazer - shoulders too broad to fill? - Dhoni didn't put a step wrong in the second Test, leading with flair and personal example against a team every bit as strong as the South Africans whom India overcame on his captaincy debut in Kanpur last April. His poise and candour at the post-match press conference spoke of a man who will grow into one of the most challenging jobs in sport. But does that necessarily mean that the selectors should wear sackcloth and ashes for appointing Kumble captain for this series?

Never change a winning team. There's perhaps no bigger cliché in sport, and like most of them, there's a kernel of truth at the heart of the argument. Of course, there have been hundreds of occasions when a successful side has been tweaked with no dramatic repercussions, but the cautionary tales linger so long in the memory that the cliché becomes accepted as a truism.

The ultimate proof that it's probably ideal not to fix what isn't broken came at Berne in July 1954. Hungary's Magic Magyars were the best football team the world have ever seen, and Ferenc Puskas their greatest player. An ankle injury had kept him out for most of the tournament, and he had hardly been missed as Hungary defeated both Brazil and Uruguay to reach the final.

On the big day though, sentiment overruled pragmatism and Puskas came back into the starting XI, against the Germans, who had started to peak at the right time. He was clearly unfit, and though he scored the opening goal and had an equaliser ruled out in the final minutes of the match, it was the Germans who lifted the trophy. Hungary was never again able to produce such a group of outstanding players; the side of the 1950s remains sport's most poignant what-might-have-been story.

In his own way Kumble is Indian cricket's Puskas, the talisman responsible for almost every single major triumph by India dating back to 1993. Like Puskas in the days before Berne, no one really knows how well he's recovered from injury. He says he's fit to play. And do we really expect him to say otherwise? After all, this is the warrior who once bowled over after over with a broken jaw just so his team's chances wouldn't be adversely affected.

There is a school of thought that says Kumble should step aside and allow Amit Mishra, who took 7 for 106 on debut in Mohali, to play at the Feroz Shah Kotla next week. Well as Mishra bowled on debut, he's no Kumble, and he certainly doesn't have the Kotla catalogue that India's greatest slow bowler has. In six Tests at the venue, Kumble has 55 wickets at 15.41. It was there that he took his perfect 10, and the curator, Radhey Shyam Sharma, has already announced his intention to give Kumble a "present".

Past records don't win you games, though. Having taken 16 wickets in 1997 and 19 four years later, Jason Gillespie was expected to be instrumental in Australia's campaign to retain the Ashes in 2005. The spark, that indefinable something that separates the great from the also-rans, had gone, though, and in three Tests he took just three wickets at a cost of 300 runs. Gillespie's Test career effectively ended the day he conceded 114 runs from 19 overs at Old Trafford. No lover of Indian cricket would want to see Kumble exit in such fashion, but after the downturn in his performances since Perth, there's a very real fear that the finale won't be a rousing one. With the emergence of Mishra, Kumble faces a situation similar to that which confronted Nasser Hussain five years ago. Michael Vaughan looked increasingly like the man to take English cricket forward, and with Andrew Strauss offering a viable top-order alternative, Hussain did the honourable thing and walked.

 
 
The solution isn't the simple and elegant one that would have been to Hercule Poirot's liking. If there are absolutely no fitness clouds hovering over Kumble, and if the team management feels that they can get 50 typically probing overs out of him, then he must be allowed to decide his fate
 

Those are the questions that Kumble has to ponder less than a week after his 38th birthday. The shoulder has given him plenty of problems over the past year, and the zip off the pitch that was the leitmotif of his bowling has been noticeably absent in recent months. Even an Australian team reeling from the thrashing at Mohali might fancy its chances against a crocked legend. After all, they did keep him out for 51 overs in Bangalore.

The other suggestion, based on India's powerful batting in the second Test, is to drop a batsman and play five bowlers. Again, that doesn't make much sense, unless you play the additional pace bowler. Harbhajan Singh and Mishra may have acquitted themselves with credit in Mohali, but the bowling stars of the series have been Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan. Reverse-swing, rather than the googly, has been the difference between the two teams, and if India are to play an equal complement of batsmen and bowlers, it should be Munaf Patel who comes in.

Also, which batsman would you leave out? The openers were integral to the dominance in Mohali, while Sourav Ganguly made a century and Sachin Tendulkar narrowly missed out on one. Rahul Dravid has been in fine touch in both games, while VVS Laxman has been striking the ball with a fluency that suggests one of the big scores he habitually makes against Australia isn't too far away.

The solution isn't the simple and elegant one that would have been to Hercule Poirot's liking. If there are absolutely no fitness clouds hovering over Kumble, and if the team management feels that they can get 50 typically probing overs out of him, then he must be allowed to decide his fate. It's harsh on Mishra, but his time will come, almost certainly against the English.

For Kumble, it's time for reflection. As great a player as he has been, does his desire for a victorious farewell segue with the team's aim of accomplishing cricket's ultimate feat? On current form, is he even the best legspinner in the squad? Only one man has the answers, and Indian cricket must hope that his judgment is as impeccable as that topspinner once used to be.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo