The importance of Kumble the coach for India's bowlers
The new coach is already making a difference to Ashwin's overseas record, and his partnership with Kohli could be fruitful too
Is it a coincidence that R Ashwin reached new heights as a spinner in away Tests after Virat Kohli and coach Anil Kumble came together? I believe not, for the two are among the most positive thinkers on the game that Indian cricket knows, and I am sure they have given Ashwin and the other Indian bowlers a dose of the sort of confidence they have rarely known before.
While his promotion in the batting order in the first Test must have done Ashwin's self-belief a world of good, we learn from the man himself that he successfully overcome his frustration at his lack of wickets in the first innings in Antigua thanks to Kumble's counselling.
Kumble obviously knows from his own experience that bowlers sometimes go unrewarded while doing everything right, but not all bowlers recognise this fact. In their anxiety to get wickets, they may end up trying too hard and eventually lose the plot altogether, instead of calmly continuing to do what they have been doing and waiting patiently for their luck to turn.
I never played international cricket and do not know firsthand what it is to feel the pressures of bowling at that level, but in my own cricket career I knew how to deal with wicketlessness. It never bothered me so long as I knew I was bowling well.
(Actually, that last statement was not entirely true. There came a time when I did become anxious for wickets, and that was the beginning of the end of my bowling career.)
As a specialist bowler Kumble brings a rare advantage to his job. He understands bowling and bowlers in a way batsmen-coaches can seldom do. In his all-too-short stint as captain of India, he handled bowlers perhaps better than most of his predecessors did.
Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, in his second reign as captain, and Ajit Wadekar, with their different approaches, used their bowling resources well. Pataudi relied heavily on spinners and so did Wadekar, who was a little more defensive in his approach in a typically Mumbai style.
Between Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid (or even Dravid and MS Dhoni), Dravid was usually more ready to go for the kill, especially in the matter of timing declarations. Both he and Ganguly had Kumble and Harbhajan Singh at their command, though India sometimes went in with only one of them in the XI.
As captain, Kumble himself insisted on two spinners in the XI, and used Harbhajan very effectively. He was also not averse to giving Virender Sehwag relatively long spells as an offspinner, or trying to include Ganguly the medium-pacer in his scheme of things.
As coach, Kumble has even greater freedom to try out his bowling theories than he had in his captaincy days (as he doesn't have to deal with thinking of when to bring himself on or take himself off), though he still needs to sell his ideas to Kohli.
In fact, the Kohli-Kumble partnership could be the ideal coach-captain combination, with Kohli bringing a complementary batsman-captain's perspective into their discussions. It helps that both of them are equally aggressive in intent and tend to back the bowlers. Both seem to allow the bowlers to express themselves without inhibition.
Bowling allrounder Kapil Dev handled his bowlers remarkably well in the 1983 World Cup and also in Test cricket, leading India to a 2-0 triumph in England, where he marshalled his resources - Chetan Sharma, Roger Binny, Madan Lal, Kapil himself and spinner Maninder Singh - admirably.
At a recent cricket-related event, Kapil spoke of the problems he had communicating with one of his favourite bowlers, Roger Binny. "He didn't know Hindi and I didn't know English.'' But Kapil also said that discussions between captain and bowler could assume greater importance than they deserve. "There was little conversation possible between me and Roger, so I left him alone, and he bowled very well. It's sometimes good to leave bowlers alone."
There can be such a thing as too much communication from the captain to the bowlers, as we saw during Sachin Tendulkar's captaincy, or too little, as was sometimes evident when Dhoni led the side. It's early days still, but the Kumble-Kohli partnership does augur well for India's bowlers in the long run, though the pair will be tested by stronger teams than West Indies.
V Ramnarayan bowled offspin for Hyderabad and South Zone in the 1970s. His latest book is Third Man, Recollections from a Life in Cricket