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Kumble deserves a long stint - Suresh Menon Column
by Suresh Menon
Sep 09, 2008
Captaincy changes in Indian cricket are usually preceded by whispers, planned indiscretions, and stories planted in the media. And in one historic case, the captain of the flight bringing the Indian team home announcing the news to his passengers (when Gavaskar replaced Venkatraghavan). Neither Sachin Tendulkar nor Saurav Ganguly was spared this public embarrassment, and the only reason Rahul Dravid escaped it was because he jumped before being pushed following a row with the chairman of the selectors Dilip Vengsarkar in England. And now it is building up again.

National coach Gary Kirsten has said that Mahendra Singh Dhoni is ready to take over form Anil Kumble. It was in poor taste and the board slapped him on the wrist for it. But the Indian captain is bound to feel the pressure. After 130 tests, he can probably deal with it better than most but the fact remains that there is no call to change the captaincy now. Kumble has brought to the job a rare combination of toughness and dignity, his demeanour during the fracas in Australia being a public demonstration of both these qualities. The recent Sri Lanka series will remain a blot on his record but he could not have budgeted for the combined failures of the greatest middle order in the world. Dhoni calculated correctly, kept himself out of the Test series and came back to be the leading player and winning captain in the one-day series. His time will surely come. But it is not yet.

Kumble the bowler continues to be crucial to Indian cricket's plans. His 20 wickets in Australia and 14 in England were vital; in his last 24 matches, he has taken 106 wickets; in the 12 he has led he has 50. Despite the resurgence of Harbhajan Singh, Kumble remains the kingpin. And if he is good enough to play, he is good enough to lead.

Whatever went wrong between Vengsarkar and Dravid in England, the latter has not been the same player since. How players who have suffered in their time then become officials and inflict the same suffering on the new generation is a matter for psychologists. I remember on a tour of New Zealand when Vengsarkar, already a hundred tests old, was told by the coach that if he didn't score in a side game in Hamilton, his career was over. Vengsarkar padded to go in at number 3, dropped himself further and further down the order, each move an indication of a similar drop in confidence. It was pitiable - and avoidable.

Yet the same man showed no remorse in gunning for one of India's greatest batsmen. Dravid will recover but Indian cricket has paid a heavy price. If Kirsten's comments have a similar effect on Kumble, another of cricket's gentlemen and selfless soldiers, Indian cricket would be the loser again. While young cricketers need to be given a chance to succeed, veterans must be given a chance to fail. Kumble hasn't failed and you cannot bring in a new captain just because he is younger and has signed more endorsements. I doubt if Dhoni himself is hankering after the job, but with friends like Kirsten, he does not need too many enemies.

With home series against Australia and England to follow, Kumble will have his hands full without having to look over his shoulder constantly. This is an occupational hazard of Indian captains. In the recent past, the selectors have sometimes shown good sense by appointing a captain for the long term as they did with Dravid. Kumble deserves such consideration.
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