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Kumble’s captaincy is refreshingly innovative
by Partab Ramchand
Nov 26, 2007
Before Anil Kumble only six of the 29 captains who had led India in a Test match had won their first game as skipper. Now the 37-year-old leg spinner joins Polly Umrigar, Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag as the others who have enjoyed this pleasure and privilege.

There was never any doubt that the highly competitive Kumble would lead from the front and his match haul of seven for seven for 106 coupled with his cameo of 24 during which he added a crucial 54 runs for the seventh wicket with VVS Laxman made him a deserving winner of the man of the match award.

More than his batting and bowling it was Kumble’s leadership skills that caught the eye. He is an unorthodox bowler and he came out with some pretty unorthodox tactics that played a major role in shaping India’s six-wicket win at the Feroz Shah Kotla grounds.

Kumble has always been an attacking bowler tormenting batsmen with his pinpoint accuracy, his innumerable variations and the disconcerting bounce he is able to extract from almost any surface. During the first Test he also showed that he was an attacking captain.

He eschewed defensive tactics, applied the pressure relentlessly and made the right bowling changes given the hazy and overcast conditions at the Kotla. The result was that there was no respite for the beleaguered Pakistan batsmen and certainly he can take credit for the double failure of the much vaunted middle order that was probably the main reason behind Pakistan’s defeat. Seeing that the batsmen were strangely hesitant in going for their strokes Kumble placed fieldsmen in menacing positions. Quite often there were five fielders around the bat and the Pakistanis prodding nervously were snapped up in the close in positions.

It is really an encouraging sight for any Indian cricket follower to see both Kumble and Dhoni emerge as enterprising leaders. Dhoni has also sprung a surprise in matters of strategy and tactics and Kumble has shown that he is no whit behind when it comes to surprising the opponents and catching them off guard. His entrusting Sourav Ganguly with the new ball - and in the middle of the over - displayed intuitive leadership at its best. With only four bowlers at his disposal Kumble knew he would have to fall back on the likes of Ganguly and Tendulkar if the situation warranted and his handling of the former in particular underlined his cricketing acumen acquired over the last 17 years. With the conditions at the Kotla in favour of a bowler who could swing the ball Kumble gave Ganguly a sizeable amount of bowling and the former Indian captain responded with one of the best spells in his 97-match career.

Modest as ever Kumble attributed the victory to teamwork and for once it was not a misplaced cliché. The only players who did not come off were Dinesh Kartik and Munaf Patel but in the latter’s defence it must be said he was called up at a last minute replacement and so his match figures of one for 109 must be viewed with sympathy. That statistically there was no real outstanding contributor to the victory underscored the team effort that shaped it. The batsmen and bowlers contributed in almost equal measure and there are no real immediate problems for the Indian team at the moment. They can probably soldier along with the same winning combination at the Eden Gardens giving Karthik another opportunity to come good keeping in mind his sterling efforts in South Africa, Bangladesh and England as also to Patel who by then could have shaken off the rustiness.

There are problems aplenty for Pakistan though. The eclipse of the middle order to make any significant contribution and the total failure of Mohammed Sami (no wicket for 136 runs from 32 overs) cost the team dearly. All this put tremendous pressure on the opening batsmen, the late order and the likes of Shoaib Akhtar and Danish Kaneria and while they rose to the occasion their contributions alone will not be able to steer Pakistan to victory. The visitors will probably be strengthened at Kolkata with the return of Umar Gul but major scores from the bats of Mohammed Yousuf, Younis Khan and Shoaib Malik are a must if Pakistan are to have any chance of coming back into the series. It was also baffling why the captain did not even turn his arm over even once. He continued with his four main bowlers even during the century partnership between Dhoni and Laxman that had such a huge bearing on the result. This safe, conventional approach was in sharp contrast to Kumble’s refreshingly innovative captaincy and perhaps that in the ultimate analysis was the decisive factor in the match.

 
More Views by Partab Ramchand
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