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Kumble stands tall.
by Suresh Menon
Jan 15, 2008
In the past week, as the Indian caravan made its way from Sydney to Canberra to Perth, and battles were fought in the Board rooms, the ICC, and most violently in the media, one man has stood tall. It is not often that India have been able to point to their cricket captain and say with conviction: We are proud of this man. Anil Kumble is in charge, and thank God for that.

His cricket has been impeccable. Fifteen wickets in the first two Tests, his batting in the second innings at Sydney which showed up those higher in the order, and his handling of the team have come in for praise. But it is his off-field behaviour, his sheer dignity and uncluttered vision that has allowed India to retain the high moral ground. His counterpart has emerged as a street fighter, as a short-term strategist while Kumble has shown that he is a big picture man.

Why was this man not named captain earlier? How much did India lose out by that? As bowler, batsman, and most crucially as captain, Kumble has stood up to the Aussies, and if a fallout of the Sydney affair is a cleaner game, then he can take some credit for that.

By invoking Bill Woodfull’s famous lament during the bodyline series, Kumble showed he knew his history. His point was made simply and powerfully. He has stood by his player, which is the duty of every captain. Harbhajan Singh, his spinning partner must be grateful for that. In a newspaper column, Kumble wrote that he had offered to apologise to the Australian captain to diffuse the situation, but “Ricky was not willing to listen”. Apologies have earned a bad name of late, said Kumble: “When somebody apologises it is seen either as a sign of weakness or an admission of guilt. In the larger interests of the game, if an apology could help build bridges and smooth things over, then it is better made than left unsaid because of egos.”

Well said.

And by dropping the charges against Brad Hogg (for which the Australian is properly grateful), Kumble has shown that he is a brilliant tactician off the field too. Now the ball is in Australia’s court, and they cannot insist on winning the Harbhajan case without appearing churlish. The word that Hogg used is not in the list of words banned on racial grounds, so his is the lesser crime. And if Harbhajan used a racial slur, he ought to be punished. But already the churning has confused what is true and what is right; procedural cock-ups and emotional responses have raised tempers to such a pitch that most actors in the drama are probably willing to let the whole thing drop and carry on with the game.

Kumble has given Australia a chance to act with magnanimity and recover some of the ground lost by their loutish behaviour. It is a master stroke.

Kumble has indicated that his responsibility is not to individuals or cricket boards or even the ICC, but to the game itself. No captain in recent years has been so conscious of this responsibility. By acting firmly when firmness was called for, and being flexible when flexibility was needed in the greater cause, Kumble has emerged with his reputation enhanced.

We are not yet halfway through the tour, but for me Anil Kumble is already man of the series for his dignity and grace under pressure.

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