New Delhi: India's former captain Anil Kumble reckons Virat Kohli has the "right game" to fit in at the crucial number three slot in the Indian Test team, even though it will be impossible for anyone to step into Rahul Dravid's shoes.
"I have followed Virat closely since his India U-19 days and he has matured a lot. I am impressed in the manner he has improved in the past one year in terms of game, discipline and overall fitness", Kumble said.
"He has quickly adapted to the rigours of international cricket and for a 23-year-old to do that is phenomenal. He has a Test hundred in Australia and I believe he has the right game to fit in at number three," the former Indian captain told PTI in an interview here on Thursday.
"However, there is no one who can replace Rahul Dravid. He has been an achiever for the past 16 years and it's certainly not easy to score 23,000 international runs," Kumble added.
Kumble paid glowing tributes to Sachin Tendulkar for achieving the historic feat of scoring 100 international centuries, saying he could quickly adapt to different conditions which was the hallmark of a great player.
"I have been a witness to 80 of those 100 hundreds and at least on 20 occasions, I have been at the other end. I would invariably arrive when he would be in his 80's and the second new-ball would be due. My job on each and every occasion was to ensure that I don't give my wicket easily, which would help him to get his hundred."
Tendulkar, after completing his 100th ton, had recollected a funny incident during his highest Test score of 248 in Bangladesh involving him and Kumble when both had some horrible mix-ups.
"Don't talk about it. I still get embarrassed when I watch the footage of that match," he smiled.
For Kumble, one memorable incident was Tendulkar's maiden Test hundred at Old Trafford in 1990, which was incidentally his debut Test.
"I was made to stand at the Old Trafford balcony for more than three hours as it was Kiran More's diktat. Since Sachin was scoring runs and we were playing to save the Test, everyone got superstitious. It was difficult standing there, but I was instructed by Kiran to stand at the same position for hours. Only during tea break did I get a chance to sit," he said.
"Obviously, the 242 at Sydney was another Herculean effort where he didn't hit a single cover drive till he reached 200. The 100 against Pakistan and the 155 against Australia (both in Chennai), where Shane Warne was bowling from round the wicket, were some of the knocks I would never forget."
"The brilliant thing about Sachin is his adaptibility. He could quickly adapt in any given condition. That's the hallmark of a great player," Kumble said.
For someone, who has close to 1000 international wickets, (619 Tests and 337 in ODIs) the longer version still remains a priority.
"If you are able to consistently perform in the longer version, that performance would help you do well in the T20s and one-dayers but it's never the other way round," he explained.
Talking about young leggie Rahul Sharma, who has travelled with the Indian team for the last six months having played only five games (3 ODIs and 2 T20s), Kumble said it was a tricky situation.
"It's again the 'chicken and egg' theory. You need to bowl a lot of overs in matches but again you need to pick your best squad. Ideally, it would have been great had Rahul played a few first-class matches but problem nowadays is lack of tour games. When I went to England in 1990, we had nine first-class tour games apart from 2 ODIs and 3 Tests. Everyone got a chance, which is not the case now.
"Thankfully, the players during international matches at home are released to play Ranji Trophy. That's how the likes of Ajinkya (Rahane) and Rohit (Sharma) got to play for Mumbai."
Kumble was reluctant to discuss his brief one-year stint as the chairman of National Cricket Academy in Bangalore. He resigned from the post in December last year
"I don't want to talk about that phase. I wanted to do a few things but we were not on the same page, but NCA has done a lot of good for Indian cricket. It's because of NCA that we have brilliant fielders like Virat, Suresh Raina, Manoj Tiwary to name a few."
The BCCI wants Ranji Trophy matches to be played at neutral venues but Kumble wants cricket to be shifted to smaller centres, which will produce good competitive wickets.
"Recently during a one-day match between Goa and Karnataka, I entered the stadium at around 11:30 and saw 55 for 2 on board. I thought match must have started late and then realised it was over. Just because it was a bit more challenging surface, batsmen couldn't cope with it.
"Now if you produce a turning track and match is over within two days, people raise questions. But what about the batsmen's ability to face quality spinners on turning tracks," he concluded.