After the historic win in Perth, India are on a roll. A well-balanced side with experience and youth have shown that they have what it takes to beat the world champions. CNN-IBN Sports Editor Gaurav Kalra caught up with the man at the helm for an exclusive interview.
Adelaide: It’s very rare in journalism, sitting across someone and without a doubt calling him a legend. We are privileged to be joined by one - Anil Kumble.
Gaurav Kalra: It’s the morning after the famous win. Did you wake up this morning and think if it was a dream?
Anil Kumble: No. I think it was something which we all wanted to achieve and I am really glad that you know the morning before was a bit nervous and uneasy going through. But then having achieved what we set up to I am really proud of the fact that we were able to do that.
Gaurav Kalra: Yes, I will talk of pride Anil, but there has been several moments now. Do you know there was always this talk of overseas win and it’s built of big time in India. There has been a few now. Adelaide, Headingley, Jamaica in 2006. Moments like that recently. All these victories and suddenly Perth comes along. Now as someone who thinks a lot about the game, where do you place this one?
Anil Kumble: Right on top. You know, all those victories that you mentioned were very special. You know not many teams have come to Perth other than the West Indies and have won against the Aussies and this is the first team from the subcontinent to win here. In terms of the condition and in terms of the pitch, it suits the Aussies much better than anywhere in the world. So coming here to Perth and achieving the victory after what the team had been through, is something very special.
Gaurav Kalra: Now you spoke about the pitch, Anil. There was a lot of talk about it. Of course, all of us in the media tend to think we are experts on wickets and we understand all of the business on wickets. But here it seems it become even more exaggerated to the talk about the Perth pitch. How did you manage to psyche a young bowling attack about the spot and also to keep the batsmen focused?
Anil Kumble: I think, you know, the most important thing is like you mention, the media certainly psyche the visiting team regarding Perth, regarding the pitch and every thing that comes along. So in that sense it was important to keep focus on. And the focus was on to get us a victory in Perth. Because that would certainly ensure that we stay in series. And so, yes, that was the focus.
Gaurav Kalra: And now, was there a focus on not to read newspapers?
Anil Kumble: No, not really. I am someone who doesn’t really bother about you know, what comes in the newspapers and it doesn’t affect me. I mean, having played this long, you love to go though newspapers and see what kind of comments are there. But you know, that does not really, I can switch on or switch off something which I can do. Yes, that was the message across to all the players not to get too involved in what comments come along. But, you know, personally I don’t get of it.
Gaurav Kalra: The experts believe and I guess everybody who reads the game of Test cricket, would say that it was in the first innings that the game was decided. How was it decided because your bowling attack had really with very little international experience except Irfan. What made them combine so well as a seam-bowling unit?
Anil Kumble: I think the fearlessness. That’s something, which we speak about, in terms of going out there and enjoying, enjoying the moment. It was really heartening to see RP Singh, Irfan Pathan and Ishant Sharma bowled the way they did. Irfan coming in here for this game, the way he batted and his attitude rubs on to every body in the team.
So, it was important that we went out there and we knew that 330 was a good score on the pitch and if we keep the right areas and the swing that our bowlers get will certainly get us the rewards and it showed, you know, putting Australia at 60-5. And nobody gave us that kind of a chance and we knew that they would go after the bowling. We knew that if we could bowl at the right areas and held our catches, which we did, we would right be, we would be up there in the first thing.
Gaurav Kalra: It just was a team effort. It was almost tough to pick up the man of the match because of the number of people came in. Well Anil, was this team helped, as you mentioned by the controversies in Sydney. Was this team helped to combine together as a unit that all the things that went wrong before this Test match?
Anil Kumble: Certainly it didn’t help what happened in Sydney and what happened after the Sydney game. It certainly didn’t help. But, yes in terms of getting together, we are trying to go there and show that we have come here to play cricket. In that sense, it helped. It’s good to get together and ensure that we do well in the Test match. Other than that, I don’t think, you know, the controversy helped. But, ya, in that sense you know that I am really proud that everybody stood up and played together as a team and like to mention, you can’t just pick one person as who was decisive in this game.
Gaurav Kalra: But there was a couple of decisions you made which were interesting. One was to back Sehwag. Not just to make him open the innings again and pick him in that specialist position but to bowl him in that situation which lot of people might now come around and say master stroke. First of all was the masterstroke to bowl him there and then of course talk a little bit about the decision you play him after a year that he has been out of Test cricket.
Anil Kumble: In terms of his bowling, we all know that he bowls in good areas and he has a good off spinning action and so he gets the ball to rip. It was never going along quite smoothly with the fast bowlers especially, Gilchrist started to attack and Clarke was also going after Ishant. And there were still 13 or 14 left before the new ball was due. So it was important for us to keep things tight. So I looked up to Sehwag and said you know it’s your turn to bowl. And he obliged with the wicket of Gilchrist round his legs. And you know regarding your first question, first part of the question backing Sehwag that’s exactly what I did. Any body who knows Virender well, and the kind of cricket that he plays, even if he is out of form, we used to look to back him. Because when he comes right, he wins you matches. And you know that’s the sort of player. It was important that we changed things around in this game and showed a very positive intent to start with the game.
Gaurav Kalra: The other man who sat next to you in the press conference was Irfan Pathan, Man of the Match in a Test match in Australia. Till six months back, he was being written off as a spent force. A young man like that, as an older, let me not use the word older but veteran of the team, how do you mentor someone like that to come across and believe in his ability again and the results showed.
Anil Kumble: I prefer the older option to the veteran option Gaurav. But, no, I think, that’s the problem. You know, in India, in most countries, cricketing countries you start decimating a sportsman very quickly. You start scrutinizing what happens and it’s not easy. International sport is not easy. International cricket is not easy. It’s important to have the right kind of balance.
He is a talented cricketer. The way he started off, that one and a half years, two years period, was amazing and you know that talent just does not die down. And it’s important for people to support when chips are down. And it’s very easy to come in and say you know he is successful I backed him I did this. I told him this. It’s all fine. But then how many people were there to support him when he was out of the team. So that’s the most crucial thing. And credit to him. Credit the way he came back and fought hard. You go back to the domestic cricket, work your way through. He has done brilliantly. I am really happy for him.
Gaurav Kalra: I just wanted to get your view on the 600th Test wicket. Will you tell your son when he is a little older that I got 600 wickets in a Test match in Australia or will you tell him I got 600 Test wickets in the Perth Test match which we won?
Anil Kumble: I won’t tell him anything. I will just tell him, you know, that I am a cricketer and I have done this. And you choose what you want to do. And that’s all I am going to tell him. I am sure, he will understand that and probably look back and say what best you are doing when you are playing cricket. He is still too young to understand the game. But he started to play a bit of cricket and you know we all enjoy it.
Gaurav Kalra: My question, I guess is 600 in a match like this, does it make all the more special?
Anil Kumble: Definitely. Whatever you do on the field, you tend to remember the victories. And when you think of 600 wickets, then immediately Perth and this victory will come into mind.
Gaurav Kalra: Ok! Now of course there are only two other guys. They are very good friends of you who have got 600 wickets. Have you been on the phone to say I mean you have got more wickets than me right now but I have got a Test century?
Anil Kumble: No. I met Warney in Hong Kong and we did discuss this century part. He was I believe in Spain or somewhere and Ian Chappell kept SMSing him only this joy and nothing else. I spoke to Murali. And I got message from Warney as well congratulating me.
Gaurav Kalra: Six hundred wickets is just a milestone. You said that day that it was the first step towards the next target. Are you starting to think like that?
Anil Kumble: No. It is the first step towards levelling the series. That’s how I look at it. It’s important to go to Adelaide and win the Test match. If I can contribute to that that will be very special.
Gaurav Kalra: A couple of other things that I want to ask you. Lots of people are saying Anil Kumble should start thinking of a career in diplomacy after also the way handled the entire debate. So is that something that you think about. May be get into something like that.
Anil Kumble: No. I think what was important to us you know, if you think the values of sport, the values of cricket and keep that as the top priority then whatever decision you take will be the right decision. That’s how I look at it.
Gaurav Kalra: What have you learnt from this last week of having to handle this. Anil you know, till a few months back you were really a back-room person. You were really not visible. Suddenly you are thrust into this role of having to handle what has started to become an international crisis of a time. So first of all personally how was that? And what are the things that you learnt from that?
Anil Kumble: I have always been the same kind of person right throughout my career. If I have to express something which I felt was the right thing to do, I always stood up to whatever I thought was right. And believed I was right in my view, whether it was you know when it came to the players’ contracts or issues regarding players’ rights for the World Cup or the Champions Trophy, although personally I was not affected by it all, I did stand up and ensure that we take the right thing.
And it’s not that you know that I have always played a background kind of thing and that’s the person I am. In terms of as you mentioned as a captain somebody asked me at the first press conference I had to be more interactive with the media? I said whatever is the captain’s job is, I will certainly go and do it. This was the job of a captain. So this was my responsibility to ensure I am the face and voice of the team. So I went all there and did my job.
Gaurav Kalra: Would you look at it just as a Test match or a momentous occasion because it does set up something that is coming up which is possibly now even more important?
Anil Kumble: Yes. The next step is really more important. Because that will ensure that we go back not losing the series. So that’s something, which we will start thinking about right from today. That was very important. Not just for all of us who play, but also for Indian cricket. We believe that we could come here and win the series, which we can’t do now. But if we can level the series we all would understand what the end result would be.
Gaurav Kalra: Levelling the series is important. Because there is a lot of talk that if Australia are challenged consistently by one team in the world, it’s India. Do you now believe that India are genuinely the No. 2 team in world? Test team at least? And can they now keep pushing Australia to take over that No.1 spot and keep maintaining a distance than other teams in the world?
Anil Kumble: Yes, I think so. We have quality, and we have the talent in the youngsters who are coming through brilliantly. So it’s important to keep that going. And it’s important that we keep bringing these youngsters into the team. So that’s something what we will have to think about going forward. At this point of time, we have a great blend of experience and youth, which is really helping us get the kind of people we want.
Gaurav Kalra: Matthew Hayden said the other day he is looking to keep playing Test cricket into his 40s because he believes he is good enough to do that. It certainly looks like you are good enough to do that. Is that something that started to cross your mind?
Anil Kumble: I would like to go on bowl as long as I am performing for the team and I don’t want to be a liability. That’s the last thing that I would like to think. It’s just because I have played so much and I have done so much whatever I have done is all behind me. It’s important to continue that. The first thing is I don’t want to become a liability and it’s important to finish on a high note. I would like to keep asking those questions that my body if it’s responding. At this point of time it is. So I am enjoying my time in the middle.
Gaurav Kalra: The last six months have seen a Test century, win against Pakistan, Anil Kumble the career diplomat, Anil Kumble the captain who has led India to victory in Perth. What a six months it has been. Do you think you have seen it all in your career and now all of a sudden you have been thrust a role no one imagined for you?
Anil Kumble: Even I didn’t imagine that I would be thrust into this role, to be frank, before Pakistan series. But when the moment came I definitely put my hand up and said I will go there and do the job. My focus remained on the game and I am really enjoying whatever has happened in last six to eight months.