He has given two decades to Indian cricket and now he has been rewarded for his hard work and his dedication. Leg-spinner Anil Kumble, who was appointed India's new Test captain on Thursday, will lead the team in the home series against Pakistan, starting on November 22. The 37-year-old was appointed captain after the selectors preferred him to wicketkeeper and one-day captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Nishant Arora: Anil thanks for talking to us.
Anil Kumble: Thank you.
Nishant Arora: How does it sound — Test Captain Anil Kumble?
Anil Kumble: It feels very nice. It is a great honour to be a captain of India and I feel really privileged. I know it is a high-pressure job and it has its plusses. I am someone who looks only at the plusses and not someone who looks at the minuses but on the fields it is a sport and people have chosen me to make those decisions on the field but I always do that in consultation with the team mates and with the other members of the team.
I think that off the field the pressure is probably a bit more because one has to handle various other things to ensure that the message from the team's perspective goes out to the public and also to the media. I think it is challenging and I am looking forward to the challenge.
Nishant Arora: You played for India for 17 years. In 1999 you were the Vice Captain. You were made the Vice Captain in 96- 97 and till 1999 you were the Vice Captain of the side. Did you feel that this opportunity will never come to you?
Anil Kumble: I had an open mind. Maybe I was in contention at that point of time but just didn't happen. It didn't really bother me. I think my aim was just to go out there and bowl and ensure that the team won and whenever it mattered I had to put my hand up and ensure that I did well for the team. It's really nice to get this opportunity. At this point of time in my career, it is great motivation for me personally to ensure that I keep playing and doing well and captaincy will certainly help me in that sense.
Nishant Arora: Two of your colleagues, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, declined the offer. Rahul resigned and Sachin said that he is not interested. Could you make out, someone who has spent so much time in the dressing room, could you make out why they could have done something like that?
Anil Kumble: I think they had their own reasons so I don't really want to look at what made them not take up the job or resign as in Rahul’s case. But for me it's like I'd like to show that whatever possible qualities I have, I like to try and ensure that it rubs onto the others players and whatever points that they have to put forward, I am more than willing to address those issues and ensure that we do well. Actually I don't have much time to think about my captaincy because by the time I reach Delhi, we'll just have two days before the start of the test match so it will be more like a hand's on job because all the three test matches are back to back so I don’t think I have much to think about. Just think and make decisions on the field.
Nishant Arora: Getting these series by series, does it add pressure considering the fact that you've been named captain for just one series?
Anil Kumble: No, I don't think so. I am sure they will look at it on a slightly longer term but at this point in time I don’t really want to think about the future. It's more important for me that the team does well against Pakistan and try and get the right results for India.
Nishant Arora: It is a very interesting time in Indian cricket when we can say that past is merging into future and you will be standing at the mid-point of that transition. How do you see your role there as someone, who not only has to lead the side but also ensure that when he gives the baton he gives it to the right person?
Anil Kumble: It is a challenge and I think that the transition definitely will be smooth. Again I haven't had the chance to speak with any of the selectors or the board officials so I still have to wait for that. It is too early to say about all that. It is important to me that whenever it happens, it is a smooth transition for me.
Nishant Arora: Like you earlier said that in India we talk too much about seniors and juniors. Since the Twenty-20 World Cup every one is saying that youngsters should be given a chanceand at some stage that pressure will be on you. One odd bad game and the pressure will be on you to insert the youngsters into the test side. What are your thoughts on this entire senior or youngster theory?
Anil Kumble: I think as long as everyone's performing I don't see why you need to term a senior a senior and a junior a junior. I'd like to cross the bridge when I get there. I don’t like to speak on a hypothetical situation but I like to speak when the time comes.
Nishant Arora: Not having a full time coach, playing against a team like Pakistan or Australia, how much of a handicap would that be? Do you see your role as a coach-cum-captain over there?
Anil Kumble: No, I don't think so. I think all of us are experienced enough to handle this and we've been playing in this kind of a scenario for the last six to eight months now. It’s not that we don’t have a coach. We have Venkatesh Prasad who's a bowling coach and his inputs will be valuable. Then we have Robin Singh as a fielding coach. His inputs will be invaluable, even Lalson Rajput as the cricket manager and also the senior players and most importantly, MS Dhoni. He's the captain of the ODI squad and his inputs will be very important to me and to the team so looking at the future it is very important that we form a relationship and continue that and complement each other. Just because we don’t have an official coach I don't think it is going to matter too much. But sooner or later it is important to have that but at this time, we have the team to take on Pak and make sure that we get the right results.
Nishant Arora: You talked about the seniors somewhere. There’s a feeling when you lead a side, when you have four ex-captains in the dressing room it makes your job a bit difficult. Do you see it that way?
Anil Kumble: I don't see it that way. I'd like to see that I've played with all of them even all the selectors so I don't think it will be a problem. I have great respect for each one of them and I am sure that the respect is mutual. It is just that the media is trying to make the senior-junior. We have never had a problem, absolutely none.
Nishant Arora: And a bowler becoming a Captain. How does that sound in India?
Anil Kumble: At the end of it, it's the bowlers who win your test match. You have to pick up 20 wickets. It does not matter how many runs you score on the board so it will be a bit different that’s probably where my experience as a bowler will help somebody like Dhoni to get a bowler’s perspective of the game. It will be a bit more positive.
Nishant Arora: When you see yourself as the Captain do you think this is something which you deserved and finally you have got it?
Anil Kumble: No. I think the messages and the amount of wishes that I have received from various quarters, everybody seems to say that I deserved this and I am really thankful to all of them. It is great honour and this is something which has been entrusted upon me and I am really thankful to all those people who thought that I was capable of doing this job and only hope and wish that I will be able to live up to their expectations. I'll try and do the best that I can and I am sure that the team will play to its potential but at this point I don’t want to think so far ahead. It is one game at a time and it’s the way I have always played the games and this time it is no different just because I am the captain.
Nishant Arora: Anil, starting your captaincy from Kotla, your field of dreams, where you got your 10-wicket haul, does it make it a bit more special?
Anil Kumble: Yeah, it is. Kotla has always been a bit close to my heart. I played an Under-19 test match against Pakistan, scored a 100, and then the Rani trophy when I made my come-back, into the Indian team… After that I played many number of test matches there and I’ve been pretty successful. Then, the crowning glory was the 10-wicket haul against Pakistan. So, it’s something special, and to start this part of my career at the Kotla is, again, something special.
Nishant Arora: You still remember that day?
Anil Kumble: Oh, yes! You can never – even if you wake me up in the middle of the night and ask me ‘In which order you got the wickets?’, it’s very simple.
Nishant Arora: And the strange co-incidence is that Pakistan is again the opponent. How tough it makes your challenge?
Anil Kumble: Pakistan is always a tough opponent. Having said that, we haven’t really won any home series against them. So, this is something which we’d like to do, we’d like to achieve. There are tough opponents, and they have a good blend of youth and experience in their ranks. It’s going to be a tough series, but having said that, if we play to our potential, and if we really do well – we’ve been playing well in test cricket in the last two-three series – if we keep that momentum going, I am sure we will be able to get the result.
Nishant Arora: The big difference when you’re a player and you’re a captain is that when you’re a player you think about yourself; now you have to think about 11 other members, or 14 other members. Have you started thinking on those lines? Thinking about the Pakistan tourists coming, what strategies you have to make…?
Anil Kumble: It’s a bit too early, but yeah, the thought is definitely there to ensure that we get the right kind of team composition, but it’s not going to be too different to what it was earlier. So, in that sense, not much thought, but yes, in terms of how we need to strategise, that will be decided only after we reach Delhi. And again, Dhoni’s inputs will be key.
Nishant Arora: Anil, you have been someone who has done his job, gone back to your home or hotel, and just relaxed. You are not one of those who has opinions for anything and everything – someone who values his opinions and gives when it matters. And now, your opinion will matter a lot, and you’ll have to give it day-in and day-out…
Anil Kumble: I think it’s part and parcel of the job. But I’ll still give my opinion when it matters. I don’t think I’ll be able to change drastically, but then, whatever the job demands, I’ll certainly do. And because the job demands that I need to do certain things away from what I was used to, I will certainly do it. It’s something which I have always believed in, looked at things very professionally, and if the profession demands certain things, I go and do it.
Nishant Arora: Australia – that will be a tough tour. Hopefully, you will be the leader in that tour as well. How do you see that challenge? That will be a big challenge.
Anil Kumble: I’d like to take one step at a time. It’s important for us to cross the Pakistan hurdle first, it’s important to get that momentum going into Australia. Yes, it’s going to be tough, challenges are tough, but the recent history against Australia, when we toured Australia, was good. So, I’d like to take that confidence through to Australia, but it’s still a long way. We still have three test-matches against Pakistan, which are crucial.
Nishant Arora: Will you like to tell us certain moments from the Pakistan series in the past or the Australia series in the past, which you’d like to carry in your kit-bag when you start your test captaincy to motivate you?
Anil Kumble: I think motivation to me is playing for India, and this is an added motivation – to lead the team. It’s definitely a shot in the arm for me at this time of my career. That itself is a great motivation to go out there and ensure that we get the right results and to ensure that we play as a team and try and keep the other players motivated to go out there and do their best. This is a great challenge, so I don’t see why I need to look back to derive any motivation or inspiration. But I think when you look around I the dressing room itself, there are so many inspirational people within the dressing room to get inspired from, so I don’t really need to look too far ahead.
Nishant Arora: How long do you think you can play now?
Anil Kumble: I would like to take one game at a time. We have the Pakistan series. There is the Australian and the South African series after that. And we will see how it goes. It all depends on how I am feeling, how well I perform and the way the team shapes up. But at the end it’s important for us to be a bit more consistent as a team and that’s what I will look to do.
Nishant Arora: Is there any realistic goal? You are 566 wickets now and crossing 600 wickets will be a big landmark.
Anil Kumble: Yes of course. If I try and achieve the team goals, my personal goals will obviously come along the way. There is not much difference between a 566 and 600. It’s just a number. At this juncture it’s important for me to ensure that the team does well against Pakistan and we are consistent and do well against Australia.
Nishant Arora: A lot of critics feel it is a stop gap arrangement. They say Anil Kumble has been made captain because the selectors don’t have much choice at this moment. How do you see that?
Anil Kumble: It is a challenge that has been given to me. It’s a responsibility that I have taken up and I would like to take this challenge and ensure that I do the best that I can. Looking ahead hopefully it will extend and ensure that the transition is smooth. And I play my role in that.
Nishant Arora: No one can say that he achieved something in life or in cricket without the sacrifice of the family. Now your family must be ready to give you more time for your cricket because you are no more just a player. You have to think of 11 other members of the team, which will come as a huge responsibility. How have they taken this?
Anil Kumble: The support that I have received from my family especially my wife and the children has been amazing. They have seen the change in the last two days – the amount of phone calls and the media. But I guess once cricket starts, the focus will be on cricket. They are not strangers to this and everyone is enjoying it. And I’m sure once the right results come, everyone will be happy.
Nishant Arora: I’m sure you must be a great father. What kind of goals have you set for your children?
Anil Kumble: I think, like typically south Indian, education is very important. It’s too early for me to say anything. I don’t whether my son will become a cricketer or not. It’s just that all of them are doing well in their studies. I would like to see and support them in whatever they do.
Nishant Arora: Thank you Anil. It was wonderful talking to you.
Anil Kumble: Thank you so much.