x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Tip your hat to Anil Kumble for hand in India World Cup triumph

Many had a part in India's World Cup victory, but spare a thought for Anil Kumble and those lurking behind the scenes.

Anil Kumble, left, hoists the World Cup trophy as India’s Sachin Tendulkar shows his appreciation.
Anil Kumble, left, hoists the World Cup trophy as India’s Sachin Tendulkar shows his appreciation.

Of the many hundreds of thousands of photographs clicked in the vicinity of the Wankhede Stadium on Saturday night, the most poignant featured a player and a spectator.

The spectator held aloft the World Cup trophy, while Sachin Tendulkar clapped his hands and roared with delight.

Only, this was no ordinary spectator. Anil Kumble made his debut just five months after Tendulkar and, for the best part of two decades, they were the twin pillars on which a new generation of Indian cricket was built.

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Kumble played his last one-day game against Bermuda in 2007, as India exited the World Cup in shame. At the time, most thought that Tendulkar's last chance of 50-over glory had also gone.

When destiny decided otherwise on a night that Mumbai and most of India will never forget, it was only fitting Kumble was watching.

So deep is the respect that the two men have for each other that it was inevitable that he would be one of the first people that Tendulkar sought out after finally getting his hands on the big prize.

It was also a reminder to everyone that this epochal victory did not happen overnight. It is the result of many small steps and stumbles over the past decade and more.

A core group of players has been instrumental in the climb to cricket's peak, but there have been other valuable contributions that should not be forgotten.

At the 2000 Asia Cup in Dhaka, it wasn't a vintage Indian side, with bowlers like Amit Bhandari and Thiru Kumaran. But what really jolted you were the poor levels of professionalism.

The tea-and-biscuits culture was alive and well, and Kapil Dev - in the midst of a disastrous assignment as the coach - standing on the sidelines and urging the "boys" to "enjoy" did not really do the trick. It was evident then that Indian cricket needed root-and-branch change.

And in that regard, while Gary Kirsten, the present coach, deserves every single plaudit that comes his way over the coming days, the millions of celebrating fans should not forget John Wright.

The New Zealander's four-and-a-half years in charge changed everything. With a South African, Adrian le Roux, as fitness trainer, and an Australian, Andrew Leipus, as physio, Wright did his best to drag his team into the modern age in terms of preparation and athleticism.

When India reached the World Cup final in 2003, they were one of the best fielding sides in the competition. Where the current team had Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli, that one had Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh.

The mistake that India made was to look for a higher-profile name to replace the unassuming Wright, and Greg Chappell came armed with many ideas, some of them good and others plain bizarre. He also talked a great game and as the country's journalists flocked to him, the focus began to shift away from the team.

Everything became about Chappell. On one occasion, after a Test win in Johannesburg, he spoke to journalists for 94 minutes. It is doubtful whether Kirsten has spent that much time in front of the microphone in his three years in charge.

Kumble apart, there are other titans to remember. Sourav Ganguly led the side that Wright coached. Once almost Tendulkar's equal as a one-day batsman, his form suffered terribly during his time in charge, but it is the winning mentality that he helped create that inspired the Mumbai success.

Spare a thought, too, for Rahul Dravid, Indian cricket's man for all seasons.

His one-day career petered out after the 2007 debacle when he was captain, but he was the glue that held the side together earlier in the decade, even keeping wicket to maintain the team's balance.

Where now for this side?

MS Dhoni was at his flint-hard best in the final, but there will soon come a time when his body cannot cope with the demands made of it.

Captaining across three formats and leading the Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League and Champions League leaves him with no breathing space at all.

Sooner rather than later, he will stop playing either Tests or one-day internationals.

His probable replacement showed off his credentials on Saturday night.

Kirsten calls Gautam Gambhir a street-fighter, and that toughness makes him an obvious candidate to succeed Dhoni in whichever form of the game he chooses to leave.

The coaching conundrum also needs to be solved cleverly. Kirsten's tenure showed the worth of having a young man who works hard and stays in shadow - Andy Flower does the same with England - and the Indian board should consult him, Dhoni and the senior players before they settle on a successor.

There is also the challenge of unearthing new bowlers to bolster the quality of a world-champion side. Yuvraj's part-time spin will not always be as successful and, Zaheer Khan apart, there were few attacking options at Dhoni's disposal.

But this is not the time to quibble over such things. The heroes of 1983 have grown old and grey. A young nation needed new heroes.

After the game on Saturday, Kohli thrust one of the spoils of victory, a stump, into Tendulkar's hand, pride on his face at his honouring of the man who was playing international cricket when Kohli was a year old.

As one of my cricket-tragic friends said later: "It was five seconds of television that spoke more than any words could."

sports@thenational.ae