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Anil Kumble at NILF 2017 – Your Game is a Reflection of Your Attitude

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What would be one’s reaction in the presence of a bowler who has sent down more than 40k deliveries, is the second-highest wicket taker of all-time in test cricket (among spinners), and has taken 10 wickets in an innings (only the second bowler to do so)? Would one remain spellbound?

Anil Kumble held us in awe at NILF 2017 by his sheer presence to have us bowled – hook, line and sinker by his modesty. The session moderator, Keshav Murugesh, CEO WNS, gushed all over as he welcomed the superstar – clearly a huge fan himself – introduced him in a unique manner which was instantaneously greeted by a thunderous round of applause.

The introduction was rather detailed but not in a boring sort of way. On the contrary, it rendered a fine image of one of India’s most redoubtable cricketers, and touched upon interesting trivia. Kumble, a thorough gentleman, was most appreciative as well. Although, a certain important aspect of his life was missing, he pointed out. Curiously enough, his plan A in life was to be an engineer, and Cricket was only Plan B. In hindsight, he was thankful though that plan A did not work out. So were we! He also remarked that it is every engineer’s dream to address at a NASSCOM conference, to do us all very proud.

What it takes to be successful in sports?   

Sports is a great leveller. On a given day, the champion exults. Yet, the very next day the same individual may have to start all over again. He narrated an incident – the time he took 10 wickets against Pakistan; quite incredulously, in the very next match, he struggled to get even 1 wicket, and at that time it was Javagal Srinath who bagged 8 wickets. This is true for life in general and its see-saw moments.

Then of course there’s a strict routine that has to be followed – intense training sessions, relentless focus on skill development, monitoring sleeping patterns to aid recovery, and the habit of using visualization techniques before a match. A game is played as much in the mind as it is on the field. A cricketer needs to remain calm to learn from mistakes, to know the areas which need to be fixed. Largely, even today, he follows a similar pattern as coach of the Indian team. Being strict about it, helps to build a certain culture which eventually translates into habit. Winning is a habit!

Re-inventing and handling criticism

All throughout his glittering career, Kumble has been an unorthodox spinner. Initially, not many gave him a chance. Often criticized for not spinning the ball enough (in the orthodox sense), to which he had an apt repartee, “thank God the batsmen never found out in all of my 18 years in the game.” He drew parallels with the IT industry, which too was tasked with re-invention to stay ahead. Interestingly in the 90s, Kumble formed a company which was into Analytical tools for the betterment of sports. Needless to say, at that time the idea did not go down so well with the cricketing fraternity – an idea well ahead of its time. Today of course, tech plays a very important role in sports.

The “Speed Gun” is used extensively during practice. A machine which can throw balls at batsmen at varying pace. Kumble has used this very idea to his great advantage during his career. Often he varied the pace to flummox batsmen – just like the speed in a Speed Gun can be altered – to make it a hellish experience for them.

As a boy, he was wont to bowling medium pace, and there were criticisms levelled against him for being a “chucker”. Around the time when he was 14, he shifted to leg spin and improvised on his bowling technique to bring about massive change. Though he was a spinner, he also had the aggressive mind-set of a fast bowler.

Handling injuries & other challenges     

Sports usually brings in its share of injuries which can cripple careers. Unless the rehabilitation & restorative process is presided over with extreme care, the impact can be debilitating. In his case, the shoulder injury was career threatening, marked a low point in his life, and he was most thankful to his family & friends who stood by him. He hails from a traditional South Indian family and in the early days, it was rather challenging to convince his parents about having a career in sports. In his words, life will continue to put up hurdles, but it is important to realise that these are actually opportunities to get better, and do not necessarily signal that the end of the world is near. But it is only human to be racked by by self-doubts, but in process one learns about life and well-wishers too, he added.

The moment  

Hunting in pairs is most essential to keep the pressure on batsmen. That’s how wickets are earned. It is also a humbling experience to be out there in the middle and be cheered on by nearly 90k people. It’s a heady feeling! Adrenaline kicks in and one forgets about aches and pains, to focus on the job at hand. For someone who started playing cricket as a boy with a rubber ball, to finally captaining the Indian side, was perhaps “the moment.” A matter of immense pride.

Teamwork

In cricket, how the pitch will behave is often an uncontrollable factor. It is true for business as well which grapples with external uncertainties all the time, often not under one’s direct control. It is important to realise that the focus should always be on one’s strengths, and not yield in to the temptation of spending an inordinate amount of time on uncontrollable factors. As a society, perhaps we spend a lot of time focussing on our own self interests. It would be worthwhile to introspect more and align with the team’s goals instead. The incident of Kumble bowling with a broken jaw against West Indies was also highlighted by the moderator. It was an astounding feat which resulted in Brian Lara losing his wicket. An example of how an individual was able to rise above daunting challenges to come up with a sterling performance, which defied all odds.

Succession Planning

He took over the mantle from Rahul Dravid. In many ways he was destined to be the captain. At that time he was the senior most – both Sachin and Sourav had played out their tenure. And, MS Dhoni was still not ready to take over, though eventually he would. In all the years, Kumble never really saw himself as a captain, but at the same time he did not shy away from giving advices whenever required. It was a transitive journey for Kumble and Indian cricket. He remains extremely thankful that the team lent its support.

On values and communication

Sometimes tough decisions have to be taken – for instance if it has to be communicated to an individual that he will be dropped. It’s never easy to have such conversations, but will have to be done nonetheless. But not all decisions will pay off, and leaders have to be prepared for that as well. Then there is the quality of bringing in transparency to the system. In addition, star personalities in the team will have to be managed, and one has to allow people to make mistakes. Forcing the point across always, may not work. 

Body language was yet another aspect, he reminded us. Even if the score reads 50 for 5, the body language should convey as if the score read 200 for no loss. As the coach of the Indian team, when things don’t go as per plan, it can be frustrating to watch from a distance, and not be right there in the middle with the boys, bowling his heart out.

Always a warrior at heart, and a very large one at that – ladies and gentlemen, that is Anil Kumble for you!!

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