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Will India's captain prove to be a threat to Australia in the forthcoming Test series at home?

Friday, October 03, 2021

Kumble is still India's strike bowler

Sai Mohan

The most successful Indian bowler in the history of Test cricket has precipitately come under the scanner for his rather average performances on the tour of Sri Lanka. However it was just earlier this year when India captain Anil Kumble claimed his 600th wicket and led his team to a famous victory at the Western Australia Cricket Ground in Perth.

Like the other champion in the Indian team Sachin Tendulkar, Kumble boasts of a fantastic record against the Aussies. Detractors of this unorthodox leg-spinner are calling for his retirement at the earliest. spoke to legendary India spinners – Bishan Singh Bedi, Erapalli Prasnna and Venkatapathy Raju – to get their views on Kumble’s future, his role in series against Australia and more.

Is Kumble a threat anymore?

“He will be a threat till the day he plays cricket. You can’t take away all his fantastic achievements, can you? He has taken over 600 wickets and has performed his heart out for so many years. I have seen a lot of Indian bowlers over the years and for me, Kumble is the best ever. It is ridiculous for people to question his performances,” Bedi said.

“The time has come for him to support Harbhajan Singh. A lot depends on Kumble and there is immense amount of pressure on him as a bowler. His role as a bowler is more crucial than his role as a captain at this stage, mainly because he failed in Sri Lanka. He needs to perform as a bowler or else India may have to field three spinners,” Erapalli Prasanna said.

“Of course he is still a threat. On the tour of Australia earlier this year (late last year), Kumble was India’s leading wicket-taker and was the sole reason behind India’s fightback in the series. On his day, he is still a genuine match-winner,” said Venkatapathy Raju.

He used to take bucketful of wickets in the 90s at home but it is a different scenario now. Michael Clarke and Simon Katich played him with so much ease on the last tour. Do the Aussies fear Kumble at all? 

“Let me make this simple – he is still India’s strike bowler and the best bowler from either team. They must be dreading the sight of him if there is some juice in the wicket. It is a fact of life that Kumble has grown a little old now and his performance has dipped but he is still a deadly bowler. You just have to rewind to earlier this year and you can see that Kumble was troubling the Aussie batsmen in their own backyard,” said Bedi.

“This is the weakest Australian batting line-up that has ever travelled to India. It is advantageous for Kumble that he does not have to bowl at top-quality batsmen of spin bowling. A lot depends on how well he fares and the series will be won or loss on that,” said Prasanna.

“Kumble is still India’s strike bowler. It is hard to imagine an Indian team without him. The fact that he is not that dangerous now is just because of the cycle. He has to allow the other spinners to take charge. He was unlucky in Sri Lanka as plenty of catches were dropped and some decisions didn’t go his way,” said Raju.

Kumble at home in the 1990s
Tests: 29 | Wickets: 163 | Ave: 21.35

Kumble at home in the last 5 years
Tests: 22 | Wickets: 121 | Ave: 29.45

Why has Kumble’s performance dipped at home?

"He (Kumble) is still India’s strike bowler and the best bowler from either team," says former India captain Bishan Singh Bedi 

“It is a difficult question to answer, it is probably the pitches. Harbhajan Singh has probably become more effective on home turfs recently but Kumble is still India’s best bowler and match winner,” said Bedi.

“You cannot expect a champion bowler like him to perform forever. He is aging and his role has also changed. In the 90s, he was the only strike bowler that India had but the scenario has changed recently. However I still feel that A LOT depends on him,” said Prasanna.

“It is because of the nature of pitches. These days there is the black soil, especially in Bombay with a red top on the surface. There is not the same bounce and pace like in the 90s and Kumble is most dangerous when there is pace and bounce in the pitch,” said Raju.

It is no secret that Kumble has depended on perseverance all these years, pegging away with a steady line and length. At 38, what is his biggest strength? How much of a role has captaincy played?

“Captaincy has done wonders to his career. His greatest strength is his discipline, dedication, attitude and approach towards his game and the sport in general. There is nobody in the last two decades who has matched Sachin Tendulkar in terms of performance. That itself is a great compliment for the man,” said Bedi.

“He is old but is still extremely consistent with his line and length. If there is bounce and pace in the offing, he can still prove to be a handful,” said Prasanna.

“It is obviously line and length. He has recently developed a deadly wrong ‘un which he uses quite frequently. I think his biggest strength today is to make the team stick together and command respect through performance. I am sure if you look through statistics, you will find that he is India’s leading wicket-taker in Tests even at this age,” said Raju.

Will Kumble call it quits at the end of the Australia series? 

Kumble versus Australia at home

Tests: 8 | Wickets: 59 | BBI: 7-48 | Ave: 20.86 |

Test: 1 | Wickets: 9 | BBI: 5-67 | Ave: 14.44

Tests: 3 | Wickets: 23 | BBI: 6-98 | Ave: 18.08

Injury kept him out of the series

Tests: 4 | Wickets: 27 | BBI: 7-48| Ave: 25.37

Kumble versus Australia (overall)

Tests: 18 | Wickets: 108 | BBI: 8-141 | Ave: 28.51

“None of us can answer that question because he (Kumble) is the man at the helm, the man in charge and knows when to carry on till. Knowing him I know for a fact that he is not prolonging his career. Even after 18 years with the team, Kumble still feels that he has a lot to offer to the country and that is why he is hanging around. My only concern is that Kumble should retire on his own terms” said Bedi.

“I don’t think so. Watching him bowl recently, I think he has still got a lot of fire in him. He is not playing for records either. I think captaincy has motivated him even more and he is very determined to do well against Australia,” said Prasanna.

“Knowing the man I know for a fact that he wants to go out on a high note. If he is extremely successful in the series and India wins, then you never know what may happen. However Anil knows when to leave. He quit the ODIs because he knew that he did not belong to the team. Similarly the day he realises the same with Tests, he will be gone,” said Raju.

During the 2007-08 tour of Australia, Kumble became only the seventh bowler in the history of Test cricket to claim over 100 Test wickets against Australia. He joined an elite list of bowlers such as Ian Bothan, Curtly Ambrose besides others.