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The Rediff Cricket Interview
/ Anil Kumble
'As long as I am motivated I will play'
June 17, 2003
It is a sleepy Wednesday morning in Bangalore. At the Chinnaswamy stadium, members of the India 'A' team are yet to gather in the gymnasium for the morning fitness session.
And yet, at seven in the morning, Anil Kumble, all of 32 years, of which 13 have been in international cricket, is sweating it out in the gym.
Wearing black leather gloves to protect those fingers that have baffled the best in the world with the ball, Kumble has not lost even an iota of the determination he displayed when he debuted way back in the summer of 1990 against Sri Lanka in Sharjah.
Talking to Faisal Shariff, India's most successful spinner scoffed at retirement plans and discussed India's great turnaround at the World Cup in South Africa.
Anil, it's been a very long period of cricket and it has taken its toll on all the team members. Do you also agree with many other cricketers who complain that there is too much cricket being played?
No, I don't think so. At the international level, obviously, you are bound to have so much of cricket. But I think as long as there is balance and you get enough rest between tours it is okay. Yes, it's been quite a long time. A couple of years probably for me, so it's a much-needed break and I am enjoying it.
It's actually a decade now since you have been playing non-stop cricket at the international level. Do you still have the same intensity you had 10 years ago?
Yes, I guess. Playing for your country is a motivation in itself. Definitely, the intensity is there and you know these kinds of breaks help to get back the intensity. And spending quality time with the family is something, which I hadn't done for a long time.
So, I think you have a career like this: when you play for 10-13 years you need a break so that you can recoup and come back.
You have 300 wickets in either form of the game. Having already achieved so much, what keeps you going?
You have to keep the intensity as long as you are enjoying the game. This is my life; this is my profession. You look at it as a profession or something that you always want to do. I missed a couple of years in international cricket due to injuries, so I know the importance of playing. That is why I want to come back stronger physically and fitness-wise. Injuries are a part and parcel of the game; there is always a motivation. It's a profession so I am looking forward to continuing it as long as I am enjoying it... and I am!
Would you put the onus of injuries on the amount of cricket that was played at that point of time?
May be. Looking back, yes. Even the fitness regime and the culture were not as much as it is now. Even the back-up support that we had at that point in time, say in the 1990s since I came into the side, till Andrew Leipus (physio) and Adrian Le Roux (trainer) brought along in terms of physical fitness, was not there. Also bowling a lot of overs then took its toll.
This was your third World Cup, and by far India's best. After the defeat against Australia what was it that brought about the turnaround in the tournament?
You always look back and say that Australia was a tough side. People expected a lot from us after coming back from the series in New Zealand, which didn't help either of the sides. In terms of confidence, it definitely affected the batters, because we didn't get much of a hit in New Zealand.
Going into the World Cup we were all confident. Those ten days which we had to prepare, we got enough confidence. We chatted about our strategies and how to go about doing things. We also said that no matter what we will stick to them. As long as you stick to that and collectively try to achieve a common goal in practice, nets, in matches you will definitely get results at some stage.
At the lead stage, when we lost to the Natal side in a side game, we thought it was another eye-opener for us. We all collected and said: 'We need to put in our best efforts; it's a good chance, we have a good side to go all the way.' After we lost against Australia it was do or die situation against Zimbabwe; we had to win. So, from there on, we just didn't look back till the final.
The team was very disappointed with the backlash back home. But John Wright believes that it sharpened the minds of the players. What do you think?
I think it was a bit premature; sometimes people are like that. You tend to get more emotional about certain issues. To put it to saying that we don't give 100 per cent on the field is rubbish. That is something which I don't like to accept. I think we gave our 100 per cent, but Australia is a good side and it was too early for such sentiments. I don't think it was called for.
I don't think the team needs such things for us to wake up. It's something that we all know -- the whole of India is backing us and they want us to win. We want to win too. After all, it is sport and you have to take defeats in your stride and move on. Reactions, yes; but not to an extent where your family is threatened. That is something which is uncalled for.
In professional sport there is victory and defeat, but if your family is threatened on losing a game, it's not done; it is not a healthy sign. Definitely you get the accolades when you win, but you are supposed to take defeat in your stride. It was definitely not for lack of effort; it was just that Australia was a good side.
On a personal front you will be very disappointed that you didn't play too many games in the World Cup.
It was disappointing. But more disappointing was the fact that we lost the final. I feel that was more disappointing -- that we couldn't win the cup, having reached all the way. We still have to wait for another four years, but I think I will keep the rest of the stuff for a later date.
Over the past decade, if you were to talk about one progression that has taken place in Indian cricket what would it be?
I guess it is the fitness and the culture of fitness in the Indian team. That is something which has definitely changed. Also, having Andrew [Leipus] around has also definitely helped, not just the cricketers who just bowl or bat day in and out, but also the younger guys. If you look at last 10-12 years that I have played, that is definitely a change I see.
Any retirement plans from your side? How many years of cricket do you still have in you?
I don't know. I don't need to answer that question. When they say retirement plans, probably people don't want me to play. I guess I will see how my body feels; I can't pin point anything. You can never say what is in store for your future. As long as I am motivated, I am keen, I will continue to play.
There is a lot of talk that it's time that India has a full-time Indian coach instead of a foreigner. What are your thoughts?
There has been a lot of debate since the last couple of years since John Wright has taken over. I think he has done a good job with the team. He brought new ideas and things to practice. It always seems to help with somebody from another country... his point of view. At the end, if you have to win you have to play the Indian way and that is the only way that we know. John has done a great job in terms of organizing nets for the games, and those things have really helped the team in probably becoming more disciplined.
You must be looking forward to playing the New Zealand team in India later this year?
Definitely! It's still a couple of months away. I am really enjoying this break, trying to get back to fitness. I had a good holiday with my family, so it's been good so far. Still, two more months to go before we start the domestic season. I am looking forward to these two months and will take it day by day, follow the routine and see how it goes.
Your reactions to Adrian Le Roux's exit.
I'm disappointed; obviously we will miss him. It's a difficult decision for him, I guess. I was reading his reports; he had to take family decisions as well as that of a trainer. As cricketers, we find it really difficult to be away from the family for so long. But, at least when we play in India, we get to go back home. For somebody like Adrian, Andrew and John, it is really hard to be away for so long. The only time that they can go home is when we tour New Zealand or South Africa or Australia.
It's really tough, but he was a professional. We really enjoyed his training methods and are still following that. He has imbibed a fitness culture in the young boys and I am sure it will continue. He has done a great job, although he was here only for a short time. One year is not long, and unfortunately the time he spent was mostly during matches. We never had a camp or anything, so obviously it's a bit disappointing that we can't get him when we have a day off. I wish him luck. He has taken up a similar job for his country. I am sure the South Africans will benefit from this.
Do you think that India needs a bowling coach?
It's getting specific-oriented now, so every body feels that you need to devote time to each department of the game. Earlier it used to be just one coach; now you have a fielding and a bowling coach. You have a batting and an overall coach. You have whole lot of mantras following you. Yeah, it definitely helps. It will help if you have inputs coming in regularly. As a player you will benefit from whatever inputs you get from coaches. You need to develop a relationship. I am sure John took his own time to relate to each one. Now he relates to each other differently in terms of how and what to say. It will take a bit of time for anybody to get into that relationship, but it will help surely. It will help the team as long as it is positive. It's a team management decision; the coach has to be comfortable as also the players.