By Abhishek Pandey
Learn, innovate and experiment (LIE) is the success mantra that Anil Kumble says he followed all his life. He shares his success story with youngsters and tells them to be innovative and take calculated risks. The ace leg spinner, the highest wicket taker in Indian Test cricket, was in Bhubaneswar on Wednesday to deliver a motivational lecture in an event organised by Sambad, the largest circulated Odia daily. In a freewheeling conversation with Odisha Sun Times, he speaks on a variety of issues ranging from his cricketing career, his seriousness on field and his new job of mentoring young talents. Excerpts:
OST: Cricket is plagued with many diseases such as fixing, misdemeanour on field and corruption? Do you still consider it a gentleman’s game?
AK: Our society is changing and so is cricket. Newspapers abound with horrible incidents taking place in our society. Whatever we are seeing on the cricket ground is a reflection of the society. We must make stringent rules and strictly enforce them to cleanse cricket.
You do not come from a cricketing family. Who inspired you to become a cricketer?
I was inspired by Prakash Padukone, who made it big in badminton when opportunities and facilities were less. However, Padukone did not get the recognition he deserved. I was impressed with his dedication and commitment towards the game. When I began playing cricket, I promised myself that I would play with complete dedication.
It is often said that Kumble could not spin a cricket ball. But you still managed to take more than 1000 wickets in first class cricket? Your take…
Many people said that I cannot spin the ball. When I hung my boots in New Delhi, a reporter asked me; “How does it feel to take more than 600 wickets in Test cricket without spinning a ball?” I could not make out whether it was meant as a compliment or a comment. I was amused. I told him that the most important thing for a bowler is to take wickets. Everything else is irrelevant. I may not have propelled a cricket ball out of the back of my hand as effectively as other spinners have, but I am happy that my bowling ensured victory for India in a few matches.
Given a chance, would you like to coach bowlers in Odisha?
I am always available for cricket but I do not consider myself qualified enough to coach players. My friend Debasish Mohanty is doing an excellent job here. Why should I think about it?
How has been your experience in Odisha?
This is my first personal trip to Odisha. I would like to visit the state again and this time with my family. I would like to explore the rich wildlife in Odisha and also visit Jagannath Temple in Puri.
I had played a couple of matches in Odisha including the first match of the 1996 World Cup against Kenya at Barabati Stadium, Cuttack. I remember that I was running high fever a day before the match. Indian coach Ajit Wadekar came to me and said: “Go and rest, I want you to play tomorrow.” I played and took three wickets in that match. I had also taken a hat-trick against Odisha in a Ranji Match at Rourkela.
You had broken your jaw against West Indies in Antigua (2002), but you continued bowling. Why did you choose to bowl with a broken jaw?
Antigua is a small place and does not have excellent medical facilities. When I got myself checked at a hospital there, doctors told me nothing very serious had happened. Later, I got myself checked by another doctor who happened to be an Indian from Mangalore. He told me that I had broken my jaw.
It did not affect me. My shoulders have to be fine to bowl. So I went ahead and also took the wicket of Brian Lara. Perhaps, Lara got scared to see bandages on my face and lost his wicket. (Smiles)
Looking back at your 20-year long career, what was your best moment on the cricket field?
It is difficult to choose. But I think the Test century and 10 wickets in an innings against Pakistan are among the memorable moments of my cricketing career.
You have an image of a serious person. Don’t you like to have fun with your teammates?
You need people like Harbhajan and Raina in a team. A team is a mixture of players that have different moods and characters. Let me tell you that I was not a saint on the field. If I had to say something to a batsman, then I would tell him without letting anyone else know about it.
What is the importance of studies for sportspersons?
Studies are important for everyone whether he is a cricketer or a businessman. I myself have a professional engineering degree. If I had not been a cricketer, then I would have taken up engineering. As president of the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA), I have tried not to hold important tournaments in the month of February and March so that the studies of young cricketers do not get affected.
Who do you think are good spinners in Indian cricket currently?
Ashwin, Piyush Chawla and Ravindra Jadeja have proved their skills on the field. I am impressed with Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha too. Indian future looks bright.
What potential do you see in the Indian cricket team?
It is an excellent blend of budding and experienced cricketers. MS Dhoni at the helm of affairs of the team is doing a great job. He has won crucial series for Team India. Virat Kohli is a promising batsman and has performed well in need. If we continue this performance, we can win the next World Cup too.
What is your success mantra?
An individual should be innovative, disciplined and optimistic. I always followed a regimented lifestyle. Bangalore is a city of awkward rain pattern. If it is raining in one part of the city, it is not necessary that it is raining in another part. I used to go for practice even during rains hoping that it would not be raining on the field. Another thing is that one should keep learning new things and experimenting with them. I have followed these rules all my life.