West Indies tour starting point in Kumble’s road map (Column: Just Sport)

No India coach in recent years has spoken his mind out and reeled off his ideas and implemented some of them as quickly as Anil Kumble has done. Simply put, he wants his players to work on their game as hard as he did and think of only a better India team.

In less than two weeks after he replaced Ravi Shastri as chief coach, Kumble got almost all stakeholders of Indian cricket together for a brainstorming meeting besides revealing his training modules.

In short, he wants to have a say in everything connected with the Indian team. Can he handle so much is the question. For now, the board is inclined to go along with him, giving him a free hand.

He had discussions with India A coach Rahul Dravid, Test captain Virat Kohli, One-Day and Twenty20 leader Mahendra Singh Dhoni, senior and junior selectors. He says he is interacting with even those who are not part of teams in all three formats and tells them they are still part of his scheme of things. He feels it only takes a telephonic call, that’s his idea of improving the bench strength. It all sounds so good and utopian.

Wonder whether Kumble invited his predecessor Ravi Shastri or called him to get his inputs. These are the small courtesies people ignore when in power.

There was so much said and heard in the short camp and on its sidelines in Bangalore. The players had their say and are enthusiastic about implementing the well laid out plans of their coach in the four-Test series, starting on July 21. They all think the world of Kumble just as they thought of Shastri not long ago.

Gone are the days when the best of Indian teams could not stand up to the pace of the West Indian bowlers on far livelier pitches than they are today. India won a Test and series in the Caribbean for the first time in 1970-1971.

Four years later, the Indians under Bishan Singh Bedi looked good to win another series after winning the third Test chasing a target of 413, with Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath cracking centuries. But the West Indian pacers recovered to win the series 2-1 terrorising the Indian batsmen with intimidating short-pitched stuff.

Then, there was a let down with teams in the 1980s and the 1990s unable to knit together, though there were some unforgettable individual performances.

India returned to winning ways in the new millennium. First, India’s most successful captain overseas Sourav Ganguly could win a Test but not the series in 2002, losing it 1-2.

Four years later, Rahul Dravid’s team pulled off a second series win 1-0 and Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s side repeated the result five years later.

Someone might pipe up to say that the West Indies teams that lost the last two series were not up to scratch. Yes, their cricket may not measure up to the high international standards set by their predecessors, still it will not be easy to beat them in their backyard. Kumble knows it, having seen how the teams of which he was a part capitulated, more so from a winning position.

Kumble might allow skipper Virat Kohli to continue with his five-bowler plan to win Tests overseas, like he did in Sri Lanka. Maybe, that’s the thinking behind Kumble making the bowlers have long nets sessions so that they, too, can contribute with the bat.

The team’s think-tank has a wide range of bowlers to pick from — Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Shardul Thaur, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra, with Stuart Binny to use seaming conditions. Considering the slowness of pitches in the Caribbean now, three spinners could be pressed into service as all of them are also handy with the bat.

If his five-bowler theory has to work, Kohli and the other four principal batsmen and the wicketkeeper will have to put big runs on the board. Like all defensive captains do, he may not be tempted to use Lokesh Rahul to keep wickets to strengthen batting. Keeping in the Indian Premier League is different from keeping in a serious Test series.

Ajinkya Rahane’s place is secure, being the vice captain, in the batting line-up. Not that there was any doubt about his position in the Test side after Rohit Sharma ceded his place to him. The one tricky issue is who will open with Murali Vijay — Shikhar Dhawan or Rahul? Rohit will have to wait for his turn with Cheteshwar Pujara cementing the No.3 spot in Sri Lanka.

The two-day warm-up match, starting Saturday, may not resolve any issue, but the next game can be crucial for the stakeholders.

A four-Test series can throw up many challenges for both the teams. India look good to face them.

(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at sveturi@gmail.com)

–IANS

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