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Ravichandran_Ashwin_India_cricket‘I see a lot of myself in Ashwin,’ said Kumble after taking over as Head Coach of the Indian cricket team. And then we saw Ashwin being promoted up the batting order ahead of Wriddhiman Saha, the wicketkeeper. Kumble’s idea? Perhaps. This turned out to be a masterstroke; a confidence-booster for Ashwin himself.  He has always been all-rounder material but when Dhoni was in the team, he had to follow him in the batting order. Now, with a wicketkeeper in the team who is not as good a batsman as Dhoni, it was simply well-timed and intelligent to push the more-experienced Ashwin up, after Ajinkya Rahane.

Flashing back to Kumble’s playing days, he was also a bowler who could bat, though not as prolific with the willow as the Tamil Nadu offie has been. Kumble has a ton and 5 half-centuries to his name in his 18-year cricketing career, to add to his tally of 619 Test wickets. In my opinion, as a person who was a keener follower of the game in the 1980s and 1990s, Kumble was certainly overlooked as a potential captain in the late 1990s. Sourav Ganguly, much younger and lesser-experienced, donned the mantle.

Not to say that this was not good for India. Indeed, it turned out to be a golden era for Indian cricket, with Kumble, Dravid, Srinath, Laxman and Tendulkar performing consistently and enabling Ganguly to be a very successful skipper. But would it have been different if Kumble had been made skipper in the late 1990s when Tendulkar said, ‘No more.’? Perhaps we may have never seen the unfortunate Chappell-era incidents? Well, we will never know. It is always one-way traffic from the past.

Perhaps Kumble not getting the opportunity to skipper more matches than he eventually did, towards the fag end of his career, can be considered a cricketing brain-drain of some kind... The drain here is not implying a loss to some other country, but a drain within our national boundaries.

Talking of cricketing brain, Ashwin’s 7-wicket haul in Antigua, which he credits to Kumble, says it all!


Ashwin already has 3 hundreds and 6 fifties under his belt, with a Test batting average of close to 34 runs, enough to make any top/middle order batsmen less effective. People talk of Kohli surpassing Tendulkar in all forms of the game – aggregates and hundreds. What about Ashwin? He strode into the scene silently in 2011 against the West Indians, and in 5 years’ time has bagged over 180 wickets. He will, in the near future, reach the 2000-run/200-wicket double in Test cricket…a sign of a good all-rounder. And perhaps keep going on to higher doubles.

Talking of Kumble not being considered captaincy material, another talented Indian comes to mind. He was in the fray recently, over an issue indirectly related to Anil Kumble’s selection as Head Coach. Yes. Ravi Shastri. He should have been made captain instead of Mohammed Azharuddin.

With due respect to Ajinkya Rahane whom I admire greatly as a protégé of Rahul Dravid (my favourite cricketer to date), I would like to see Ashwin as vice captain to Virat Kohli. This will leave Rahane free to focus on his batting and keep scoring prolifically, as he has been doing in all forms of the game.  Both the captain and the vice-captain being specialist batsmen somehow speaks against the importance of the bowling department, at least to yours sincerely. All-rounder Ashwin as vice-captain to Virat Kohli would balance things out a bit…and besides, both Rahane and Ashwin are of almost the same age.

Now, there are other positives to cheer about, albeit without going overboard. Before this, Ashwin had never bagged a 5-for outside Asia, and his effectiveness on non-Asian pitches was being questioned by critics. It is a favourite pastime of many cricket-writers to dub batsmen or bowlers ‘tigers on home-soil and pussycats abroad’. Whether it was Kumble’s advice or simply the law of averages, we will never know.

Hopefully, critics will now have a different story to tell. Antigua was a confidence-booster for Ashwin as he bagged yet another Man of the Match Award – as was extremely befitting. A century in the first innings, justifying the confidence placed on him by captain and coach, and his first 5-for haul outside Asia. Kumble has won on his debut as Head Coach.

Thanks must be given to IPL – despite the muck which is sometimes associated with it – for Ashwin was discovered there! Rahane too. Cricket is all about learning from history, not repeating the mistakes of the past and experimenting whenever possible. Kohli’s winning streak reminds one of Dhoni starting out as captain. They say that everything that goes up must come down. Yes, that is a law of nature/gravity/existence.

But, for the time being, one could enjoy the ascent...


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G Venkatesh (born 1972) is a senior lecturer in Energy and Environment, at Karlstad University in S...

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