Kumble, having captained India in 14 Tests 17 years after his debut, felt there is no born leader.
One was privy to a discussion between two former cricketers, the legendary Anil Kumble and Woorkeri (WV) Raman, at the launch of the latter’s book, The Winning Sixer. The conversation between the duo was as pleasant and crisp as the Bengaluru weather and it was a pleasure to listen to the erudite speakers, both of whom played the game the way it was ordained to be — like gentlemen.
For starters, one wondered why Raman, a former India and Tamil Nadu opening batsman decided to write a management book on leadership skills and not a biography which could have had juicy details about his cricketing journey. “Who would want to read about me,” he dismissed a query, just the way he would dis-patch the ball through the off-side with a silken cover drive.
For someone who started playing cricket as a left-arm spinner and ending it as an opening batsman, later coaching state and Indian Premier League (IPL) teams, Raman’s thoughts as a player and beyond would have made great reading. Fortunately, Raman’s own experiences in the book along with anecdotes from world champions (from different sports) like the great Kapil Dev, Sania Mirza, Vasudevan Bhaskaran and Geet Sethi among others give valuable insights and tips to those aspiring a leadership position. The bio can wait.
Coming back to the delightful chat between Kumble and Raman, a topic which gathered my attention was about successful sportspersons who are often given the sobriquet of ‘born leaders.’ More often than not, people addressing winning captains as the person being ‘a born leader,’ makes the subject much larger than life than they may be.
Kumble, having captained India in 14 Tests 17 years after his debut, felt there is no born leader. He said that captains and leaders develop while dealing with situations, watching and learning while on the job. He felt that it is all about knowing what needs to be done at that moment of time. He had (in an interview earlier) admitted that he got the job by default when his Karnataka and India colleague Rahul Dravid relinquished captaincy in November 2007.
The way Kumble handled the situation, when an ugly issue rocked the foundations of the game during India’s second Test match against Australia at Sydney in 2008, is a lesson in crisis management for anyone aspiring to be a leader. He mentioned he was lucky to have two former India captains like Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly with VVS Laxman as part of his core group that supported him.
Kumble recounted how he had to distance himself from emotions, in a volatile situation, and deal with the issue (now termed as ‘monkeygate’) and not with the personality. He went on to explain that when conflicts happen, it is the personality and not the issue that is dealt with. His act of urging his teammates of carrying on and not abandoning the tour midway was admirable.The icing was his post-match statement - ‘only one team was playing with the spirit of the game’ — that sealed the perceptions in India's favour.
Full of anecdotes, Raman’s book recounts how Mansur Ali Khan, aka Tiger Pataudi, said that he had ‘lost his sight and not his vision’ when asked about life after losing his eye in a car accident. Like Kumble, Tiger too was thrown in the deep end when India skipper, Nari Contractor was brutally hit on the skull by a short ball bowled by Charlie Griffith, a history sheeter for bending his arm. Tiger had played just three Test matches before he walked out with the legendary Frank Worrell for the toss at Bridgetown, Barbados in March 1962.
Many years later, Tiger mentioned how his seniors like Polly Umrigar, Vijay Manjrekar, Chandu Borde amongst others gave him (as a 21-year old) full support and went on to become one of India’s most admired captains. What made Tiger different? He realised that the strength of Indian bowling, in those days, was spin and nurtured the famous Indian spin quartet of Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekar, Bishen Bedi and Srinivas Venkataraghavan to become match winners. His emphasis on fielding gave India some of the finest like Eknath Solkar and Syed Abid Ali.
Accomplished leaders are difficult to come by. Cricket is now played across three formats - long, short and mini. For a leader to excel in all formats, to keep learning from experiences is the key. As Raman put it succinctly: “Experience is a very, very tough teacher. It punishes you first and then teaches you a lesson.”