The scene is from India’s departure press conference for the tour of West Indies. Test skipper Virat Kohli and new coach Anil Kumbler were seated next to each other, fielding questions from the media. Among a variety of topics ranging from preparation to pitches, to the new coach’s role of bridging together recent past and near future, and so on, there came an obvious question.“How will you deal with the aggression and temperament of Virat Kohli on and off the field?”The reactions were a bit noteworthy — Kohli stopped looking in the direction of the questioner, and began fiddling with whatever it was he held in his hand at that time. Clearly, he had had enough of this question. Meanwhile, Kumble smiled and then proceeded to reply calmly.“I love his aggression. I was no different,” said the newly appointed coach. “I was also aggressive, but very different in terms of how I probably came across on the field. But I will be the last person to curb someone’s natural instincts. At the same time, we know how important it is to be ambassadors of India and be a part of the Indian cricket team. Everybody understands that. We will ensure there is a fine line, and everyone is aware of it. I certainly won’t curb anyone’s instincts.”Every time a regime changes, there is a certain expectation of transformation. It is only logical that it would get played up, but in the context of Indian cricket, it evolves quickly into something that must be clearly visible or quantifiable. It was the same when Ravi Shastri came into the fold in England (2014). Certain difference needed to appear, almost as if overnight, and move the team in a positive direction.Almost five months passed before that visualization came to fruition though. In Australia, they played like a team possessed, not necessarily driven to success but more to make a point. And in that they were successful, for aggressive cricket was the central theme of that tour. It was also when a very important transition in the annals of Indian cricket history took place. That the last eighteen months — in the aftermath of India’s 3-1 defeat in England — passed without a hiccup is a pointer to the excellent work done by Shastri.This current regime change has come just as the former team director was beginning to settle in, hoping for a more hands-on approach as the head coach. And while there can be arguments made about the overall success percentage of Shastri’s reign (across formats), the expectation from Kumble will only be a graph pointing upwards. Just how does he intend to do that?“As a newcomer in the dressing room, he has tried to make me feel as comfortable as possible. When a newcomer feels happy, he can concentrate on performing on the field,” said Shardul Thakur. “He has helped us bond and bring the team together by planning a lot of activities for the team,” said KL Rahul.“For me, the greatest aspect of Kumble coming on board is the vast experience he will be able to share with us. As a spin trio, we can only learn from him as much as possible,” said Ravindra Jadeja. “It has been three weeks since he joined the team, and I have already picked up some tips from him, especially regarding his stock wicket-taking deliveries,” said Amit Mishra.Heady praises from different members of the squad prove the respect for Kumble in the dressing room, as also the fact that he treats everyone equally. It is not to say Shastri or Fletcher didn’t enjoy the same, for no coach can hope to be successful without an equitable give-and-take relationship (looking at you, Greg Chappell!). The underlining point herein is that within a short span of time, Kumble has outlined his territory with this healthy relationship as a firm marker.Coaching, consequently, is mostly about effective man-management. And the legendary leg spinner has overcome his inexperience by delving into the individual aspects of the team. It is seen in the ‘buddy program’, the fact that the entire team now runs its warm-up laps together or the fact that there are always two batsmen in any net session, practicing in pairs. The last move is a particular departure from the past, when only one batsman would face a certain type of bowling in the nets.The team is greater than an individual, yet at the same time, players need to be treated as separate entities and each of them catered to, as per their specific needs. Pretty much all of it is engrained from the ethos of the golden generation to which Kumble belongs. So, how does Kohli fit in here?There can be no denying that among equals of this current squad, he is the alpha male. It isn’t because he is captain, or the team’s best batsman across all formats. No, it is because he represents something more, a connection to the past for these current generation batsmen.Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman laid down the foundations of the confidence that these young batsmen radiate. If their predecessors had to gain this quality in their play, the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Murali Vijay and Rohit Sharma have come forth with this assimilation already. Moreover, if MS Dhoni was the soothing factor that channeled everything invested in the 2000s into the all-conquering 2010-11 Indian team, Kohli is but an extension of the same.Today, Kumble represents the investment made by the big four – as administrator, members of cricket advisory committee or coach – into Indian cricket at present. Kohli is that present, and the future.Their coming together is an amalgamation of the finesse of a bygone golden generation and the bravado of this attitude era. It is the onset of a new chapter.
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