India has a desi coach after a string of firangs somehow got by without knowing the language. Yet, knowing the language was one of the prerequisites this time.
What language, you may ask - there are so many, which is possibly why someone like Anil Kumble who speaks not only English and Hindi, but also Kannada and engineering, scored the highest marks in the coach’s final exam.
Anil Kumble, it is learnt, has developed a wicked sense of humour, and had his mates in splits, when he turned up for the job interview in bandages. Reminiscent of the time when he returned to bowl, jaw broken and bandaged, and grab Brian Lara’s wicket; Sachin, Sourav and VVS, all stood up and hi-fived him, as they did on the field, that day in Antigua.
When asked what he was thankful for, Kumble thanked the broken jaw: "It was a flat deck, worse than our Indian roads that we call wickets. I’m glad I broke my jaw and only bowled 14 of the 248 overs that India bowled.”
To which Laxman cracked up, and said in his usual jovial self, "Aneel, even I bowled 17 overs haha, you’re very lucky Aneel, I agree, you’re a very lucky guy."
At this point, Tendulkar jumped out of his seat to admonish Laxman, "Aila! 17 overs, what is that, I bowled 34 overs that day! We should make Anil coach just so that we can force him to bowl more overs in the nets."
Sourav Ganguly, all serious so far, wasn’t about to be left out when he said in his usual deadpan manner, "One of the advantages of being captain is that I bowled only 12 overs in that innings." He looked around for approval which he got in spades from the little private club.
Laxman blamed Ganguly, alleging that because of that Test match, where Ashish Nehra bowled 49 overs in an innings, he was never fully fit again. "You killed Nehra the bowler for life, Sourav, hehehe... and Zak too, and Srinath too. How can you make your quicks all bowl close to 50 overs? You were a heartless captain."
Ganguly corrected him, "Medium pacers, VVS, not quicks, medium pacers."
The banter went on, when Tendulkar decided to do a Q&A on the Test match, "How many bowlers bowled for India? And no, you cannot Google it, Anil."
Kumble looked on sternly, asking matter-of-factly, "Will this question decide whether I make it as coach?"
There was a deafening silence in the room. After a few minutes of levity it was all down to one question.
Kumble started to toss the player’s names in his head – and then it came to him, he had just visited Ajay Ratra’s (the wicketkeeper in that match) cricket profile.
A thorough researcher, Kumble had looked at every aspect of Ratra’s career – he also noticed he had bowled six balls in a Test match. That one over had to be in the Antigua Test.
Where else? If Laxman could bowl 17 overs in a Test, even the twelfth man had a chance to bowl.
Anil Kumble’s already firm jaw appeared more determined as he looked Sachin, Sourav and Laxman collectively in the eye. It was as if he was interviewing them for a post. He nodded ever so slightly and started a roll call of the team, listing every player, and then laying a greater emphasis on Ajay Ratra’s name.
To which, Sachin and Sourav were poker-faced but Laxman let out the hint of a smile.
In Kumble’s mind, it was either ten or eleven players who had bowled. Spotting Laxman’s smile, Kumble went for the jugular: "All 11 bowled in that Test match, including the one over from Ajay Ratra. Sourav, I do think for his economy rate, he was a trifle underbowled. Let me tell you, as India coach, I won’t let the wicketkeeping duties come in the way of bowling. I expect MS to turn his arm over."
There was a gentle applause. Laxman called a peon in and requested Kumble to dictate his appointment letter.
But Ganguly was all serious, "Sorry Anil, but we have to ask you one more question, how do you plan to improve India’s performance overseas?"
They all laughed heartily. It was a question asked many times before. The masters in the room knew only too well there were no real answers yet. Still, a man's got to ask.
Anil Kumble started his PowerPoint presentation. Laxman insisted there wasn’t any need. Long after Kumble’s appointment letter had been printed and signed, he continued to present, talking about the future.
(However plausible this may sound, this is largely a work of fiction.)