Dubai: The all-Indian combination of Anil Kumble as the head coach and KL Rahul as captain, among other things, has ushered in a lot of optimism among the Kings XI Punjab fans for this year’s Indian Premier League in the UAE. A much respected figure in the international cricket community, Kumble himself is aware of it but does not want to think too much ahead about the team’s fortunes in the league.
‘‘Talking about pressure, all franchises have it,’’ said Kumble, one of the biggest matchwinners for India in the last three decades, trying to deflect the weight of expectations from his captain who is new to the job. ‘‘Yes, the fans are looking forward but I am not looking too much ahead in time. There will be ups and downs in the campaign, but we will have to take it in our stride, take one match at a time and look at making the qualifers,’’ he said.
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It’s been nearly three weeks that Kumble and his boys have set up base at the beachfront Sofitel Palm in Dubai and have squeezed in two tough weeks of training at the ICC Academy and the Sharjah Stadium. Speaking at a zoom interaction with a select group of media on Tuesday, Kumble showed a lot of faith in Rahul the captain, who was appointed in the role after Ravi Ashwin was traded to Delhi Capitals.
‘‘This is Rahul’s first major tournament as captain. I have seen him grow as a professional for a long time closely ( both being residents of Bengaluru). He has been with this franchise for the last two years, pretty relaxed in his approach and understands the nuances of captaincy. We also have a very good support team and are very happy with the start we have had here,’’ said Kumble, who is one of few members in this set-up who has the experience of sitting in a champion team’s dugout during his long association with Mumbai Indians.
The IPL ecosystem has, for some reason, not been able to show enough faith on the Indian coaches over the years - the former Indian head coach Kumble being the lone one among eight teams to occupy the position. Asked about the phenomenon, Kumble was quite forthright: ‘‘It’s been sort of an irony that the league is called the Indian Premier League, but there is only one Indian occupying the head coach's position. It’s not a true reflection of the resources in the country...may be things will change with time.’’
A piece of statistic that may gladden the hearts of the ‘Lions,’ as the team is called, is that the last time a leg of the IPL was played here in 2014, Kings XI Punjab were off to a blazing start - winning all five of their matches and finishing with their best-ever performance of being runners-up. The team had been beefed up with a number of interesting acquisitions and Kumble said there were a rationale behind each of them: ‘‘We needed an impact player in the middle, hence we took Glenn Maxwell, a fast bowler and so we went for Sheldon Cottrell. We wanted to keep things simple.’’
How does he see the role of Chris Gayle, now 40, fitting into the team? Kumble said he would be expecting a lot more from him than being just the senior opening batsman: ‘‘He has just joined the practice for three-four days now. Gayle is a great guy to have in the team. We have had chats and want him to be play a leader’s role in addition to being Gayle the batsman.’’
Replying to a query if the trend of Kings XI often flattering to deceive is a source of worry for him, Kumble clearly was in no mood to carry any baggage of failures from the past. ‘‘I will be happy if we can get the start that we got in the last couple of years. Let’s take one match at a time,’’ he said.
Finally, will there be any lack of motivation on part of Mahendra Singh Dhoni to perform in this IPL after retirement? ‘‘Knowing MS, he will obviously give his 100% for Chennai Super Kings. Talking about myself, I played my last two years of IPL after retirement but was never short on motivation,’’ he added.