Former India coach Anil Kumble was telling a story to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella during the launch of the latter’s book Hit Refresh, about how his grandfather, who was a headmaster, helped him to be disciplined and hard working at a young age. But he abruptly slipped in the one, and the only thought to his coaching days with the national team.
During the chat, Kumble said, “That ‘headmaster’ tag has stayed with me, and it kept coming back. Some of them here will understand (what I am talking).”
Those who had been following the coach-captain fiasco which unfolded in June would instantly relate this to the accusation by certain Indian cricketers that Kumble’s coaching style was “head-masterly and “over-bearing”. Kumble, typically, hasn’t publicly defended or responded to it.
And what better way to divert their attention than recollecting the “hit refresh” moments of his career—the only time when you could hear a pin drop in the packed hall. From a career that lasted nearly two decades, charged with several rounds comebacks, he could have been plundered for choice to pinpoint an exact moment when he turned his career around.
But he chose this one over the rest. It was after the first day of the second Test against Australia in Adelaide, now considered a watershed in India’s Test history. He remembered, “I took a beating that day, conceded 100 runs for just a wicket (Justin Langer’s) and Australia were 400 for five. We had done so well to draw the first Test, and now they are running away with the second one.”
Talking about his comeback in the Adelaide Test, Kumble said, “I was fighting with Harbhajan for a spot and back home people were talking about my retirement.”
Moreover, on a broader scale, Kumble wanted to challenge the lingering reproval that he wasn’t effective overseas. He narrated, “I decided to do something different, to bowl a different type of googly, which I had practiced during my tennis ball days. I hadn’t quite perfected it, but now was an opportunity to try it out.”
With the googly as the stock ball, he nailed double centurion Ricky Ponting and the cleaned up the tail, preventing Australia from reaching 600. Describing the same, Kumble said, “I set an off-spinner’s field and kept bowling the googlies. In the end, I snared my first five-for in Australia, which gave me a lot of confidence, and we won the Test.”
An ardent cricket fan himself, Nadella listened to these anecdotes pretty carefully, in between asking opinions, specifically on technology in cricket (which Kumble felt was behind) and generally on the sport. Kumble said, “I read in the book that you were an off-spinner at school and once you took seven wickets. Maybe, if you had kept on playing, we could have been competitors or even partners.”
Towards the end, the science-buff in Kumble surfaced, he said, “I tried the HoloLens (a mixed reality specs patented by Microsoft) and I actually walked on Mars. It felt great, where the audience could get stadium-like experience sitting at home in front of the television.”
For the audience who had assembled there, it was a “hit refresh” Kumble moment as well, a nostalgic trip back in the 90s and noughties with an odd reminder of his head-masterly days.