Anil Kumble, arguably India's greatest-ever bowler, turned 52 this week. He was always the ideal Indian sportsperson - hard worker, disciplinarian, principled, team player, aggressive on the field and humble off it - apart from being a true match-winner.
However, he played the most popular sport in the country obsessed with gossip. This meant that despite his squeaky-clean image, he was not spared from controversies before and after his retirement.
Here are three that stood out:
#1 The Anil Kumble-Virat Kohli saga
On June 20, 2017, Kumble resigned as the head coach of Team India after less than a year in that position. In his parting post on Twitter, he talked about then-captain Virat Kohli's reservations about his 'style', his attempt at "holding the mirror" on the players, and BCCI's failed efforts to resolve their differences.
Disagreements between a high-profile captain and a matching coach weren't new to Indian cricket. But Kumble's honorable image as a player and administrator, Kohli's peak batting form but outspoken on-field attitude and India's loss to Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final made the issue one of the worst in history.
Till now, this is all the official information available because neither Kumble nor Kohli have given details on the matter. It was reported that Kohli was consulted when the authorities were deciding on extending the coach's tenure, but he said junior players felt "intimidated" by Kumble's coaching.
At the time, a disagreement in the selection matter was cited as the reason, while other reports said the 'rift' had been going on for many months. Vinod Rai, head of the Committee of Administrators (CoA) - a temporary body to run Indian cricket during the saga - recently revealed more details in his book 'Not Just a Nightwatchman'.
He wrote that the coach was upset with the power the captain wielded and that BCCI’s Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) comprising Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman had spoken to both figures for three days. Their deliberations had settled on a contract extension, but Kumble resigned.
#2 The Monkeygate scandal
It didn't directly involve him, but as India's then-captain, Kumble was in the firing line in the 2008 Monkeygate saga. After an on-field spat between Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds in the second Test of the 2007-08 Border Gavaskar Trophy, racist allegations were laid against the former for calling the latter a "monkey".
India denied the allegations, with Tendulkar and Kumble leading India's defense. In his autobiography, ‘Playing It My Way’, Tendulkar wrote:
“Anil Kumble and I took the lead and it was unanimously decided that we would boycott the tour if Bhajji’s ban was upheld.”
The then-skipper staunchly defended his team in the post-match press conference, saying:
“Only one team was playing with the spirit of the game, that's all I can say... The way the umpiring was, the team is agitated and upset. A lot of decisions have gone against us. Of course a few went against the Australians also."
In 2020, Kumble told Ravichandran Ashwin on his show 'DRS with Ash' that although he considered abandoning the tour, they played on in the larger interest of the sport. He said:
“I think as a captain, or as a team, we had gone there to win the series. Unfortunately, with the first two results not going our way, the best result could have been a drawn series because two more Test matches remained and I just wanted to rally around the team.
"We got around as a unit and then we sort of took a decision to continue and make sure that we go on and win the next couple of matches because that would be the best message that we can give back our fans.”
India won the third Test and drew the fourth to lose the series by a 2-1 margin, but Kumble emerged from the controversy as a charismatic leader.
#3 The conflict of interest issue
Like many cricketers before and after him, Kumble wasn't spared from a conflict of interest controversy. The issue arises when a person holds two official posts and their personal interest in one goes against their professional duty in the other.
In the great leg-spinner's case, it arose from his company Tenvic, which was launched in 2011 at a time when he was the president of the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA), the chairman of the National Cricket Academy (NCA) and a mentor at IPL outfit Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). His company's aim was to promote grassroots-level cricket and look after the commercial interests of players who took the services of Tenvic.
But it was feared that the cricketer might use his official cricketing positions by favoring players like Vinay Kumar and S Aravind who were with the company. The former India captain denied the allegations, saying he had to "look after himself". He stated:
"I don't see any conflict of interest here. The positions with the KSCA and NCA are honorary jobs, and I have to look after myself. At this stage of my career, I have to do that. Otherwise, you'd have to become like Gandhi and give up everything."
He maintained the KSCA and RCB positions but, in an out-of-the-blue move, resigned as the NCA chief. Although his official reasoning was that his "vision" for the NCA wasn't accepted, many felt that the conflict of interest saga had played a role.
The issue lingered for years and he kept on denying the allegations until before taking up the job as India's head coach. In 2016 he promised to resolve the issue. The current Punjab Kings coach had said then:
"We (BCCI and I) have already discussed that. Whatever needs to be done will be done before I take up this role officially. That has been discussed, and it has been clear with the BCCI as well. Something that can be easily resolved."
The controversy died from the news after he became head coach. Tenvic is still up and running, though its website shows Kumble as the 'Founder' and not in his original position as 'Director'.