Kumble's maiden hundred caps Indian domination
India stood on the brink of a series win in England - 2-0 was as a real possibility, 1-0 a virtual certainty - as they piled on a massive 664, with Anil Kumble scoring his maiden Test hundred on the back of impressive performances from several of his team-mates. India's batting fired all through, with each of the 11 batsmen getting into double figures, and eight partnerships of 50 or more. England lost Andrew Strauss in the eight overs they had to negotiate, ending on 24 for 1 to cap a near-perfect day for India.
With India "getting out of jail" in the first Test at Lord's, saved by the rain, and decisively winning an exciting game at Trent Bridge, the two teams came into the final Test fairly well matched. By the end of the second day, though, India were far ahead, with England battling hard to stay in the hunt.
Added to the pressure that the series scoreline put on the English batsmen was the pressure of the huge Indian total. The question Michael Vaughan will be asking himself is, "How can England still win this game?" For if they can't visualise a positive result, it might just become too difficult to bat three days and keep the negative one away.
The day was well set up when it began, with India narrowly ahead on points at 316 for 4. Sachin Tendulkar quickly got to his half-century, Matt Prior dropped VVS Laxman, Mahendra Singh Dhoni carted the ball around for a lusty 92, and all seemed to be going according to the Indian script. Then came the event of the day, something that was 36 years and 297 days and 118 Tests in the making. Kumble got to his half-century, off 109 balls, playing second fiddle to Dhoni. Then slowly, as he crunched one unassuming cover drive after another, the maiden century became a real possibility, even with Dhoni gone.
Zaheer Khan played with care and common sense for 52 balls to score 11 but he could take Kumble only as far as 67. RP Singh hung around 21 balls for his 11 and left Kumble on 76. With 24 still needed, Kumble was visibly nervous as Sreesanth strode out to bat. Miraculously, Sreesanth kept his cool - something he hasn't always done with the ball in hand - and Kumble speared one from Kevin Pietersen through Matt Prior's legs, off the inside edge, to reach three figures.
Scrambling to regain his crease, Kumble saw that the ball had evaded the keeper and before Steve Bucknor, the umpire, could signal the boundary, he had his helmet off and waved his bat towards the Indian dressing-room. To a man the Indian team - already crowding the balcony - rose to their feet, celebrating Kumble's moment. It was one of cricket's romantic moments, a popular hero achieving a milestone that appeared to be evading him in a 17-year-old career.
For those less inclined to the game's romance, there was still enough to savour on a day the statisticians had little respite. India's innings was the first instance of eight partnerships crossing the 50-run mark. James Anderson conceded 182 runs, more than any Englishman has conceded against India in an innings. All eleven Indian batsmen got into double figures. Kumble took more Tests than any batsman in history to reach a maiden Test hundred, beating Chaminda Vaas (96), and, till he got there this was the highest score without a century.
And if you had no interest in either romance or statistics, and wanted pure cricket, you couldn't have asked for a refund on your ticket money at the end of the day. Laxman batted pleasingly for 51, barring the ball that got him and the one that should have when Prior shelled the chance. Tendulkar played more shots in the second half of his innings, including a near six - a hook off Anderson - and well-constructed punches through mid-on and cover. He was on target for a century when Anderson produced a delivery that swung late and, for the second time in the innings, got rid of a well-set top-order batsman.
Anderson's ball to dismiss Tendulkar, almost as good as the one that got Rahul Dravid on the first day, was no fluke. England's bowlers tried hard, hampered as they were with the loss of Sidebottom after the 102nd over, and it wasn't as though they bowled especially badly. It was just one of those days when almost everything India did went their way.
Dhoni's frightening assault was one such thing. He walked out to bat with India in a strong position at 354 for 5 but there was still a long way to go. India's first task was to score enough runs to eliminate the risk of defeat and then press on to a score so big that England would have to fight to save the game. Dhoni ensured that this gap was bridged. He did that with a typically marauding 92, including four huge hits for six and nine fours, off only 81 balls. He'd helped save the Test at Lord's with a doughty, uncharacteristic innings; here he'd set things up with an idiosyncratic, bustling knock.
Amid all that, Kumble ended up unbeaten on 110, scoring the only Indian century of the series so far as India eventually closed on 664. Then, in the eight overs that remained a tired Strauss pulled Zaheer from well outside the off and only managed a catch to fine leg, leaving England at 12 for 1. Alastair Cook stayed largely away from the strike, and trouble, as England ended on 24 for 1, a staggering 640 behind with three days to play.
And that's the key, as the man of the day put it. "I always knew I could bat and I didn't think it would be 17 years coming," said Kumble. "I'm really satisfied, and we'll celebrate, but there's still a lot of work to be done in picking up the remaining 19 wickets."
Kumble couldn't stop smiling when he gave that TV interview but it is over the next three days that he has to be in his element - making sure the English batsmen are not enjoying their time out in the middle. After all, a 2-0 series-win in England beckons. And that's almost as much of a once-in-a-lifetime event as Kumble's hundred.
Anand Vasu is associate editor of Cricinfo