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Siddhartha Vaidyanathan in Delhi
November 22, 2007
In the third last over of the day, Munaf Patel dug in a short one to Misbah-ul-Haq, saw him pull fiercely towards short midwicket, watched Harbhajan Singh stretch his arms out wide, saw him grass the chance, and kicked the ground in anguish. Watching from mid-on, Anil Kumble turned heavenwards. On most days it might have been Kumble doing the kicking.
Cricket teams take a bit of time adjusting to their new leader, finding their way before settling into a rhythm. India, especially with the Test and one-day leadership now split, might take a bit longer than the rest. But going by their start to the Test series, a day that they bossed for large parts, it would appear the Kumble work ethic has caught on well and early. India's first day of the series was played out under Kumble's giant shadow.
On a flat pitch that didn't offer much seam movement, India persevered. With typical Kumble-esque persistence the four-man attack made the most of their resources, stuck to the basics, utilised the early swing and induced errors. A part-timer, Sourav Ganguly, exceeded expectations and a possible weak link, Munaf, charged in with fire. There weren't any magic balls, no banana-swingers that swung from leg to off, but just good old line and length. Cricketers love to harp on about the "right areas". This was the day when they really found them.
There were some symbolic passages too. Just like Kumble has experienced through his career, India's bowlers struggled to extract lbw decisions from umpires. Appeal after appeal was met with a negative response with a few close shouts going Pakistan's way. And just as Kumble has struggled to get rid of the opposition's tail of late, the rest of the bowlers had a tough time dislodging them too.
Munaf, for the first time in more than a year, showed he could be quick and disciplined at the same time. He burst on to the scene as an erratic fast bowler, tried to convert himself into an accurate medium-pacer and ended up as a confused bundle of nerves. Getting through a day even seemed a bridge too far. This was a Munaf transformed: managing to consistently clock 135kph and generating movement off an unresponsive pitch (one that Ganguly later termed "only down, not up and down"). He bowled the most - 20.4 overs - and his only wicket, that of Shoaib Malik, was through the ball of the day.
Zaheer Khan backed him up efficiently but it was Ganguly, maintaining a robotic length, that had most surprised. Rarely has he bowled 12 overs on the first day of a Test and probably never done so in such a metronomic fashion. He entered the Test with his spot under a bit of scrutiny, what with Yuvraj Singh making waves in the one-dayers, but blossomed in a department where, as he candidly confessed, "there is no pressure".
"There was a swing," he said when asked if it was his best spell, "but I was happy I could hit the right areas. The conditions helped early on." Was he, India's most successful captain, impressed with Kumble's first day at the office? "Fantastic," he beamed, "he even gave me 12 overs."
Kumble, like he often has, ran the risk of being unnoticed - despite being the most successful bowler, he sent Ganguly for the post-match press conference. All his three wickets were with quick, straighter deliveries and he profited from a pitch where the ball died on the batsmen. When he castled Kamran Akmal his wicket-tally at the Feroz Shah Kotla went up to 50. The number may just get a marginal mention but India refused to forget the Kumble-way through the day.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at CricinfoFeeds: Siddhartha Vaidyanathan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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