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Anand Vasu in Delhi
December 14, 2005
In five matches at the Feroz Shah Kotla, Anil Kumble has 48 wickets. Some people like to suggest that it is a lucky venue for him. But that is a bit like saying the Tour de France is a lucky race for Lance Armstrong. Kumble has been India's best bowler for so long now, it's hard to remember a Test win at home where he has not played a major hand.
Through his career, though, he has been dogged by suggestions that he does not turn the ball enough, that he bowls well only on pitches tailormade for him. While it is true that many of India's home wins early in Kumble's career came on turning tracks, it is unfair to take anything away from Kumble.
More than any other bowler, he has turned up, day-in and day-out, and bowled his heart out, irrespective of the surface. It was no different here. When the Test began, it was clear that this was no traditional Kotla track. Bald at both ends but grassy down the middle, the pitch was slow and had little bounce. Kumble's greatest strength has been his ability to apply pressure on batsmen and out-think them, using his height and pace to extract extra bounce and surprise batsmen. On this pitch he sized up the situation early on, cut down on his overall pace, and used the quicker slider to great effect.
In picking up his 8th 10-wicket haul, and winning the Man-of-the-Match award, he bowled India to victory, but it came as no surprise that someone brought up the fact that he is not a big spinner of the ball, when Kumble came to the post-match press conference. "You just need to create a doubt in the batsman's mind," said Kumble. "You need to spin the ball only three inches to get the edge. It's amazing what pressure can do. I have always maintained that if you have a big score behind you, you can create pressure by cutting out scoring opportunities and having men around the bat for long periods."
What made Kumble's achievement in this match all the more significant was the fact that India had not put a huge total on the board in the first innings. 290 was well short of what was a par score on this pitch, and Sri Lanka were roaring along through Marvan Atapattu and Mahela Jayawardane. Even with 16 wicket-less overs Kumble did not flag, and bowled every over like it was the one where he would make the breakthrough. Eventually he struck, and one wicket became six before the Sri Lankans could say "first-innings lead".
Having taken the upper hand, India then made the most of it. The people of Delhi take great pride in their ground, believing it brings luck for the Indian team. Kumble, though, did not go that far. "It is not just the Kotla, I think it is a coincidence," he said "I think we make too much of the pitch and how it plays, I think it is time people started giving credit to the 11 guys in the middle. It's good to come to a ground where you have had success, but this was hard work. It was not a typical Kotla track with spin and purchase. There was no great turn on the fourth and fifth days." No great turn, perhaps, but one great bowler, and another great performance that took India to victory.
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