The 'turning' point
"He is a great bowler," Yuvraj, the Kings XI Punjab captain, said later. "I was the one set. I should have stayed longer. I can't blame anyone else for losing the match." Kumble, the latest Royal Challengers Bangalore captain, knew if that they got Yuvraj's wicket, the match could be in the pocket.
The contest actually began in the previous game between the two. With 66 runs required in 36 balls, Kumble came on to bowl his last over. A couple of balls into the over, he sensed Yuvraj was intent on just playing him out and started to tempt him with flighted googlies and floaters. Yuvraj resisted the bait, even padding up one, and the game was won next over when Ravi Bopara got stuck into Praveen Kumar.
Today, the battle came down to Kumble's googlies against Yuvraj's signature slog-sweeps. Yuvraj won the first round, welcoming Kumble into the attack with a big swipe out of the park. He tried to repeat the shot for the next two balls but didn't connect well. He steadied himself with a copy-book forward-defensive stroke before swinging the next over square leg again. Game on. Mark Boucher ran to Kumble, who kept staring ahead, entrenched in his bubble. It was pure drama.
So far, Kumble had been bowling the middle and leg line. You felt he would now try to make Yuvraj fetch from outside off stump. It was experience up against adrenalin. In the last game, Yuvraj was new to the crease and didn't take any risks. But here he was unable to stop himself from having another crack. Kumble gave him the two-fingered googly and floated it outside off stump. Yuvraj went for the slog sweep again. A blur. The ball spooned up off the edge and Jacques Kallis back-pedalled to get under the ball at midwicket.
Kumble roared even as he pumped up his arms into a furious arc. He reserves that only for the tensest moments and mostly when he has got rid of pesky big-hitters who have gone after him. It's a moment thoroughly relished by the most fiercely competitive bowler in Indian cricket history. It's also his way of offering tribute to the batsman - 'Thanks for trying to take me on, I enjoyed it. Do visit again'.
We have seen that when he took on Andrew Symonds in Australia. We witnessed it when he once removed Shahid Afridi. He later he joked about his reaction. "You have to do it; otherwise they will say you are too old for this format!"
Kumble wasn't done yet, though. The game hurtled towards almost a similar situation to the last time the teams faced off each other - 51 runs were needed in 30 balls. But this time, Kumble had kept his two overs in the bank. In the first he kept things quiet but just like the last time, Praveen Kumar gave away 14 runs in the next over. Both Praveen and Roelof van der Merwe, who bowled the next over, were struggling to cope with dew. Kumble brought himself on for the penultimate bowler with Punjab needing just 17 runs. And with his second delivery, took out Kumar Sangakkara with a googly and gave away just four more runs in the over. Game over.
Asked whether he thought they could win when Punjab were looking in control mid-way, Kumble replied in his typical way, "Oh yes. Otherwise, we wouldn't have won the game. We knew that it was just a matter of Yuvraj. He was blazing away and if he had stayed there a bit longer, the game would have been over five overs earlier."
He also spoke about the difference in his bowling from the last IPL. "It was tough then to go into a game, knowing you just had four overs to bowl and probably, in four different spells. But I was better prepared mentally this time. It was just matter of the mindset."
This year, Kumble has already picked 10 wickets at 15.50 with an economy rate of 5.59. And tonight, by picking up Yuvraj, he has charged Bangalore to fifth position on the points table. He retired as a proud Indian captain and has, now, begun his IPL stint with a typically aggressive performance.
Karna S is a freelance cricket writer