Royal Challengers Bangalore v Delhi Daredevils, IPL, Johannesburg May 19, 2009

Captain Kumble calls the shots

Bangalore's turnaround has much to do with Kumble's appointment as captain following the departure of Kevin Pietersen

The tale of today's two captains can't be more contradictory. Anil Kumble has almost taught this team to win while Delhi have sailed along without Virender Sehwag's contribution with the bat. Bangalore hadn't won much before Kumble took over and led from the front with his bowling; Sehwag has been almost anonymous through a mix of poor form and injury but Delhi - still comfortably top of the table despite today's defeat - haven't missed him.

On a flat night at the Wanderers - the crowd was out of it till Ross Taylor biffed a few sixes - Bangalore cruised through a game they had in control from the dramatic first over. They were in top form - they had to be given their must-win situation - and, though clinical and professional, displayed a hunger to win.

Bangalore's turnaround has much to do with Kumble's appointment as captain following the departure of Kevin Pietersen. Even Ray Jennings, the coach, admitted as much, noting that Kumble's tenacity and hunger to win - qualities that served the Indian team for almost two decades - have spread across to the team. Not too long ago they were languishing near the bottom of the table, the players pessimistic about the fate of their campaign.

Kumble changed all that - he set the example and the seniors followed. Last year, they failed to put up their hand. This year, though, Jacques Kallis, Rahul Dravid and Mark Boucher have shone and Ross Taylor has begun firing at the right time. Kallis, the man whom Kumble pipped to the captaincy post, has especially supported him superbly with the bat. As witnessed tonight in another typically serene Kallis knock; he batted on calmly with Dravid and dropped anchor to allow Taylor a cameo before finishing the game.

The seniors' performances have started to rub off on the youngsters; Praveen Kumar, Vinay Kumar and Virat Kohli have chipped in with vital contributions to keep the team afloat in the competition. It's a team that has worked really hard in their preparation. At times, they have had a strenuous workout in the morning before playing a practice game in the afternoon. Kumble hasn't had to worry about reckless late-night partying, unlike last year when Martin Crowe had to impose a curfew mid-tournament.

For all the preparation and practice, though, the wins weren't coming. Till Kumble entered. He has led superbly with the ball in the last few games. Today, he didn't have to do much as Praveen and Kallis had done the damage first up with the new ball. He simply had to ensure that Delhi didn't get away in the middle-overs and he did it without much fuss. There was one Kumble moment, though, that evoked memories of his younger days when he would feast on the non-Asian and non-specialist batsmen with his pace.

The mind went back to a home series against England when Kumble haunted, harrassed and made a mockery of Richard Blakey. The bat would go up and, in the blink of an eye, the stumps would be in disarray. Or the ball would crash against the pad or produce a hurried fatal prod. Today, Andrew McDonald found out what Blakey must have felt like. Anyone could have predicted Kumble giving him the yorker. Yet when it came McDonald was helpless; the bat was late and the furniture was disturbed. It was akin to watching one of those wildlife films where the tiger stalks the deer before pouncing; the brutality loses none of its beauty in the absence of surprise.

Even in the earlier games, Kumble has bowled like a champion that he is. Not many have collared him and when some, like Yuvraj Singh, have tried, they have had to admit defeat pretty quickly. Kumble has been his fierce old self and his team has flourished under him.

In contrast, Sehwag has seen his team win without his contribution. It's a sign of a settled team and Sehwag could actually be pleased with it. He would know, though, that he'll have to fire in the pressure games ahead to support his middle-order which has stood up valiantly so far. Last year, the top-order used to fire and the middle-order struggled. So far, it's been the reverse. Sehwag's best could come in the knockout games. For Delhi it would be well worth the wait.

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo