Bangalore v Chennai, CLT20, 1st semi-final, Durban September 24, 2010

Kumble's dark night of despair

Anil Kumble's face usually mirrors such an intense cocktail of anger, intensity, the fierce intent to win, even the odd bout of sulkiness but rarely does it display such utter gloom as it did tonight

Shock. Pain. Anger. Hurt. Sorrow. Utter misery. It was the dark night of the soul for Anil Kumble. Everything crumbled around him. In the end, he looked helpless. We have seen him get angry, dejected and even look very miserable but rarely has he looked so helpless. You almost felt sorry for him. It was the night when Suresh Raina hit a violent 94 and Albie Morkel bowled a quality spell, but it was Kumble's visage that stayed with you. It was like looking at a drowning man gasping for breath and slowly realising that he is going to go down; that there was to be no escape.

Kumble's first enemy was the rain. It threatened to wash out the game, in which case Chennai would have gone through. As the rain teased, Kumble pottered about the outfield. The clouds eventually relented and the game began. It was the beginning of the dark night when Kumble would be mugged by Murphy's Law.

It all began with a catch. Great catches usually win matches; this one derailed Bangalore. Michael Hussey spiralled one over mid-off and Dale Steyn chose to furiously backpedal. Mistake. The ball had gone so far back that he should have turned around and run to take it as it fell over his shoulder. Instead, he chose to keep backpedalling. At some point he must have known he was going to have a bad landing. He must have hoped it wouldn't be too painful. Unfortunately it was. As Kumble ran towards him he must have got that terrible sinking feeling of doom when he saw Steyn lying motionless.

The pre-match talk had revolved around how Steyn could possibly harass the Chennai middle-order. Instead, we saw Virat Kohli bowling gentle floaters in the seventh over of the game. But Kumble wasn't even allowed that luxury. Kohli's back gave way and he couldn't bowl anymore. Kumble had two holes to fill. And his teammates were widening those into bottomless pits of despair. They dropped catches, they didn't go for catches, they misfielded, they let through byes and they bowled utter tripe.

It was left to Kumble to try and pull off a heroic one-man show. He nearly did it too. He lured Raina, on 18 then, to swipe one to deep midwicket but the young restless Manish Pandey had moved too far inside the boundary even before the shot was played. And the ball of course had to go exactly where he had moved away from. Manish tried to make up with an acrobatic effort but could only save the boundary. Raina had escaped and Kumble was left seething.

Anger was to give way to utter despair. The catalyst came from the most unlikely quarter; old and trusted aide Rahul Dravid. Kumble had beaten Raina in flight again, inducing him to edge towards short third man, but Rahul seemed to suddenly freeze instead of rushing forward. Perhaps he lost the ball in the background. Perhaps he chose safety over valour. Either way, he chose to stop rather that go for the catch. Raina was on 45 then. The game was yet to slip away completely. The camera panned to Kumble, who couldn't even summon up the anger because he seemed surprised and confused about why Dravid didn't go for that catch. In the end an utter glumness settled on his face.

It was the moment when Kumble must have known that it was a night of the devil. It was an endearing moment in some ways. Kumble's face usually mirrors such an intense cocktail of anger, intensity, the fierce intent to win, even the odd bout of sulkiness but rarely does it contain such utter gloom to evoke a feeling of pity in you. Tonight was one of those nights.

Top athletes like Kumble don't like sympathy. He didn't offer any excuse at the press conference. He praised Raina - "It was a very good knock; he made things look easy for it wasn't that easy out there." He hoped Chennai would go on to the win the final. And he said it was one of those nights when nothing went right. That was the biggest understatement of the night.

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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