Anil Kumble has termed his five-wicket haul on the first day in Melbourne as the best spell he's bowled overseas. It was his tenth five-wicket haul in 63 games abroad and the second time he had taken all five on the first day itself.
"Probably [I would rate this] top of everything," said Kumble at the end of the day. "It was on the first day, Boxing Day, MCG, first match of the series. It's very special."
Australia are not new to Kumble's wiles and would not have forgotten his destructive 7 for 48 on the first day in Chennai three years ago. Mixing legbreaks, topspinners and googlies, he led the Indian fightback after lunch.
"I thought at 130 for no loss, it was important we came back into the Test. One wicket of [Phil] Jaques and [then] Zaheer got things to happen. We all understand Test cricket. We've played enough Tests to see that from 100 for no loss you can get the others cheaply. We also know teams can go from 120 for 5 to 400. I think the intensity was good after lunch. We kept at it, kept coming hard at Australia and I'm really happy how all the bowlers bowled. To get nine wickets on the first day, after losing the toss, was great."
Kumble admitted he wanted to bat first but thought his side used the conditions judiciously. "We were a bit unlucky early on," he said of the first session, one that ended with Australia on 111 for 0. "I thought Zaheer and RP Singh bowled beautifully. But we should also give credit to the way Matthew [Hayden] and Jaques batted."
Kumble wasn't expected to have a spin partner in this Test but Harbhajan Singh, included ahead of the third seamer, was brought in. "It was important we played our four best bowlers," he said. "I'm someone who always thinks positive and tries to go with the best possible combination. Both Bhajji [Harbhajan] and I have done well as a partnership against Australia."
Was it a tactical move to bring Harbhajan on, as early as the 14th over, ahead of himself? "You had two left-handers there and I just wanted to check what was happening. He spins it more than me. It was a bit soft so I tried him early. He bowled well, kept things tight. We bowled well together. He kept it tight at one end. He was a bit unlucky. But I'm sure he'll be really effective in the second innings."
It's been more than twenty years since India have visited Australia with a bowler leading the side. Kumble, though, didn't think he was under any additional pressure with the ball in hand. "I was happy the way it went. I had this problem in India when I played as a captain. When I held back and was not bowling, the rest of the players kept saying, 'Why have you stopped, keep bowling.' Today I had to do that. It's important that I ensure I bowl the number of overs I do as a bowler. Today they kept encouraging me to bowl every time."
Kumble has gone through a career with question marks over his effectiveness abroad. His previous tour to Australia dispelled a few of them but recent efforts in Cape Town and The Oval prompted a few to raise their eyebrows. This time he's here as a captain and responsibility seems to have spurred him on. Four years ago it was another captain, Sourav Ganguly, who made the early dent on the series. Kumble matched that without breaking much sweat.