In one of the more poignant moments in Michael Curtiz's Casablanca, Rick Blaine sums up the nature of his accidental love: "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine." The Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi, a ground where India's new Test captain has a phenomenal 48 wickets in five Tests might be thinking on similar lines. "Of all the grounds in all the towns in all the world, Anil Kumble walks in to toss here for the first time."
Kumble must love coming here: five Tests, five wins, four four-wicket hauls, two five-fors, one six-for, and one unforgettable afternoon in 1999 when he gobbled up all ten. And all these years after his Test debut here he was, dapper in his practice gear, addressing a media posse firing questions.
Did he expect anything different? "I've been around for 17 years," he said wearing a wry smile, "and I know what to expect." About two years ago, Rahul Dravid started a series against England at this venue and, unable to bear the media chaos, walked away in a huff. Kumble didn't have to endure as much pandemonium but the equanimity was hard to miss.
How he handled the Yuvraj Singh issue, it was said, could be an indicator for his captaincy. Yuvraj, who last featured in a Test in June 2006, has made statement after statement in ODIs and has a strong case for Test selection. Would Kumble, the elder statesman, back the old warhorses or prefer youth instead?
"It's tough on Yuvraj," he said without skirting the issue. "He's shown tremendous form and his quality is really important for Indian cricket. Moving forward, he'll have to probably wait a little bit more to become a regular member in the Test squad. It's unfortunate with the circumstances that we have for this game. That's the way it is. He's a great player and I'm sure the Indian team's batting will revolve around him very soon."
At some level Kumble might be feeling out of sync, joining the side after nearly four months. He's missed one-day series against England, Australia and Pakistan and wasn't part of the heady celebrations after the World Twenty20 victory. Surely he might be feeling out of loop.
"I've been chatting with Mahendra Singh Dhoni. I wanted to find out what was going on in the one-day side over the last three months and his inputs will certainly matter. Going ahead for Indian cricket, it's important we form a core group of young cricketers who need to take our team forward. We're not looking only at this series but my job as a senior cricketer is to ensure that Indian cricket moves ahead."
One of those young players, Harbhajan Singh, is set to play his first Test for over a year and a half. Dropped after a five-wicket haul in Kingston, Harbhajan comeback has taken a queer route; his performances in the World Twenty20 earned him a one-day spot, which in-turn catapulted him into the Test squad.
"We'll certainly look at playing the best combination that we believe will get us 20 wickets," Kumble said. "At this point we feel Harbhajan and I will play. Let's see if things change in the morning."