Anil Kumble: probed, hustled and tormented the batsmen with turn and bounce
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After eight days of largely errant cannon fire across the bows, this
series exploded to life on a mild but sunny Mohali day when the old Indian
formula of aggressive batsmanship and relentless spin attack propelled the
team into the ascendancy in a match that was supposed to peter out into a
nondescript draw. And as has usually been the case in the 35 Indian
victories in which he has played a part, it was impossible to keep Anil
Kumble out of the strobe lights.
Clearly energised by that 500th Test wicket, Kumble first left his imprint
on proceedings during an entertaining 53-run stand with Harbhajan Singh.
While Harbhajan flashed the bat around with unfettered enthusiasm, Kumble
held one end up, defying the second new ball and playing a couple of
punishing strokes for good measure. By that stage, with India having
recovered from the early-morning doldrums of 153 for 5, every run was a
bonus, an extra inch of rope with which to tighten the noose later in the
The hard yards, and there were more than a few after Sehwag, Tendulkar and
Dhoni contributed just 31 between them, had been run earlier, by a man who
knows better than most the loneliness of the long-distance runner. Ricky
Ponting may be the world's most destructive batsmen, as he showed again
today at the Wanderers, but as a master of the defensive arts, Rahul
Dravid is peerless. Once again, when his team needed it most, he was there
to pick up the pieces and glue them back together.
But for brief splashes of colour when he'd play two or three shots in
quick succession, this was a dour, grey innings, and exactly what was
required after the Champagne Charlies had hurriedly exited the party. The
77-run partnership with Wasim Jaffer in the final session yesterday had
given the innings a platform, but after a terrific fightback from England,
it was the 76-run association with Irfan Pathan that altered the balance
of the Test. Darrell Hair reprieved Pathan when he was still to reach
double-figures - the faintest of edges, which only a snick-o-meter could
detect - and as a hitherto dormant run-rate suddenly came alive, England
slowly lost the plot.
Dravid and Pathan stretched the field and started to find the gaps
regularly while dealing, convincingly and otherwise, with the
short-pitched deliveries that had snared three of the first five. But for
a magnificent delivery from Andrew Flintoff, which kept low in addition to
darting back, Dravid may well have got the century he so richly deserved.
As for Pathan, his uninhibited 52 was further evidence of a precocious
batting talent susceptible only to the blistering pace and steepling
bounce that Steve Harmison and Flintoff extracted in spurts.
After the hit-and-giggles from the lower order - 109 runs were added after
Dravid's departure, in just 24.1 overs - India came out with a genuine
sense of purpose, and both Munaf Patel and Pathan could have had more than
the one wicket during the course of disciplined and fairly incisive
The battering ram, however, was always going to be Kumble. With Harbhajan
getting the ball to bounce and spin viciously at times, England's scoring
rate never put any pressure on the fielding side. It was the sort of
situation that Kumble has exploited ruthlessly down the years. A becalmed
batting side scrapping its way out of trouble finds itself confronted by
half a dozen unplayable deliveries, and the confidence disappears like the
lacquer from a new ball.
Andrew Strauss, worked over by Harbhajan, was roughed up further, and his
unfortunate dismissal was an accident waiting to happen. Paul Collingwood
fared little better, and with the exception of Ian Bell, who rattled the
cage now and then with sweetly struck fours, Kumble had every batsman
prodding forward uncertainly.
The slow and low surface at Nagpur was supposed to have favoured India,
but given that both their frontline spinners are far removed from the
classical mould, this livelier pitch has been much more to their liking.
Abetted by the bounce that makes him such a fearsome proposition in the
final stages of a Test, Kumble was back in his element. Not surprisingly,
with their talisman to the fore, so were India.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo