Kumble’s grand debut

V. V. S. Laxman is a top-class close-in fielder. Here he is poised to pouch Yasir Hameed off Anil Kumble.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

The match, in fact, was a lot closer than what the margin indicates. But for some shrewd bowling and fielding switches by Kumble, India’s fourth innings target would have been a lot more than just over 200, writes S. Dinakar.

For Anil Kumble, the first IndianOil Test was a triumph. He made all the right moves as the captain and bristled with aggression and intensity with the ball. And this was only his first Test at the helm.

Kumble showed he could surprise and sting as skipper. The decision to take the new ball during a Sourav Ganguly over on day four was a master-stroke. The skipper was the Man of the Match.

On a Feroze Shah Kotla pitch of dual bounce — the conditions favoured the pacemen in the morning — India won comfortably by six wickets on the morning of the fifth day.

The dew prevented the otherwise dry pitch from breaking up. But the Indians played the end game well after Pakistan began by electing to bat. This was a pitch that demanded application. Since the odd delivery kept low, the batsmen had to stay on the front-foot, unless the bowler delivered a rank short-pitched ball.

The match, in fact, was a lot closer than what the margin indicates. But for some shrewd bowling and fielding switches by Kumble, India’s fourth innings target would have been a lot more than just over 200. India sliced through the Pakistan line-up on day one, but the ninth wicket of pair of Misbah-ul-Haq and Mohammad Sami added 87 crucial runs to provide Pakistan a sliver of hope.

Then, Pakistan had India in deep trouble at 93 for five on day two when V.V.S. Laxman and Mahendra Singh Dhoni put together 115 important runs for the sixth wicket. In an eventful post-lunch session, India slumped from 71 for one to 93 for five between overs 22 and 28.

Sachin Tendulkar was run-out and Rahul Dravid played around a delivery angled into him by Sohail Tanvir. The debutant left-arm paceman’s deceptive speed and angle also consumed Sourav Ganguly. Looking back, the association between Laxman and Dhoni was the most critical phase of the contest. It was this partnership that transformed a likely defeat into a possible victory. A likely, demoralising deficit turned into a handy 45-run lead.

Dhoni’s aggression took the initiative away from Pakistan. Laxman’s stroke-making was judicious. A few of his straight hits took the breath away. Laxman was pleasing off the front foot, the wristy strokes piercing the gaps. Pakistan was coasting at 71 for no loss in the second innings when he flung himself to gobble up a half chance as Yasir Hameed pushed forward. These are the kind of catches that open up opportunities and Laxman’s close catching ability is grossly under-rated.

India, subsequently, made serious inroads. Younis Khan was done in by a straight Kumble delivery skidding into him — Kumble had cleverly used the width of the crease — and Mohammad Yousuf miscued a flighted delivery back to Harbhajan.

A free-stroking Salman Butt was prised out by Kumble, who went round the wicket and delivered a googly. A bait had been laid with the third man and the point boundaries left unguarded.

The game was still alive after Wasim Jaffer floored a chest-high offering at short leg when Misbah-ul-Haq pushed forward tentatively to Kumble. Misbah, who was impressive with his levels of concentration and the power behind his strokes during his first innings 82, and Kamran Akmal strung together a partnership.

Shoaib Akhtar was all aggro. Ask Rahul Dravid.-PTI

But inspired captaincy by Kumble on the fourth morning saw India gaining the advantage. Shown a red rag in the form of Ganguly handling the new ball, Misbah fell to a shot he would like to forget. Kumble revealed a lot of faith in Ganguly’s bowling in the match. And the Dada responded well to the challenge, giving little away from an off-stump line and moving the ball.

Of the two frontline pacemen, Zaheer impressed on the fourth morning with a hint of reverse swing. Comeback man Munaf Patel, promised in the first innings, but disappointed in the second. He appears a man caught between his urge to bowl quick and the need for consistency. Consequently, his bowling is suffering.

India handled the moderate chase well even if Dinesh Karthik fell early to Shoaib Akhtar again. Karthik does need to get a bigger stride forward. Wasim Jaffer was impressive in defence and offence. He picked the length of the ball early and had time to play his strokes. Dravid showed indications of returning to form. The second-wicket partnership built a platform for an Indian win.

Akhtar demanded attention, bowling full and fast and swinging the ball. He breached Dravid’s defence with a quick delivery but lacked support at the other end. Tanvir and Sami were out of their depth in the second innings.

Leg-spinner Danish Kaneria sent down two lovely leg-spinners in the first innings to dismiss Dhoni and Kumble, but was not allowed to settle down by the Indians in the second innings.

Ganguly counter-attacked with calculated risks and Tendulkar held firm. The fourth wicket partnership effectively settled the match. India was the deserving winner with Kumble a skipper in control.

The Scores

First Test, Feroze Shah Kotla, Delhi, Nov. 22-26. India won by six wickets.

Pakistan — 1st innings: S. Butt b Zaheer 1; Y. Hameed b Kumble 29; Younis Khan c Munaf b Zaheer 7; M. Yousuf lbw b Ganguly 27; Misbah-ul-Haq (run out) 82; S. Malik c Dhoni b Munaf 0; K. Akmal b Kumble 30; S. Tanvir lbw b Harbhajan 4; S. Akhtar b Kumble 2; M. Sami (not out) 28; D. Kaneria b Kumble 0; Extras (b-6, lb-12, w-2, nb-1) 21. Total: 231.

Fall of wickets: 1-13, 2-35, 3-59, 4-76, 5-83, 6-122, 7-137, 8-142, 9-229.

India bowling: Zaheer 20-5-45-2; Munaf 24-5-61-1; Kumble 21.2-6-38-4; Ganguly 14-5-28-1; Harbhajan 15-1-37-1; Tendulkar 2-0-4-0.

India — 1st innings: W. Jaffer lbw b Akhtar 32; D. Karthik c Akmal b Akhtar 9; R. Dravid b Tanvir 38; S. Tendulkar (run out) 1; S. Ganguly b Tanvir 8; V. V. S. Laxman (not out) 72; M. Dhoni c Akmal b Kaneria 57; A. Kumble c Younis Khan b Kaneria 24; Harbhajan b Tanvir 1; Zaheer Khan c Akhtar b Kaneria 9; Munaf Patel lbw b Kaneria 0; Extras (b-11, lb-8, w-1, nb-5) 25. Total: 276.

Fall of wickets: 1-15, 2-71, 3-73, 4-88, 5-93, 6-208, 7-262, 8-263, 9-276.

Pakistan bowling: Akhtar 16-2-44-2; Tanvir 24-5-83-3; Sami 17-1-71-0; Kaneria 21.4-3-59-4.

Pakistan — 2nd innings: S. Butt c Dravid b Kumble 67; Y. Hameed c Laxman b Kumble 36; Younis Khan lbw b Kumble 23; M. Yousuf c & b Harbhajan 18; S. Malik b Harbhajan 11; K. Akmal c (sub) b Zaheer 21; Misbah-ul-Haq c Karthik b Ganguly 45; S. Tanvir c Harbhajan b Zaheer 13; M. Sami c Jaffer b Ganguly 5; S. Akhtar (not out) 0; D. Kaneria (run out) 0; Extras (lb-6, nb-2) 8. Total: 247.

Fall of wickets: 1-71, 2-114, 3-149, 4-155, 5-161, 6-213, 7-229, 8-243, 9-247.

India bowling: Zaheer 18-4-45-2; Munaf 10-2-48-0; A. Kumble 27.1-8-68-3; Ganguly 9-2-20-2; Harbhajan 17-4-56-2; Tendulkar 2-0-4-0.

India — 2nd innings: D. Karthik c Akmal b Akhtar 1; W. Jaffer c Butt b Akhtar 53; R. Dravid b Akhtar 34; S. Tendulkar (not out) 56; S. Ganguly c Tanvir b Akhtar 48; V. V. S. Laxman (not out) 6; Extras (b-1, lb-3, nb-1) 5; Total (for four wkts.) 203.

Fall of wickets: 1-2, 2-84, 3-93, 4-181.

Pakistan bowling: Akhtar 18.1-4-58-4; Tanvir 12-4-26-0; Kaneria 16-2-50-0; Sami 15-1-65-0.