The charge of the old guard

Anil Kumble led with imagination and bowled with passion, Sachin Tendulkar batted with patience and skill, V. V. S. Laxman constructed an innings of critical importance, Rahul Dravid showed signs of returning to form and Sourav Ganguly delivered with the ball and the bat. The seniors are pulling their weight indeed. By S. Dinakar.

Anil Kumble adjusted his cap, its crest gleaming, as he settled down for a post-match interaction with the media. His face reflected a sense of achievement.

The fragrance of a famous victory swirled around the Indian camp and there were celebrations and more celebrations. Kumble’s arrival in the media enclosure had therefore been delayed.

There were no complaints, everyone understood.

In the course of a lively question and answer session, Kumble said, “His (Sachin Tendulkar’s) hunger for cricket is unbelievable. His commitment after so many years is amazing.”

Tendulkar had donned the role of a finisher in the first Test to bring up a six-wicket Indian win at the Feroze Shah Kotla. He had batted with patience and skill.

Akhtar went full throttle, but Tendulkar was not ruffled. In fact, he harnessed the speed, his body and mind in harmony. His enthusiasm for the game has not diminished with age and achievements. Not even after surpassing Allan Border’s mark of 11174 to stand only behind Brian Lara in Test aggregate.

“He will break all records,” added Kumble. Tendulkar is enjoying his cricket; the game’s not tiring him.

Kumble himself is relishing the Test match challenge and he’s closer to 40 than any other Indian cricketer. The genial leg-spinner led with imagination and bowled with passion and craft.

V. V. S. Laxman constructed an innings of critical importance, Rahul Dravid showed signs of returning to form and Sourav Ganguly delivered with the ball and the bat. The seniors are pulling their weight.

From the stands one can almost hear Kumble’s heart beat. His intensity has not consumed him as some feared it would. It, in fact, stokes the competitor in him.

In the first Test, he bounded in and created the pressure. The close catchers put pressure on the batsmen and every delivery added to the stress. It was classical Test match cricket.

Another old soldier walked back with his head held high at the Kotla. Ganguly, the team man, came to the fore with the ball. Kumble displayed trust in Ganguly’s bowling and the Dada responded. Perhaps Kumble saw a critical element of his own bowling in Ganguly — discipline.

Ganguly moved the ball both ways from an unerring off-stump line, his stifling accuracy making up for a lack of pace. Impressively, the Dada retained hold over line and length even during longish spells. This, in itself, is an impressive achievement for an occasional Test bowler. He even operated with the new ball and struck immediately. There is no substitute for control in any form of the game.

Ganguly’s aggressive effort in the second innings blended well with Tendulkar’s dogged ways on day four. The left-hander took calculated risks, hooking and pulling Akhtar and Sami and slashing Tanvir. His was a crucial effort since the pressure on a side defending a low score increases with every ball. Ganguly disrupted the rhythm of the Pakistani bowlers when Akhtar’s dismissal of Rahul Dravid had given the visitor a thoughts of victory.

The presence of Ganguly forced Akhtar to go round the wicket, but the left-hander collected runs, playing with the tide. The left-right combination of Tendulkar and Ganguly hurt the Pakistanis at a crucial phase.

The presence of Ganguly also neutralised the threat from Danish Kaneria. The leg-spinner operated from round the wicket to exploit the footmarks outside the left-hander’s off-stump or nail him with a googly with a slip in place. Ganguly stroked Kaneria firmly square off the wicket.

The Dada’s Test form was impressive in South Africa and England. His stance is now more upright and his back-lift shorter. The runs are flowing again.

Self-belief never deserted Ganguly, even during difficult times. Adversity has stimulated him.

Laxman too has picked himself up from the dumps. The ease with which he bats masks the resilience in him. Laxman’s first innings unbeaten 72 was an innings oozing class even if he did not dominate the bowling with the tail. When the elegant right-hander drove Kaneria against the spin to the mid-wicket fence, the ball kissing the carpet, he had pulled off one of the most difficult shots in the game.

“He is a class player. I do not know why there is always a sword hanging over his head,” said Kumble.

Front-footed in his methods, keeping in mind the nature of the surface, Laxman straight-drove with timing and balance. In a situation of great significance, he held firm.

There is a calmness about Laxman at the crease. And he slices open the bowling rather than destroy it, finding the gaps almost magically. For most part though, his effort at the Kotla was more substance than flair.

Laxman’s sensational effort at silly point to dismiss a well-set Yasir Hameed was a momentum shifting moment of the match. The gentle Hyderabadi can inflict serious damage on the cricket field.