It was a balmy evening at the Kotla on February 7, 1999, when Laxman snapped up Wasim Akram to complete Kumble’s 10-wicket haul. History had been made and ecstatic teammates carried the man-of-the-moment off on their shoulders. The euphoria was yet to settle when India succumbed in Kolkata in front of an angry, excitable crowd. Nearly eight years down the line, Kumble was the man of the moment again and Laxman was there too, as India beat Pakistan by six wickets. Here’s how this game went.
By reducing Pakistan to 142-8, the Indian bowlers seemed to be following that 1999 script. Kumble credited Zaheer’s miserliness with the ball and reverse swing for this and praised Munaf’s comeback. But when all was almost lost for Pakistan, Misbah and Sami had an unlikely 68-run stand that saw them get to a somewhat respectable 210-8 at stumps.
But Misbah, looking good for a long innings, was run out in bizarre fashion and Pakistan’s 231 began to look alarming when Akhtar and Tanvir had India reeling at 93-5. It required a 115-run stand between Laxman and Dhoni (57) to steady ship. “Laxman’s knock with Dhoni bailed us out,” Kumble said. “It’s sad that he (Laxman) has a sword perpetually hanging over his head.”
Dhoni had left, but Kumble (24) and Laxman (72 n.o.) began on a positive note. Still, India managed only 48 more. Yet, they got an overall lead of 45, a small, psychological edge.
Pakistan’s openers, Butt and Hameed, gave them a solid start. Then, the pendulum swung India’s way again when Kumble and Harbhajan struck in tandem and Pakistan were reduced to 161-5. The middle flopped again, and it was left to an unwell Misbah to try another rescue act, this time, in a 51-run stand with Akmal.
Pakistan were looking to build on the 167-run lead, but were undone as Zaheer and Ganguly thrived on the batsmen’s indiscretion. Kumble incidentally, denied any masterstroke behind handing the new ball to Ganguly instead of sticking with Munaf. “I wanted to change Munaf’s end, that’s all. But then, Sourav got a couple of wickets in what was a crucial spell.”
A 203-run target looked gettable but a terrific Akhtar had India in trouble at 93-3. “It was a slow wicket and being wristy, our batsmen found it hard to score. Those who got runs played with a straight bat,” said Kumble. The Ganguly-Tendulkar stand stamped out all hopes of a Pakistani revival but they did not have enough on board anyway. Shoaib Malik said as much: “We were 100 runs short and this made the difference. Though the bowlers bowled well, we batted poorly.”
India used just 6.2 overs to notch up the remaining 32 runs. Ganguly fell but Tendulkar, who also crossed Border to become the second-highest run-getter in Test history, looked in command. Kumble acknowledged his knock. “Sachin’s hunger for runs and the pressure he’s soaked over the past 18 years is amazing,” said Kumble, paying tribute to the milestone.
For Pakistan, Akhtar was the lone bright spot. Malik admitted, “His bowling is an encouragement for us.” Pakistan have to make it inspirational.