Clarity of thought and astute leadership can be a heady potion. By clearly spelling out his priorities on the eve of the first Test against Pakistan at the Ferozeshah Kotla, Anil Kumble only reinforced his reputation of being a clear thinker and straight talker. Whether Kumble is able to amalgamate this trait with sound captaincy we will see when the 37-year-old leads India for the first time in the game's classic version.
Pakistan may be banking on his inexperience as a leader to gain some mileage, but Kumble dismissed it outright on Wednesday. "There is no pressure on me. Once the ball is in my hand, the attempt will be to take wickets." Needless, to say, he was drawing from his phenomenal display against the archrivals more than eight years ago here, when his 10-wicket haul became a part of cricketing folklore. "Delhi has been nice to me and Team India. We hope it continues," he remarked. In four meetings here, India have dominated twice while the other two ended on an even note.
The absence of the in-form Rudra Pratap Singh and S Sreesanth may have robbed the pace battery of its venom, but Kumble made light of the losses. "It's unfortunate but injuries are part and parcel of the game We have the quality to win and, besides, Munaf (Patel) has been doing well." He also announced that Delhi seamer Ishant Sharma had been included as a back-up measure but Sharma should return for Delhi duty in Mumbai. <b1>
In fact, by ruling out Yuvraj Singh and Murali Kartik, Kumble almost named his XI.
In picking Harbhajan ahead of Kartik, who last featured in a Test three years ago, Kumble went with logic. Add to this curator Radhey Shyam's prediction on the pitch: It has "something" for both batsmen and bowlers. "The seamers will get assistance on Day 1 but depending on the wear and tear, we can expect turn from Day 2."
Both Kumble and Shoaib Malik said the pitch "looked good" but in case the strip crumbles, the team winning the toss can be expected to bat to enable their spinners to come into play later on. "We'd like to take the pitch out of the equation as we possess the quality to win otherwise," Kumble remarked with an indication to the power-packed batting line-up at his disposal. Openers Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik served the team well in England and would be expected to carry on. The men to follow — Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Dravid, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Mahendra Singh Dhoni — have been in fine touch and their firing collectively could only add to Pakistan's woes.
As for Pakistan, the 3-2 loss in the ODIs could well have been 4-1 and though the visitors signed off with a win at Jaipur, Test cricket is a different platform and Malik would need to inspire his team to lift themselves. Openers Salman Butt and Yasir Hameed almost select themselves while Malik's striking form could ease the burden on Younis and Yousuf in the middle. Despite his iffy form behind the stumps, Kamran Akmal's experience is likely to get him the nod ahead of the rookie Sarfaraz Ahmed.
Danish Kaneria's leg break may be a potential match winner, but the visitors will largely depend on Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami to get them results with Sohail Tanvir likely to get a look-in after Umar Gul was ruled out with a back problem.