As the Indian team walked off the field after sealing a thumping 170-run win inside four days to square the three-Test series 1-1 Rahul Dravid bent at the waist and bowed low to Virender Sehwag, who was walking out to greet his teammates. Sehwag, who was not on the field when the winning wicket was taken, set up the match perfectly, not just with his first-innings 201 but equally importantly with his second-innings half-century. If Sehwag, and Gautam Gambhir set the stage, Harbhajan Singh played a crucial role, picking up a 10-wicket bag, and the perfect ending was provided by Ishant Sharma.
When the Sri Lankans came out to bat, needing 307 for victory, talk naturally surrounded the Indian spinners and just how they would be able to gain purchase from a fourth-day pitch. But it was Ishant who played the most vital hand, charging off the blocks like a bull just released from the gates. The 19-year-old steamed in with surprising intensity, extracting steepling bounce and pushing the batsmen back consistently till the mistake was made.
While he did not look especially quick in the first innings, Ishant certainly got the ball to thud into Dinesh Karthik's gloves in the second. Malinda Warnapura was sent packing for a duck by a ball that pitched on middle and leg and seamed across the bat enough to take a thick edge and land in VVS Laxman's lap at second slip.
Laxman was back in business moments later when Zaheer Khan got one to hold its line and bounce a touch extra, beating Kumar Sangakkara's bat and drawing the outside edge.
The prize wicket was Mahela Jayawardene and Ishant's persistent bowling just short of a length paid off. Although the ball that got Mahela was not the best, being short and a touch wide, the pressure Ishant had created forced the slashing cut and Rahul Dravid held onto a sharp catch at gully. At 10 for 3 with Sangakkara and Mahela gone India sniffed a kill.
Michael Vandort, who was dropped by Dravid at slip on 0, resisted for a time but found runs hard to come by. Harbhajan got into the act, catching Vandort plumb in front with a ball that went straight on with the arm.
From 37 for 4 Sri Lanka were rescued somewhat by a counter-attacking innings from the effervescent Tillakaratne Dilshan, who made 38, combining with Thilan Samaraweera in a 76-run stand that would be the biggest of the innings by some way. Again Kumble turned to Ishant and the tall fast bowler delivered on cue, producing a lifter from seemingly nowhere that Dilshan could only edge to the wicketkeeper.
The game was effectively sealed then and there but Samaraweera did his best to grit it out, and kept his end going. But at the other end Harbhajan was lining up his victims and cutting them down. Prasanna Jayawardene slog-swept to midwicket and holed out while Chaminda Vaas took a full ball flush on his boot and was lbw.
Kumble piped in, drawing a leading edge from Nuwan Kulasekara and Harbhajan replied by having Ajantha Mendis caught at mid-on to seal his 10-wicket bag. Kumble sealed Sri Lanka's fate, inducing a false shot from Muttiah Muralitharan and gleefully accepting the return catch as Lanka were bowled out for a mere 136.
After the mauling they received in the first Test, Kumble repeatedly said his team had the experience, the mental strength and quality to bounce back. There were many questions that needed answering, and in holding Sri Lanka at bay for three days and swooping in for the kill on the fourth day, India have responded with vigour and panache. The series is now alive and kicking as it heads to Colombo for a final hurrah.