Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman spontaneously picked Anil Kumble up and raised him in the air as he set out on a lap around the Ferozeshah Kotla, the happiest of his hunting grounds. Barely had they gone fifty yards when Dravid and Laxman suffered just the thing that had caused Kumble to call it quits — the mind was willing but the flesh weak. At that moment, Mahendra Singh Dhoni swooped down and took Kumble on his shoulders.
The man who had nearly single-handedly shouldered the burden of picking up the twenty wickets needed to win a Test match, was now being carried by the man who will shoulder the burden of taking Indian cricket forward. In recent days, the clamour has grown over the contrasting styles of leadership of the two men. But Dhoni will be the first to admit that the team he is being entrusted with was built by another man. And Dhoni is sharp enough to realise that the same experts and commentators who were clamouring for his retirement and for Dhoni to be given full charge, will now train their guns on the new man.
When Kumble was handed the captaincy last year, no one said so openly, but it was clear that he was only holding the fort till Dhoni was seen as able. The gut feeling of the selectors turned out to be right as Kumble showed leadership and equanimity that would have done a diplomat proud during the vitriolic Australia tour. But since then, on two separate instances, Dhoni has had to stand in for Kumble, and both times he has shown that he is up to the job.
That the succession was pain free and seamless is a tribute to both men. Looking out at the presentation ceremony, you could see the relief on Kumble's face. He had wife Chethana by his side, while son Mayas and daughter Svasti clung on. For too long, cricket has kept the 38-year-old Anil, the family man, away from his home.
Now it was time for another man to bear the cross, and Dhoni, 27, is single, at the peak of his powers. Dhoni is free to bring the obsession and single-mindedness that the Indian captaincy extracts from its appointed leaders. And he will know that this might not have been so, had Kumble not brought dignity and strength of character to a team that he knew would not be his for long.