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Kumble is key to team?s success

The leggie?s failure to polish off the tail helped West Indies escape with two draws, writes Atreyo Mukhopadhyay.

india Updated: Jun 22, 2006 01:27 IST

With due respect to Wasim Jaffer’s double century and Virender Sehwag’s rapid-fire hundred, the image encapsulating the story of the first two Tests is that of Indian bowlers striving to secure victory on the final day.

The hosts summoned that extra ounce of courage on one occasion and rode luck on another to keep the scoresheet 0-0 at the halfway stage of the series. The Indians can’t be faulted for blaming it on luck — rain spoiled their hopes — in the second Test or saying that reaching a winning position after conceding a lead of 130 in the first Test was an achievement in itself.

They must also remember something else. Unlike so many times in the past, Kumble didn't deliver the knockout punch on the final day. He kept running in, bowled over after over, but didn't succeed in doing what makes him what he is — running through the opposition when they are under pressure.

Without a trace of doubt, he has been India’s most reliable bowler in this series and, with 13 wickets, also the most successful bowler from either side in the two Tests. The 36-year-old shoulder, which has withstood surgery, has worked tirelessly, bowling 134 overs.

But was Kumble the same bowler he was at his best? Has the one that comes back to right-handers been that effective? Has he been able to extract the bounce that makes him deadly? The answer is no.

Kumble has reduced pace and by his own admission, is giving the ball more air, which he seldom has done in his 16-year international career. His commitment for the team — defying age, fatigue and unhelpful conditions — has not waned a bit, which was evident in the way he took the ball from Rahul Dravid each time the skipper looked at him. The fact, however, is that this West Indies lower order, with little experience of facing Kumble, has survived twice against him. True, the pitches didn’t break as they do in India and didn’t offer as much turn, but the degree of confidence with which these tail-enders have played him should make Dravid uneasy.

Irrespective of how many bowlers he fields, Kumble will remain Dravid’s main weapon. And regardless of the nature of the pitch, Kumble will soldier on just as he has done all through his career. But with what effect? The outcome of this series probably lies in the answer to this question.