Kumble keeps India on top

Replying to India's mammoth 705, Aussies were struggling at 342/6 in the fourth and series-deciding Test.

india Updated: Jan 05, 2004 02:23 IST

For a man nearing his 400th Test scalp, the label of a one-dimensional bowler must be very upsetting. At 33, Anil Kumble has spent a lifetime playing international cricket and has helped India win a bagful of matches at home.

It was his poor record while playing away from home that was always held against him, and cited as proof of his lack of variety and skill in conditions alien to his style of bowling. This tour has changed that perception.

He has --- like he did at the SCG on Sunday --- bowled with control, varied his line, turned the ball just that much and taken wickets. He was a match-winner at Adelaide and he could turn out to be exactly that here.

There is every possibility that India might win this Test. Kumble bowls like a breeze and his whiplash action suggests that the ball will zip through past the wicket.

It is an action that could well have been that of a medium pacer, though at the time of the release, Kumble's wrists slow down the speed of the ball just enough to keep a batsman guessing.

And the wickets here, surprisingly so, have a bit of uneven bounce once the match goes into the third, fourth and the fifth day.

What has also helped is the speed at which the Australians want to make their runs.

They like to pound the ball to a pulp and they want to do it in crushing style. It is not in their genes to graft, to build an innings brick by brick, layer by layer. They don't believe in the traditional, hard-boiled professional methods of slowly and leisurely chewing an attack.

There is a savageness to their batting method that can pulverise any bowling attack. But that is only when they succeed. Otherwise, the faster they want to score, the better it suits a bowler of Kumble's style.

Take, for example, Sunday's play.

First the Indians made 700 plus runs and Sachin Tendulkar remained unbeaten on 241. The first figure is the highest ever by an Indian team and the second the second best individual score by an Indian.

And then came the Australians, and runs poured. If Matthew Hayden hits brutally, Justin Langer, despite his fragile frame, is not far behind.

The two smashed Murali Kartik with such ferocity and speed that you would have thought they wanted to make 700 runs in a day. Unfortunately for them, this is Test-match cricket and Kumble is no greenhorn.

Hayden fell and Langer fell too, trying to hit Kumble out of the attack, just the way they had done with Kartik. Only, Kumble proved too clever for them. After that, Aussie defensive methods failed to work. With Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn becoming Kumble's victim numbers three and four, the Australians looked in danger of following on.

The only time after these dismissals that the crowd came alive was when Steve Waugh walked in --- and home fans chanted and raved as he smashed a few boundaries. But sadly for them, that period of ecstasy was short-lived.

Their dream was broken by a 19-year-old paceman who has the potential to develop into a fine bowler and a useful batsman.

Irfan Pathan is a very keen and willing learner and can move the ball well. The first strike in his second spell came when Waugh, neither back nor forward, nicked the ball behind and the second strike came with a beautifully bowled inswinging yorker.

By now, the Indians must already be having visions of a historic win. One presumes there is a lot of cricket left in this Test and Australia won't give in easily. Yet, it is going to be difficult, especially if they continue to be thoughtless in their aggression.

The Australians don't think that discretion is the better part of valour. And Kumble has enough patience to bide his time and send the batsmen to their doom. Hopefully for India, Kartik should recover from the hiding he got and if the two bowl in tandem, they could well weave a new future for Indian cricket.

Scorecard

First Published: Jan 04, 2004 18:58 IST