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Five-star birthday gift for Kumble

Chennai: It was a birthday worth remembering. Not too long ago, Anil Kumble was ridiculed for failing to deliver and for hanging onto his place on the back of his past performance. Thursday, he celebrated his turning 32 in grand style, wrapping up the West Indian innings with discipline and precision that only few can match at this level.

Heavy rains that lashed the city late Thursday have put the second day’s play in doubt.

His 20th five-wicket haul included a dramatic second spell of 8.3-2-10-4. Bowling in tandem with Harbhajan Singh, once spin was introduced after the 10th over, the pair made merry picking eight wickets between themselves.

Playing on subcontinent wickets has its own pitfalls, this inexperienced West Indies line-up has come to realise it the hard way very early during their trip. They surrendered point blank in the first Test and the only interest that remains here, besides Rahul Dravid’s chances of equalling Everton Weekes’ world record, is whether this game will last the distance.

All the talk pivoting on restoration of the West Indian pride and promise of a revamp in performance evaporated into the hot and humid Chepauk air on the opening day. To add to their woes, Virender Sehwag batted with the flourish and extravagance of a multi-millionaire at a casino, dealing in boundaries and big shots towards the close, once again exposing the limitations in their attack.

The pitch, dry and devoid of grass, was always expected to afford turn. But what was alarming was the way it bounced, forcing the batsmen to fend, fumble and fidget and Parthiv Patel to order for a helmet after being hit on the jaw by a rising Kumble delivery.

The pitch is progressively coming under the scanner in this series after the hoopla surrounding its relaying in various centres across the country. It will take sometime to reap the benefits, as Sourav Ganguly stressed on Wednesday. However, playing a Test on a virgin track was always going to throw up a few questions. Had a couple of matches been played on the track to give it a span to settle down, the furore could have been avoided.

But the visitors will have to take the blame for failing to utilise the advantage of winning the toss. Their openers batted as though they were playing on the fast and bouncy tracks of the Seventies in their own backyard. Then, when the spinners came on, the memories of the Wankhede seemed to weigh them down heavily.

It made for very little entertainment as the scoring was done at a snail’s pace, the 40-run opening stand being accumulated over 24.1 overs. It set the tone for the innings as batsmen after batsmen buckled under the pressure.

What they needed was someone to show guts to pull them out of this rut. None was willing to take that extra risk of taking the attack to the opposition. Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Carl Hooper were the best equipped to take this challenge. Their hopes, however faint, remained as long as this Guyanese pair stayed on and managed to keep the 55-run partnership going.

The West Indies skipper did show some glimpses of his positive approach but his 35 off 38 balls hardly provided the momentum. Once again Hooper fell victim to Zaheer Khan’s well laid-out plan. The pacer set his field on the leg side and angled one across which Hooper failed to keep down in an attempt to push the ball, Sourav latching on to a great effort at cover.

It was Harbhajan, who opened the floodgates, having Chris Gayle playing against the spin for a top edge to point. Thereafter, Kumble made his presence felt. Wavell Hinds, though, was a bit unlucky in the leg before decision after not offering a stroke.

Using the two-paced wicket to his advantage, Kumble kept the ball at the right place as none of the batsmen looked even remotely comfortable. The ball reared menacingly and the leg spinner has always been unplayable when given that extra yard.

Despite enjoying their moments of luck, West Indies innings could not prosper beyond 167. Chanderpaul’s cool and sedate presence failed to rub off on his teammates. His dismissal, the handiwork of Kumble’s guile and smart keeping by Patel put an end to their essay. The rest, including the debutants — off spinner Gareth Breese and pacer Jermaine Lawson — did not show the temperament and application that was the need of the hour. The last four wickets fell like nine pins with the addition of just six runs.

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