Four years ago, Anil Kumble walked out in Antigua with a bandaged jaw to take Brian Lara's wicket and try to bowl India to an improbable victory.
The work he left incomplete in 2002, was resurrected in sensational fashion on Sunday when the ace leg spinner took six wickets to bowl India to a 49-run win over West Indies at the Sabina Park, Jamaica on the third day of the fourth Test.
Kumble, a usually composed person, jumped up and down with joy after having the last batsman, Corey Colleymore, caught brilliantly by wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. India finally tasted success on the Caribbean isles, winning the four-Test series 1-0, after a long wait of 35 years.
India captain Rahul Dravid was deservedly named the man of the match for his vital knocks 81 and 68, which proved crucial in a low-scoring game.
Starting the day on, 128 for six, India were bowled out for 171 runs in the second innings, setting West Indies a target of 269 runs for victory.
The hosts, who have suffered from batting slumps throughout the series, once again succumbed to the Indian paceman to give India the early advantage. The West Indies never looked like overhauling the Indian total, losing wickets regularly.
S Sreesanth helped India make the early inroads with the wickets of West Indian openers Chris Gayle (0) and Darren Ganga (16).
Only Ramnaresh Sarwan, with a patient 51, and Denesh Ramdin, unbeaten on 62, provided some resistance to the Indian bowlers. Ramdin tried to rally with the lower order and had crucial partnerships with Jerome Taylor and Pedro Collins to delay India's victory celebrations.
The first over of the morning, from Corey Colleymore, was a virtual pitch report: The ball did everything, in the space of six deliveries. It kicked off length, it crept boot height off length, it seamed, it straightened.
The two not out batsmen worked hard to stay in; Kumble's personal effort ended in the 7th over of the morning when Corey Colleymore bowled one a bit short on off that the batsman misjudged, stretching a long way forward on the defensive push. The ball got the edge of the bat, for Bravo to hold well at second slip (141/7; 10/44).
Harbhajan Singh kicked off with a good drive through the covers and, when Colleymore made one kick off length, managed somehow to get enough of the bat handle on it for the ball to fly over the slips for another four vital runs, all.
Dravid who, with 1 century and four 50s so far in seven innings this series for an average of 98 has given 'leading from the front' a whole new definition, finally went to a ball that did way too much even for him. Colleymore's delivery scampered off the pitch at ankle height; the batsman, who for once was looking to play back, couldn't get down low enough in time, and was bowled in a fashion reminiscent of Dhoni last evening 154/8 (68/166).
Sreesanth played an interesting innings; starting with a clubbed four to third man and a single in the same direction, he then produced an astonishing six off Jerome Taylor. For some reason, Brian Lara seemed to have under-bowled his quickest bowler; Taylor had a mere 13 overs when he came on just before drinks this morning, for the 63rd over.
Two deliveries after Harbajan had driven him through covers for a three, Sreesanth did a little shimmy down the track, picking a ball on off stump line and swinging it over the midwicket fence for the only six of the match thus far.
Lara immediately took a slip out a move that underscored the problem of a low-scoring Test for a fielding captain, and one Dravid will face before this game is over. Unlike on better batting surfaces, on tracks like these each boundary has a value more than the book; a couple of them forces a fielding captain to dilute his aggression, the field spreads and suddenly, there is no one there to take the chances the ball creates.
Taylor got his own back in his next over; sensing that Sreesanth might try for an encore, he banged one in, angling it into the tail-ender's body. The batsman was in fact looking to come down the track; the angle and bounce cramped him and he could only touch it to Lara in the slips (171/9; 16/14).
Off the first ball of the next over, Colleymore finished it off. A ball in the channel drew Harbhajan into the push, the edge found Lara taking his fifth catch of the innings and Colleymore claiming his five-for; due reward for a prolonged spell of seam and swing bowling that exploited the conditions to a T. (171 all out in 65.1 overs; Harbhajan 9/19).
The lead, of 268, was tantalizing not commanding enough to make the fielding side absolutely secure; yet large enough to put pressure on the batting side. More pressure was added immediately when Sreesanth, bowling from the George Headley end from where the West Indies quicks had done most of the damage, for the second time in the Test took Chris Gayle out for a duck.
The second ball of the West Indies innings was angled across, landed in the channel and straightened off the seam. Gayle looked to force off the back foot; the extra bounce of the new ball found the edge and flew to Laxman at second slip (0/1; 0/2).
Darren Ganga, as he had in the first innings, showed fine touch twice in the third over; on the first instance he stayed low to keep out a full length delivery from Sreesanth that tried to sneak through; in the next, he covered the line of swing and seam and played a searing extra cover drive to a ball in the channel (an attempt at an encore, in the 5th over of the innings, found the ball flaring off the edge and somehow threading a route through the three slips and two gullies to find the third man boundary).
At the other end, Brian Lara square drove Munaf Patel, who on a pitch offering more assistance has been bowling a notch over Taylor's pace, fluidly to find the fence.
Harbhajan Singh was brought on as early as the sixth over, and promptly began making the ball talk with turn and bounce around Lara's off stump; the battle lines were drawn very early. And the West Indies captain, after being beaten around his off, looked towards that area of the stands where the ground staff was gathered, and applauded them with glove on bat not, frankly, the mindset the team's best player needed to be in at this stage.
He has the skill, the game, to take this game home but it can all get negated if he is still miffed with the pitch, and not focused on what he should be doing out there.
At lunch the West Indies were 18/1; still 251 shy of the target. One way or other, the second session should decide where the game goes.
India began the session with pace at both ends and in the second over after lunch, Sreesanth struck a crucial blow.
In the second innings as in the first, Darren Ganga had looked the one batsman with the competence, and the patience, to bat on this track. It took a great delivery to do for him bowling from close to the crease and hitting top pace, Sreesanth made one angle onto middle on a very full length, then shape away off the seam.
Ganga, playing off his pads, was beaten by the full length and the late movement, that took the ball past his bat and onto off stump (27/2; 16/39).
For a bowler tonked for 96 in 16 and, in the process, so battered mentally that at one point he kept running up and bailing out without delivering the ball, it's been a very good comeback for the young seamer.
In the very next over, Munaf Patel took the wicket that to my mind was more predictable. Brian Lara throughout this Test has not shown the stomach for sticking it out and grinding it out; the first time he was beaten by a Harbhajan delivery before lunch, his immediate response was to applaud the ground staff in ironic salutation of the pitch.
That might have made his point that he thinks the wicket sucks (both teams have to play on it, but that's another story); it certainly didn't indicate a batsman focused on the gritty, hard work that would be needed to bail his team out.
Munaf Patel bent one in on line of middle and off, straightening off the seam; Lara hopped back into his crease and, as he tends to do when playing off his pads from the line of the stumps, took it on his pads. The decision was clear enough for even Brian Jerling to make it without hesitation (29/3; 11/25).
That set up the best phase of West Indian batting. Shivnaraine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan dug deep into their defensive resources, gritted it out and when occasion afforded, looked to pierce the close-set field; one shot by Chanderpaul, where he threaded a Bajji off break through three close in fielders on the off, was a standout.
To their credit, the two batsmen did not translate survival into grim defense, but tried to take singles and work the ball around every chance they got, while being prepared to be patient when the bowling was on target.
To their credit, the Indians spotted the danger, plugged the gaps and cut out the singles. Five successive overs, from 21-26, were maidens with Kumble taking over from Munaf Patel, from the George Headley end where Jerome Taylor, Corey Colleymore and Sreesanth had all their wickets, in this phase.
That kind of pressure was always going to produce wickets and it came in the 27th over. Kumble, staying over the wicket, pitched one full; Chanderpaul attempted to work one off his pads, played all around the ball that in any case was too full for the shot on a pitch keeping low, and took it on his pad in front of middle (56/4; 13/56).
In the same over, Kumble produced one of the best deliveries I've seen him bowl in a long time: the bal landed leg, turned, beat Bravo on the push and was going towards off and middle when the pad interfered. Rudi Koertzen had an opportunity to give two LBWs in the over, but passed on this one, giving the benefit of marginal doubt to the batsman. It was, though, a classic leg spinner's delivery drifting on the angle to leg to square a batsman up, turning back sharply to beat all the defenses he had.
In the next over Bravo, who in the first innings had unnaturally prodded at the off spinner and pushed it tamely to short square leg, took the challenge on, sticking his foot a long way down and swinging Harbhajan high and over midwicket to find the fence; not hit clean, but the idea behind the attempt, of taking some pressure off and putting it on the bowler, was well conceived just sitting there waiting for a ball to come along and get you wasn't going to get the batting team anywhere in this game.
Taking his cue from his partner, Sarwan in the next over played a superb straight drive to an over-flighted delivery from Kumble on his leg stump (closer to tea, the batsman was to do it again, even better), then leant back and worked him past the slips for a brace. Bravo continued the duet, accurately picking the off break and lofting it again over midwicket, this time hitting it even better than his earlier essay.
Harbhajan's first spell of 10-3-24-0 was good enough in terms of keeping the runs down (eight of those 24 runs came through the two Bravo hits); but with the softer ball, he wasn't quite getting the fizz he had in the first innings (made you wonder, actually, what Lara was going on about). Virender Sehwag took over at the off-spinning end (actually, the Blue Mountain end) approaching tea.
Apparently the West Indies have never heard of the via media.
The nature of their play in this innings had you wondering just what went on, by way of thinking, in the dressing room.
In the first innings, and through the first and most of the second session of play, batsman after batsman stood out there, looking as though he momentarily expected the ball to turn into a grenade and cover him with shrapnel.
After tea, in stark contrast, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Dwayne Bravo came out as if they were having a net. It started with a fluent cut by Sarwan in the first over, off Kumble; off the last ball of that over, the bowler was desperately unlucky to get the batsman on the pad with a delivery on middle and leg that was straightening. Umpire Koertzen thought not, but Hawkeye confirmed the ball was set to strike the middle of middle (93/4; Sarwan 37/78 at that point.)
The batsman celebrated, easing down the track to Sehwag in the next over and playing a fluent pick-up, almost in Sanath Jayasuriya fashion, over wide long on. In the third over, Bravo launched a straight drive with such immense power and at such velocity, it was a mystery why the ball didn't take Kumble's head with it to the straight fence.
Dravid at this point made a good change; Kumble was taken off and Sreesanth brought on, to change the diet of spin from both ends. Before the seamer had settled into line and length, more runs leaked at the other end off Kumble, who had rotated the second ball of the leggie's over was greeted by a Bravo shimmy that would have had the judges sitting up at a world dance competition, an easy flick powered the ball through midwicket at the end of it.
It was almost as if Bravo was reading the bowler's mind he stayed back to the next ball, which was short to counter another shimmy, and got under it to hoist to the long on fence. And the ball after that was swept with savage ferocity.
The floodgates seemed truly opened when Sarwan opened the next over with a flowing square cut off Sreesanth, getting right on top of a delivery outside off; he then brought up his half century the first for the Windies in the game with an effortless cover drive (51/95).
One ball later, though, he was gone where on an earlier occasion Sreesanth had lost the plot when hammered, here he talked to himself some more, than ran in, lined one up in the channel, made it seam away and kick and found the edge of Sarwan's bat as the batsman pushed at it with hard hands, for Dravid at first slip to hold a sharp chance (126/5; 51/97; 143 still short).
To the first ball of the next over, Bravo who apparently had swigged adrenalin neat during the break went down on one knee and swung the bat with such ferocity, he was through with his shot before the slower, flighted delivery from Kumble glided past him onto off stump (128/6; 33/45).
43 runs had come off exactly 9 overs after tea at that point while the runs worked to bring the ask down a touch, the batsmen failed to bring to their play the modicum of patience that was needed to carry on. Pretty cameos are for the mantelpiece they don't win matches for you, though.
Marlon Samuels, who has the game to play in these conditions, promptly went back into 'grenade coming my way mode', defending grimly at pretty much everything until the inevitable happened Kumble fired the flipper down quicker and fuller; the batsman got it on the pad on line of leg. When Brian Jerling raised his finger, Samuels seemingly thought he had been given out caught bat-pad at short square, and went away smiling ruefully and shaking his head; trouble being, it was the LBW.
That is a VERY debatable decision, went Laxman Sivaramakrishnan before Hawkeye showed the ball going in a straight line onto the leg stump, which is where it had pitched (144/7; 5/27; 129 more needed).
Dinesh Ramdhin in fact played with more sense, and more application, than some of his betters; while giving good deliveries due respect, he kept scoring at a healthy 60 per cent strike rate with obvious ease -- a lovely paddle to fine leg off a Kumble top-spinner was particularly deft, as was a late opening of the bat face to run Munaf Patel, with the seam movement, through the slips and down to third man. When Patel gave the ball to Harbhajan Singh, the keeper-batsman extended his front foot beautifully down the track to cover for the break, and creamed a gorgeous cover drive.
Never mind Ramdhin, even Taylor had more confidence against Harbhajan than the early batsmen including his captain showed. The tailender took to covering the turn with front foot well forward; if it was short, he waited on the turn and to the doosra, forced it square; if it was fuller, he stroked it into the off for singles. In sum, both batsmen played the ball, without ever looking to play the situation.
Taylor had just made room to blaze Kumble through the covers, when the leggie struck back in the fashion he knows best he speeded up the next ball, on a much fuller length; Taylor made the mistake of stepping back, was beaten by the ball skidding through at speed and taken on the pad to give Brian Jerling occasion to raise his finger, one more time, to a bowler he had consistently ignored in the previous Test (180/8; 20/24; 89 still to win).
Kumble can at times be predictable he greets tailenders with a yorker-length top spinner first up, invariably; you can bank on that. Pedro Collins got it sure enough but Jerling, for all his new found sympathy for bowlers, wasn't giving two in two, though Hawkeye showed the ball hitting halfway up middle and leg.
Ramdhin continued to show up his presumed betters, greeting Harbhajan with a picture perfect sweep in the next over; an over later there was a fierce pull to a short ball, followed by an equally fierce drive that smeared off the thick outer edge to the third man fence. The remarkable thing was he kept playing the shot, despite three out in the deep for just that shot. More to the point, he showed tremendous maturity in the way he farmed the strike.
A whip off his pads at the end of a little shimmy found the long on fence to get Ramdhin his third Test 50; I haven't seen the other two but this one, off 68 deliveries, was as good as it gets, showing no signs of pressure on a tough pitch against good bowling under the sort of pressure that had crippled his higher-rated colleagues.
It also brought the crowd to its feet; a crowd that earlier in the day had been booing the departures of the likes of Lara found a batsman putting up a fight, and backed him to the hilt as the runs kept getting chipped away; they came repeatedly to their feet to applaud Ramdhin's strikes, and roar approval of Collins' defensive prods.
Even Lara, in the dressing room, was smiling and no ironic applause for the ground staff, either.
An interesting aspect was that the Indians spread the field in the early part of the over, content to give singles, then brought it in off the last two deliveries. And Ramdhin, with great sense, promptly went over the top and took runs as with the straight loft in the 67th over, that cleared the straight fence for a six and incidentally, brought the ask into the 50s.
At the other end, India had its chances. In the 64th over, Kumble got Collins on the pad to set up the appeal; this time, Jerling pointed out with some justification that the bowler, coming very close to the stumps to get the line right, was in his follow through blocking the umpire's vision. The strike was plumb, but Jerling's point was well taken you can't give what you cannot see.
Dravid brought Sreesanth on for Harbhajan, whose bowling in any event had lacked the fizz of the first innings. The young seamer, in the over before stumps, managed to beat the bat without however finding the edge, and a clip off the pads that fetched Ramdhin two more got the ask to the level 50.
With just two overs to go in the day's play, though, Kumble finally got it all right. The top spinner was in line, Collins was pushing down the wrong line, the strike was in front of middle and leg and this time, Kumble carefully ran away on the follow through to give Brian Jerling a good sighter and claim another five wicket haul (219;/9; 3/19).
The partnership was a gem; it was an instruction to those in the hut, who had sulked about the pitch and given up without trying. But it was always going to be too difficult for the home team once the senior batsmen had thrown it away Colleymore lasted one ball, flashed at the next, got the edge and Dhoni, whose keeping has been exemplary throughout the series, stayed low to hold the very hard chance and close out the match.
West Indies were bowled out for 219; India had won by 50 runs and, with it, nailed the series.
The celebrations have begun; the post-mortem (and a post mortem, pro and con, is called for) can wait for a day or two.
PostScript: You had to feel for Dinesh Ramdhin. On a track where -- and no, I don't tire of pointing it out, because I think that is where the West Indies lost this Test -- his captain, the scorer of the most runs in Test cricket, couldn't be bothered to fight, this youngster finished up on 62 off 85, with eight fours and one six -- an innings of patience, character, and immense talent. There was no doubt, really, that had he not run out of partners, he would have won the game for his side.