India in SA

India missing Kumble?

2010-12-23 08:27
Anil Kumble (AP)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – Just as Shane Warne isn’t going to magically reappear from retirement to give the Ashes an extra spark it now hardly needs anyway, the luminary Indian leg-spinner Anil Kumble is also firmly “history” as far as Test combat against South Africa is concerned.

Yet there is certainly a case for venturing, especially in the light of India’s capitulation in the first Test at Centurion, that Kumble’s absence is probably being quietly rued by the tourists.

After all, this is the first series between the countries on South African soil – there have been four previously -- in which the tall, Bangalore-born competitor has been an absentee; he quit the five-day arena in 2008 after a distinguished 132-Test career.

Of course this is not a land where spinners commonly thrive; theirs tends to be more of a supplementary, patient presence in attacks geared toward exploiting conditions favourable to the quicker men.

But Kumble, a class act, managed nevertheless to make a nuisance of himself a lot of the time, effectively beginning in only the second of his 12 Tests on South African turf (spanning all of 16 years between 1992 and 2007).

That occasion was the second of four Tests in 1992/93, when he returned particularly notable, tie-‘em-in-knots  figures of 44-22-53-6 in South Africa’s second innings at the Wanderers – India could not push on for victory in a drawn encounter but the young “leggie” had announced himself in no uncertain terms.

Kumble became India’s lead spinner in every series on our soil until his retirement, claiming 45 scalps at a tidy average of 32.02, not massively inferior to his career Test average of 29.65.

His effectiveness lasted right up to his swansong series here, in 2006/07, when he was second only to colourful paceman Sree Sreesanth  (18) as leading Indian wicket-taker: Kumble bagged 14 at 24.71.

Like many quality leg-spinners, he revelled in exploiting late-match rough generated by right-arm fast bowlers who routinely operate over the wicket, his dynamic action and ability to bowl some balls at near-seamer pace giving him prodigious bounce and a better penchant than most to make deliveries “spit”.

But now the mantle of first-choice Indian slow bowler rests with the off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, quite obviously a different sort of beast and one who is still very much finding his feet in South African conditions.

Harbhajan, 30, may have played 91 Tests but only two of those have been in this country, and the first was as far back as 2001/02 in Port Elizabeth.

He could not really impose himself then and did not do so a few days ago, either: Singh was targeted as much any other Indian bowler for “treatment” from the Proteas’ hungry specialist batsmen and leaked 169 runs in 36 overs for a reward of only two wickets.

Harbhajan was massively eclipsed as an economy factor at SuperSport Park by South Africa’s oft-maligned Paul Harris.

For all his experience, he could not seem to find a way to stem the flow of runs against his name, and is under some pressure to at least keep a tighter rein on things at Kingsmead, where the man-of-the-match in the last Test match played at the venue was also an off-break exponent in England’s Graeme Swann.

The “Turbanator” has been contrastingly deadly at times against the Proteas on Indian dustbowls; his challenge now is to exhibit predecessor Kumble’s ability to adapt and thrive on South Africa’s more challenging pitches for the slow trade.

Only a few weeks ago the sometimes truculent Harbhajan earned back-to-back, maiden Test centuries against New Zealand.

Stellar achievement at his primary trade is what the Indians could do with much, much more as they seek to stave off an early series surrender in Durban ...


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