India 276 (Laxman 76*, Dhoni 57, Kaneria 4-59) and 203 for 4 (Tendulkar 56*, Jaffer 53, Akhtar 4-58) beat Pakistan 231 (Misbah 82, Kumble 4-38) and 247 (Butt 67, Misbah 45, Kumble 3-68) by 6 wickets
It was fitting that Shoaib Akhtar caused one final dent in India's run down the home stretch but it was equally apt that VVS Laxman was at the crease when the winning runs were knocked off and India took a 1-0 lead in this three-Test series. Sachin Tendulkar was unbeaten on a half-century and India chased down a target they had never managed before at the Feroz Shah Kotla with six wickets to spare.
When Akhtar bounced Sourav Ganguly and the ball got big on the pull shot, resulting in a swirling top-edge to fine leg, Pakistan supporters would have got a whiff of the unlikely. A wicket had fallen, Ganguly on 48, with 22 still needed for victory. But there would be no more heroics as Tendulkar took the lead and knocked off the required runs with a minimum of fuss.
In some ways it was ironic that Laxman was at crease when victory was sealed, for the lead-up to this Test match was full of questions over what the composition of the Indian team, especially the middle order, should be. Amid overwhelming calls to include the in-form Yuvraj Singh, Laxman came under pressure for his spot, as he often does. But he delivered in the first innings with a classy unbeaten 76, when it mattered the most, setting up an India win.
Equally, it was fitting that Anil Kumble, who picked up seven wickets in his first match as captain, walked away with the Man-of-the-Match award. When he was named Test captain, ahead of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who already had the job for the one-dayers, there was some concern about the Indian selectors looking back rather than forward. But Kumble proved that captaincy would rest lightly on his broad shoulders and did not let it affect his performance.
Pakistan, meanwhile, have a Test full of missed opportunities to look back at before the second Test begins in Kolkata on November 30. At crucial points in the match they failed to drive their advantage home, and paid the price. The bowling attack, when the chips were down, lacked penetration, barring Shoaib, who bowled with customary pace and hostility. The absence of Mohammad Asif definitely hurt Pakistan, for even chasing 203 on a less-than-perfect batting strip would have been a task had he been around.
"This ground has been very special, everything has happened on this ground," Kumble said soon after receiving the Man-of-the-Match award. "I think the boys responded really well and getting Pakistan out under 250 in both innings was creditable. The partnerships between Laxman and Dhoni, [Rahul] Dravid and [Wasim] Jaffer and Sachin and Ganguly were all very crucial."
Kumble also conceded that his own performance was crucial. "It was excellent to get into the [bowling] groove right away. Three months is a long break at my age and I'm very happy with my performance." The last time he played a Test, against England at The Oval, Kumble was the sentimental choice for the match award, having just scored his only Test hundred in a series where no Indian batsman reached three figures. This time around there was no sentiment involved, just cold performance by India's newest captain. And that's the way he would like it.