As India eyes the top spot in Test rankings, Anil Kumble reminisced about the past decade and hailed the victory at Headingley in 2002 as a significant turning point. Virender Sehwag, who accompanied the legend, credited the then skipper Sourav Ganguly's captaincy as the chief reason for the shift.
India had been struggling to make a mark in the late 90s under the leadership of Mohammad Azharuddin and then Sachin Tendulkar. It was in 2000 that Ganguly took over at the helm of the Indian team. In less than a year the southpaw changed the team of great individuals into a great team. Until then a team that more often than not failed overseas, India soon became world-beaters both at home and abroad. Kumble pointed to the change in the mindset of the team under Ganguly as the chief reason.
At a show to mark India’s 500th Test and the country’s 250th home Test, Kumble said, “Our generation became a lot more resilient after going through different challenges. The Kolkata Test (2001) changed our mindset and the Headingley Test (2002) was probably when we thought we could win abroad. The Perth (2008) victory was remarkable and then we never looked back.”
However, Kumble picked the Headingley win as the moment when it all changed for Indian cricket. India had lost the first Test at Lord's and drawn the second and were trailing 1-0 in the Test series by the time they arrived at Leeds. However, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Ganguly scored centuries as India put up a mammoth 600 plus on board in the first innings. Kumble took seven wickets in the match as England succumbed to an innings defeat. India would draw the fourth and final Test to share the spoils, but the template had been set – India can win abroad.
Kumble recalled the Test and said, “It is difficult to pick the best moment. But the Headingley Test was a defining moment for me and Indian cricket. It continued from that.”
Ganguly called himself fortunate to lead such a team and said, “It was my honour to lead them and also Rahul (Dravid), Sachin (Tendulkar), Harbhajan (Singh)... It was a golden generation. We were blessed with exceptional talents. They have made Indian cricket superior. (Also read Ganguly revealing dressing room secrets about Sachin and VVS Laxman)
Sehwag also praised Ganguly’s leadership ability. “Dada had only one motive — to win overseas and become number one. His captaincy was attacking and he backed his boys. I remember having dinner with Gambhir and he told me, ‘You would play the next four matches, performance would not matter, just go and give your 100 per cent.’ We were content.”
“Mindset is important. Cricket has not changed but it’s the mindset that has. I never had fear of losing my place as my captain would tell me just go out there and play freely. A captain played a big role, be it Sourav, Kumble or M.S. Dhoni. Every successful player has an equally great captain behind him,” he said.