Sourav Ganguly (left) and Anil Kumble are amongst the two most respected Indian cricketers    AFP
Sourav Ganguly (left) and Anil Kumble are amongst the two most respected Indian cricketers AFP

Sourav Ganguly’s toughest job as Indian captain was to inform Anil Kumble that he had been dropped for a particular overseas Test. India could play just one spinner, and in the 2000s, often Harbhajan Singh got the preference. Ganguly has been vocal of his admiration for Kumble and as a member of the Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) alongside Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, he elected Kumble as India’s Head Coach in 2016.

In an interview with HT Brunch, Ganguly revealed that Kumble, who he believes is the India’s biggest match-winner, is the most underrated cricketer.

“Anil Kumble (is the most underrated cricketer). I think he is the biggest match winner India has ever produced. We speak about a Sachin Tendulkar or a Virat Kohli or a Ravichandran Ashwin, but it is a fact that Kumble has won far more matches for India than anyone else,” Ganguly said.

Last month, Ganguly recalled how he played a role in getting Kumble selected for the Australia tour 2003-04.

Ganguly had then recalled: Remember attending a selection meeting before the tour of Australia in 2003. I was the captain of the side and I knew, selectors were not very keen on having Anil in that tour. As I entered the selection meeting, I could sense the selectors had made up their mind to leave Anil Kumble out. I kept on requesting and insisting that he is such a match winner, he is done so much good for Indian cricket. He must be in Australia and the selectors just didn t agree.

When Sourav Ganguly influenced selectors to include Anil Kumble in 2002-03 Australia tour
When Sourav Ganguly influenced selectors to include Anil Kumble in 2002-03 Australia tour

The selectors wanted to pick a left-hand spinner because Australians don t play left-hand spin well, and this went on for a good couple of hours. It was getting late and John Wright came up to me and said Sourav, let s finish this and go with what they said and I am sure we will do well .

I told John that Kumble has been a champion for last 10 years, he is on his way down at the moment, may be because he hasn t bowled well, but I actually feel it is a temporary thing. I told John if you leave Anil, he may not play for India again. I said I am not going to sign the selection sheet till Anil is in the side. The selectors got fed up with me and said if I don t play well, if the team does not play well and if Kumble does not play well, I will the first person to go before anyone goes. I said fine, I am ready to take that risk and we will see what happens.

Anil had an outstanding series, an outstanding year as well. He went on to pick 80 wickets that year, which was the most by any spinner in a calendar year in history of Test cricket.

Kumble picked 167 wickets at just over 28 under Ganguly’s leadership. Kumble later went on to lead India in 2007 and 2008. Ganguly played a key role in India’s series win against Pakistan under Kumble in 2007-08.