Sportskeeda Flashback: Looking back at the memorable debut day of Ganguly and Dravid
To the most ardent cricket fans out there, does June 22, 1996 ring a bell? Well, it was the day that two young batsmen - both in their 20s - decided to let the world know of their foray into international cricket, and of their intention to stay there for a long time. And sure they did, retiring eventually as legends of the game in their own ways, with countless laurels and rewards to their name along the way, and putting themselves into record books quite often. The two gentlemen being none other than Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid.
It was nearly 22 years ago when an Indian cricket team left to play a chilly summer of cricket in England with controversy over one particular name ringing in their ears. There were other things to be concerned about but there was this one in particular - Sourav Ganguly, who was making his debut in Test cricket almost five years after he started donning the Indian blues in limited-overs. Rahul Dravid was making his debut too but hardly anyone seemed to realize. Two completely dissimilar people taking giant steps forward together, in completely dissimilar ways - Ganguly dramatically, Dravid quietly. Looking back now, as both of them have long hung up their playing boots and as we have matured into better thinking (hopefully) individuals, it was definitely a sign of things to come, wasn't it?
As I read from the annals of history (that's all I can - I wasn't even born back then), I understand that the circumstances surrounding the situation were breathing fire. India had a new coach in Sandeep Patil and a sinking captain in none other than Mohammad Azharuddin. Soon after, both of them would be sacked; one would find the door shut on him, the other would be quickly welcomed back. India took three seamers and four spinners for the coldest part of the cricket season - another decision questioned, for the English lands were famous for seaming wickets. Midway through the tour, Navjot Sidhu walked out and found himself handed a six-month ban. Tumultuous levels = 100.
In my native language, there goes a saying that literally translates to "swelling over a hunched back". The Ganguly issue was exactly that. The hunched back which was already maiming the Indian side had yet another blow in the form of this new row. Ganguly's selection was universally condemned and was seen as further proof of the "quota system" in operation; the same "quota" that had allegedly seen the likes of Chetan Sharma and Prashant Vaidya coming into the side despite just average performances. As the games progressed, India's troubles worsened. Losing the first Test at Birmingham despite a Tendulkar ton, it was apparent that the young guns had to play, to keep any hope alive in the rest of the series. That is where Ganguly and Dravid came in, in their first ever Test Match. The venue is Lord's; as if it has not been enough pressure already.
England notched up a respectable total of 334, taking up nearly two days, and it was on the fag end of Day 2 that India had to begin their batting. India had an extensive batting lineup in the game, Ganguly walking in at No. 3, Dravid having to be just slipped right in at No. 7 - and to think that the same Dravid would go on to become India's most reliable option up the order in later years. Despite the depth, India found themselves at a sketchy position of 2/59. Ganguly was able to put up a stand of nearly 50 runs with Sachin, before the latter departed, signaling the end of day's play.
Day 3 dawned, which was exactly today, 22 years ago, and things suddenly changed drastically. Quoting Ravi Shastri from one of his memoirs about the game in later years, "It was quickly apparent that both belonged there," when asked about the debuting duo. Ganguly was imperious through the off side right from the start and his cover-driving was sumptuous; each shot suggested that his was an inspired, rather than a malicious, selection, putting all allegations to rest in the grave once and forever. The English bowlers were also good fans of occasional short balls, which is when Ganguly announced that he possessed the pull shot as well. By and by, the idea that he could get a hundred dawned on those watching - it was evident from the animated voices of the commentators, as well as from the gestures in the Indian camp - which I got to see in the form of match highlights at least 10 to 12 years later when I finally existed in this world and had a good cable TV subscription. And for sure he reached the promised mark as well, going on to make 131 in 301 balls, including 20 handsome boundaries. On the other end, wickets kept falling, until he found an ideal partner in Rahul Dravid.
Dravid played some handsome shots too, but watching him was a bit of a different experience. With his patience and restraint in front the crease that he would be known for even several years later (even now), he consciously picked up just the bad balls and gave them their due punishment, with such good precision, and the occasional cheeky single. All I remember were a few exquisite on drives that the fielders gave up on chasing after a tinge of effort. At 95 of 267 balls, he got a little nick, no more than a feather, and walked. Had he scored another five runs, it would have been the first time in history that a pair of debutants had made hundreds in a Test match.
By the time the series was done, Ganguly had scored another excellent century, Dravid had missed another but got 84, and Venkatesh Prasad had had an excellent debut series as well. A pathetic team performance had thrown up three wonderful young players;a rarity in this day and age. And courtesy of the performance, Ganguly had his name up on the Lord's honors boards - something which legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara or Shane Warne have never done - that too on his debut game.
Blessed are ye', those people who have had the immense good fortune to witness the greatness of players like Tendulkar, Dravid or Ganguly from the very onsets of their careers. Years later, as you kick back and relax, possibly in front of your television, the highlight reels from those games definitely bringing in a rush of nostalgia - how great must that feel.
Ganguly and Dravid have always relished playing in English conditions, and have often expressed their liking for it in public. With another exciting Indian tour to England around the corner, here's to hoping for similarly lip-smacking cricketing contests straight up ahead.