20th June 1996 is etched in the memory of every Indian fan all around the world. The day marked the beginning of a glorious era in the history of Indian cricket. After a horrendous outing for the team in the first Test match against England at Birmingham, the two sides locked horns at Lord’s for the second Test in the three-match series.
Post a dismal performance by the batting unit in the first Test, the Indian skipper, Mohammed Azharuddin handed Test match debuts to two young turks at the Mecca of Cricket. The rest, they say, is history as Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid scripted their way into the record books and announced their arrival on the world stage.
The Lord’s Test
A beautiful day greeted the two sides at the Home of Cricket for the all-important second Test match. With a tinge of grass on a fresh wicket, Azhar won the toss and had no hesitation in electing to field first.
The move seemed to have paid rich dividends as the two Karnataka boys, Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad ripped through the batting line-up of the home team. A strong English batting unit was bundled out in the first innings for 344 runs, courtesy a brilliant five-wicket haul by Prasad in just his second Test. However, not many in the world remember that this event also marked the beginning of Prasad’s career in the longest format of the game.
The moment when the world witnessed a star in the making
In pursuit of England’s first innings total, the Indian team were jolted very early in the innings as Vikram Rathore was dismissed cheaply with just 25 runs on the board. And in walked a debutant in Sourav Ganguly to take centre stage at probably the biggest platform of his life.
Settling his nerves with some time in the middle, the left-hander slowly started accumulating the ones and twos to get his innings started. With wickets tumbling at the other end, Ganguly finally found an able partner in Rahul Dravid to steady the wobbling Indian ship.
Coming in at number seven with the just over 200 runs on the board, Dravid entered the arena to battle it out for his nation. The right-handed batsman, from the outset, looked assured with his defence and his footwork at the crease.
The two debutants joined hands to craft their way to a much-needed partnership in the middle order to bail the Indian team out of jitters.
A century to cherish for the Prince of Kolkata
In the process of their important stand of 94 runs for the sixth wicket, arrived the moment all the Indian fans were eagerly waiting. Ganguly drove a full-length delivery of Dominic Cork to the cover boundary and notched up his maiden Test match hundred.
With hands raised high in the air and the emotions running high, it was a moment to savour for the Prince of Kolkata as he etched his name on the Honour Boards of the Lords Stadium.
He continued to bat positively for his side before Allan Mullally castled him for a well made 131 runs. His brilliance with the bat at the top of the order came to an end with a standing ovation from the crowd to appreciate this scintillating inning.
Agonising end for Rahul Dravid
At the other end, observing all these things unfold was another debutant who craved to follow similar footsteps, but alas, the universe had other ideas.
After battling out for 267 deliveries, Dravid eventually nicked a Chris Lewis delivery to the wicket-keeper on 95, falling agonisingly short of a well deserved hundred. The walk back to the pavilion was probably one of the hardest journeys in the cricketing career of the stylish batsman.
Although it could not be a fairytale ending for Dravid in his first appearance at the Test arena, it undoubtedly showcased glimpses of great things to follow for Indian cricket.
Despite gaining a crucial first innings lead, the Indian team failed to build on that in the second innings. England eventually declared their second innings at 278 runs at the loss of nine wickets resulting in the game to end as a drawn contest.
Although the outcome of the match was not favourable for the visitors, the management would be mighty pleased with the maturity and the class exhibited by two young players at the international level.
The England series indeed proved to be a stepping stone in the journey of two players who eventually embarked on the path to becoming the greatest players of the modern era.