On October 23, 1996, something happened for the first time in Indian cricket. Something that would go on to be era-defining. Something that changed the course of the career of one of the batsmen involved. Something that every Indian cricket fan looked forward to with great joy every time they saw their team play.
The sight of Sachin Tendulkar opening the batting with Sourav Ganguly for the first time.
The beginning of a golden era for Indian cricket, so to speak.
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A certain Ravi Shastri was in the commentary box when India began their run-chase against South Africa.
“Yes I am happy,” the current Indian team coach said about Ganguly opening the batting. “He is wasted down the order. He is a talented player who likes the ball coming on to the bat. That’s what is likely to happen today and that might just suit his style of batting. He is very strong square of the wicket on the off-side. Plus, being a left-hander, it will help the Indians immensely.”
It did not help India on that particular day but the 126-run opening partnership between the two laid the platform for many more such outings in the future.
Fast forward to a Twitter conversation prompted by a tweet by the International Cricket Council a few days back between two of the greatest cricketers produced by India, that went like this:
Sachin Tendulkar: How many more [runs as opening partners] do you think we would’ve been able to score with the restriction of four fielders outside the ring and two new balls?
Sourav Ganguly: Another 4000 or so. Two new balls... wow. Sounds like a cover drive flying to the boundary in the first over of the game... for the remaining 50 overs.
Cheeky as the exchange was, it was another reminder for Indian cricket fans of the days when the team boasted of the best opening pair in the game. Not just of their era, but, perhaps, the best ODI opening partnership of all time. For, the numbers that Tendulkar and Ganguly racked up in their time as opening partners is staggering to say the least.
The tables below show how prolific Ganguly and Tendulkar were as a pair in their time. Just as openers, they had 21 century partnerships, more than anyone else in world cricket. They still hold the record for the highest ODI opening partnership for India (258) and when it comes to total runs, they are the only opening pair to have scored more than 6000 runs in ODIs.
(Note: Swipe across on your screens to view all columns on the tables.)
Highest opening partnership runs in ODIs
Even when they stopped opening the batting regularly in the back-end of Ganguly’s career, the partnerships kept coming. And that is why they hold an incredible lead in the table for most partnership runs in ODIs.
Highest partnership runs in ODIs (any wicket)
In world cricket, only four pairs have scored more than 10,000 international runs together and two of these feature Tendulkar. And, unsurprisingly, the Ganguly-Tendulkar partnership outscored the Dravid-Tendulkar partnership.
Highest partnership runs across formats
On his ODI debut back in 1992, Ganguly batted with Tendulkar too but it was for the fifth wicket partnership. The left-hander walked out with struggling at 4/35 against West Indies in Brisbane, and walked back after adding 27 runs and the scoreboard read 5/62. At that point, he might have been wondering about his India career let alone batting with Tendulkar again.
As fate would have it, on one fine day in October 1996, Tendulkar himself was responsible for changing Ganguly’s fate, for the better.
Before I talk about my exploits against Pakistan in Toronto in September 1997, it is only fair that I take you to Jaipur where it all began. It was one of those relatively relaxed yet intense afternoons before the start of the triseries. My phone rang in the hotel room. It was captain Tendulkar . And he was urgently calling me to his room.
Life has taught me that the best things in life happen in an unplanned fashion. That day in Jaipur, Sachin calmly informed me that I would have to open in the tri-series. It didn’t matter whether I agreed or not. He had clearly made up his mind.
The series was beginning in just two days and involved the strongest nations, South Africa and Australia. That I had previously never opened in any of the representative matches only added to my worries.
In fact, I wasn’t totally convinced of Sachin’s decision. But he was my captain and I accepted the directive without any argument. I told myself that I had often played at number 3 in Test matches and that sometimes involved going in to bat in the first over. So what was new?
Two days later my journey as a one-day opener began and I didn’t disappoint by scoring a stroke-filled 65. In one-day cricket, I have never looked back.— via 'A Century Is Not Enough' by Sourav Ganguly
Here’s the video of the first opening partnership between Ganguly and Tendulkar:
Notice how Ganguly took strike there, despite opening for the first time? Here is the former India captain joking about opening with Tendulkar and having to always face the music first up:
Stats courtesy: ESPNCricinfo Statsguru