The picturesque County ground in Taunton had witnessed cricketing greats Ian Botham, Viv Richards and Joel Garner tear it up in the 1970s and the 80s. Indian greats Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, on a cold day in May 1999, also threw their hat in the ring with one of the most extraordinary partnerships in the history of One-day International Cricket.
India’s task was simple. They had to win to stay alive in the tournament after succumbing to back-to-back defeats against South Africa and Zimbabwe. Sachin Tendulkar, just days after his father’s death, flew back in time to setup an easy win against Kenya but all eyes were on this contest.
Sri Lanka, in the second half of the 1990s, had India’s number. En route to their first-ever World Cup win, Arjuna Ranatunga’s side had crushed India twice in their own back. Muttiah Muralitharan was entering his peak years and Sanath Jayasuriya was going strong. However, the wins had dried up for the holders entering this edition.
And Ranatunga’s decision to field first instantly paid off as Chaminda Vaas removed opener Sadagoppan Ramesh early. Sachin Tendulkar was pencilled in as a No 4 batsman.
Dravid seized the momentum. The ball was coming onto the bat and there was no trace of any uneven bounce. The India No 3, whose strike rate in ODI cricket had come for a bit of scrutiny, was middling it like a dream, scoring at a touch over a run-a-ball.
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Ganguly was happy to let his partner initiate boundary-hitting duties.
“Right from the first ball I faced, it was a good wicket to be fair with a fast outfield. Taunton usually is,” Dravid told ESPNCricinfo.
Dravid added: “I was in a good space, timing it beautifully. In fact, I was hitting it much better than Sourav. Usually, I hold up one end and people bat around me but on that day, it was quite the opposite early in the innings.”
Dravid soon completed his second consecutive hundred. Both batsmen were contained by Muralitharan’s but the pressure was still on the Lankans with wickets hard to come by. India had a lot of batting to come.
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After reaching his century, Ganguly accelerated in T20 mode, almost similar to Rohit Sharma’s gear switch. The southpaw never had trouble depositing the ball over the ropes all through his career.
Here, he was toying with the Lankans. Ganguly was brutal straight down the ground and may have sent at least a couple of balls into the parking lot. Ganguly was paying his own tribute to Kapil Dev’s magnificent 175 from sixteen years earlier, bravely stepping out against the spinners and using the depth the crease expertly against the pacers. There were some punches through the cover region for boundaries too, a Ganguly trademark.
Now, Dravid was content in playing second fiddle. Hundred to 183 took just 39 deliveries for Ganguly. When the duo’s partnership was finally broken, the record books had tumbled. This was the first 300-run stand in ODI cricket and Ganguly made the highest individual score by an Indian in a World Cup, something that stands even today.
Dravid was run out for 145. India could have pushed for the first 400 in the format too but a middle-order collapse ended those hopes. The Ganguly-Dravid highlights reel is still a big draw on television, more than two decades on. Mohammad Azharuddin’s side cantered to a handsome 157-run victory while the Lankans crashed out of the tournament in limp fashion. India beat England four days later but exited at the Super Six stages.
In just six months time, Tendulkar would overtake Ganguly’s score. There again, Dravid camped at the other end. But Ganguly’s 183 has its own cult following. It would go on to be a score that connected him with fellow captains MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli in the years to come.
Watch the partnership between Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid here:
Highlights of the full match here: