In the world of sports, international debuts are moments to cherish and many players have made these days unforgettable in their life with a performance that remains etched in everyone’s memory.
But then there are debuts which changed the course of history and June 20, 1996, was probably one of those. On that day at Lord’s, two young Indian batsmen announced their arrival on the revered cricket ground with contrasting knocks: Sourav Chandidas Ganguly and Rahul Sharad Dravid.
The Test series hadn’t started on the right note for the Indian team as they lost the opening match in Birmingham. Captain Mohammed Azharuddin and the team management, then, decided to hand Test debuts to Ganguly and Dravid.
Experts were quick to question Ganguly’s selection in the playing XI as many felt that the Prince of Kolkata wasn’t fit for Tests. The man, who later went on to become one of India’s most successful captains, was then considered to be temperamental and that did not really help his cause with the critics.
Both Ganguly and Dravid though had to wait for their time to put on the pads and showcase their prowess as Azharuddin opted to bowl first as the wicket had a greenish tinge. His call was justified as Venkatesh Prasad claimed a five-wicket haul to bowl the hosts out for 344.
India, however, were instantly in trouble with opener Vikram Rathour back in the pavilion with the score reading 25 and that brought Ganguly to the crease. There were a few anxious moments for the debutant as the ball was doing quite a bit. But once he settled down, the man known as the king of the offside played quite a few delectable cover drives to stamp his authority.
He put up a 64-run stand with Sachin Tendulkar for the third wicket but it was probably his 94-run partnership with Dravid for the sixth wicket that kept India in the game.
Pause, Rewind, Play
Relive epic moments, rare interviews and more from the world of sport.
Dravid came into the bat in his first innings in Test cricket at number seven with the likes of Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja in the team and had to do the salvaging job with the team reeling at 202/5 with just the tail left to bat. He was rock solid in his defence but hardly let go of an opportunity to score runs if the ball was pitched on the middle and leg stumps. It was perhaps because of the manner in which Ganguly batted or because we always end up associating Dravid with his strong defensive technique; not many today talk about the strokes he played that day.
It was befitting that Ganguly reached his century on debut with another cover drive off Dominic Cork and went on to make a solid 131, highest score by a debutant at Lord’s, before being dismissed by Allan Mullally. He faced a total of 301 balls in that innings and hit 20 boundaries.
And as he would later recall in his book A Century Is Not Enough, he was just in the zone:
If a youngster asks me for advice before he approaches his debut Test match, I shall tell him, try not to think too much in advance. Try to be in the present. Believe in your talent. Let your instincts take over. Unconsciously I did exactly that in my Lord’s innings.
Sitting here at my Behala residence I can still recapture my six-hour-long innings, with its three breaks, almost minute to minute. Every run gave me so much pleasure. Ask me where the 50th run came from while I was in a partnership with my captain. Where did I play my first off drive? I remember it all.
My mind was always in the present. I was enjoying every moment. The hundred eventually came. I somehow felt I was destined to get past the milestone. The entire ground gave me a standing ovation and I was really touched.
While we were returning to the pavilion at tea, Dravid, my partner, let me go first. While I was going past the members’ stand, they all stood up and clapped. When I was entering the dressing room, the entire team gave me a standing ovation. What a moment it was! After such a long wait, I could finally stretch my arms and say, international cricket, here I am.
A Lord’s hundred was like no other hundred.— Sourav Ganguly via 'A Century Is Not Enough'
Dravid, however, continued to frustrate the hosts and added valuable runs with his Karnataka teammates Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath to take India beyond the 400-run mark. Unfortunately, he edged a Chris Lewis delivery to wicketkeeper Jack Russell just five runs short of what would have be a fine ton and a chance to become only the fourth Indian debutant to score a century at Lord’s.
Ganguly went on to score another century on that tour and Dravid once again fell short when he was dismissed on 84 in the next Test. It ultimately took the latter 15 more years to score a ton at Lord’s when he made an unbeaten 103 in the first innings of their 2011 Tour.
However, those two innings in 1996 definitely laid the foundation for the turn-around Indian cricket was to witness over the next decade following the match-fixing scandal.
Over the years when Ganguly and Dravid were the mainstays of Indian batting, along with Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, of course. The duo, who went on to be superb captains as well, put together many memorable partnerships in Test and one-day internationals and the platform for that was laid at Lord’s: they only built on a journey they started together at the Mecca of Cricket and rose to dizzying heights.
You can watch Ganguly speaking about that debut here:
Here’s a rare (and crisp) interview of Ganguly from the day he made it to the Lord’s Honours Board:
You can watch the highlights of both the innings here.
For the scoreboard of that match, click here.