When Sourav Ganguly won the toss at a green wicket at Headingley, Leeds on 22 August 2002 and opted to bat first, eyebrows were raised. Brave or foolish? Inspired or ridiculous? Only time could tell.
When Virender Sehwag was out in the seventh over, India were 15/1. When India lost their second wicket, tea had come and gone. The scoreboard read 185/2 in the 75th over. At the end of first innings, India had made 628/8 with centuries by Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly. At the end of five days, India won the match by an innings and 45 runs and levelled the series 1-1.
Time, as it turned out, told the world Ganguly was right in his decision to trust his batsmen.
“Perhaps the decision that showed the self-belief India was acquiring under Ganguly was that on winning the toss India batted,” author Mihir Bose wrote in his book The Nine Waves: The Extraordinary Story of Indian Cricket,
“This was despite the fact that the wicket was green, it was damp and overcast and it seemed ideal for a modern-day English bowler to do what Fred Trueman had done in 1952.There was an audible gasp in the Headingley press box as Ganguly signalled India was batting and much shaking of heads.
“What we did not know was that in the Indian dressing room Dravid had argued that he was sick and tired of India on green wickets putting the opposition in when India’s strength was spin.The batting had to be trusted so India could make the opposition chase a target in the fourth innings.”
Indeed, at the end of day one, India’s first innings score read 236/2 with Dravid 110 not out and Sachin Tendulkar batting on 18. Dravid went on to make 148 while Tendulkar scored his 30th Test ton, going past Sir Don Bradman. Runs flowed from Ganguly’s bat too (128 off 167 balls) as the duo rejected the offer of bad light and went hammer and tongs to help India pile on the runs and bat England out of the match.
When it comes to the iconic Test match, the world remembers Dravid’s player-of-the-match worthy performance, Tendulkar smashing the bowlers around on his way to the 30th Test century, Ganguly batting with freedom and India’s eventual win.
But it is worth remembering Bangar’s batting effort on a green top to back his captain’s call. After inclusion in the Test as an opening batsman who can bowl seam up, Bangar played a crucial hand.
“I always knew Headingley would be my best bet to get into the team. That was because I thought my bowling would be suited to the conditions prevalent there. It is only because of my bowling that I got a chance to play that Test. And I feel really sorry for [SS] Das (who had scored a double century in a tour match) because he is a good mate and I also know that he had realised that his chance was gone only because he doesn’t bowl,” Bangar had told Rediff in an interview.
“The way we batted on the first day really set up the game for us,” Ganguly had said at the end of the Test.
“I knew it would nip around first thing in the morning but we were playing two spinners so we had to bat first. I had confidence in Rahul who is one of the best batsmen in the world and he and Sanjay Bangar played brilliantly. When we reached 630 we knew we had a good chance in the Test but we knew we had to get them out twice and we knew in the back of our mind that it rains quite a lot in Yorkshire,” the Indian captain added.