Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay - Ganguly and Dravid cast shadows of coming events on Test debut at Lord's
June 22, 1996 - Two youngsters walked down the stairs of Lord's, making their Test debuts, on a chilly morning. One stroked a superb ton, the other fell just short. In the process, India unearthed two gems who would go on to serve Indian cricket for decades to come.
When India toured England for a 3-match Test series in 1996, the Indian batting was in a mess. Vikram Rathour, the current Indian batting coach, was being auditioned as the opener after successful First-Class outings for Punjab and good returns in the tour games. The experiment though lasted for only six matches.
Ajay Jadeja was tried as his opening partner in the first match at Birmingham but the move didn't pay off with Jadeja managing just six runs in both the innings combined. Navjot Singh Sidhu had walked out of the tour mid-way. Sanjay Manjrekar was on a decline and would play only one more Test after the tour.
After losing the first match by 8 wickets, India made wholesale changes to their batting setup. They promoted Nayan Mongia to open the batting with Vikram Rathour and pushed Ajay Jadeja down the batting order.
In the same match, two youngsters made their Test debuts for India. The match was the last Test in which the iconic umpire Harold Dickie Bird officiated.
After England scored 344 runs in their first innings on the back of a century from Jack Russell and 89 from Graham Thorpe, India were eager to see what their experiment would bring. The new opening pair of Rathour and Mongia did not last long, adding 25 runs.
Out came Sourav Ganguly at one down. Ganguly had made his international debut in 1992 but came into this game with an experience of just two ODIs, with a gap of more than four years between the two outings.
In fact, Rahul Dravid who made his ODI debut in April 1996 had played five ODIs, three more than Ganguly. But he too was no superstar by then, with the best of 22*. With no international plaudits to show for, the two young batsmen encountered the England bowling attack with uncanny maturity at Lord's.
With England having already posted close to 350, the youngsters were not the ones to get bogged down under pressure. There had been some mumbling in the corridors of Indian cricket about the 'quota system' that had led to Ganguly's selection and that it was not a fair call. But, the more time the batsman spent at the crease, the more you realised the merit in his selection.
The cover drives were exquisite, the timing was immaculate and the off-side shots were as sumptuous as one had ever seen. Shortly after he reached his half-century, it almost became inevitable that he would score a Test ton on debut and that he did. By the time the series ended, Ganguly had another Test century to his name.
Rahul Dravid, just like he approached his career, was away from the limelight. The Karnataka batsman was pushed down to bat at number 7 behind Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja. That though did not deter him from proving his class with a marvellous 95.
Had Dravid also scored a century, the pair would have become the first to score Test tons on debut. Nevertheless, his knock included some classic on-drives, apart from the trademark tuck-aways for singles. Dravid was dismissed off a faint nick and walked.
India, a team which had been struggling to provide stability to their batting order, had unearthed two gems who would go on to serve Indian cricket for decades to come. Another debutant, Venkatesh Prasad also had a fine series and suddenly India began to look a different side.
After a defeat in the first Test match, the following two matches were tied. Despite the series defeat, India had won quite a lot as they returned home.
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