It goes without saying that Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid are two of India’s greatest cricketers. From scoring mountainous amount of runs to becoming captains in international cricket, the duo were irreplaceable members of the Indian team for many a year.
They were supreme batsmen and formed many defining partnerships together. They even made their Test debuts together and put on a 94-run stand in that match at Lord’s in 1996. For long, they also enjoyed appreciable success when they teamed up as the captain and vice-captain of the Indian team just after the turn of the millennium.
When it came to batting partnerships in One-Day International (ODI) cricket, their best as a pair came on 26 May 1999. And it came at the biggest event on the ODI calendar – the Cricket World Cup.
India weren’t one of the favourites going into the 1999 showpiece event and began poorly. They lost their first two matches against South Africa and Zimbabwe and with three teams qualifying to the next round from a group of six, the Men in Blue needed to win all three remaining matches from thereon in.
There was a sigh of relief as India finally got a win on the board, defeating Kenya in their third game. But tougher tasks were ahead, with matches against defending champions Sri Lanka and hosts England to follow.
Despite India’s poor start to the World Cup, Dravid had begun the tournament well – having scored a fifty against South Africa and an unbeaten century against Kenya. Ganguly, on the other hand, missed out on a hundred in the first game by just three runs.
Up against a strong Sri Lankan side at Taunton, India needed a special performance from their star players. Step forward, Sourav Chandidas Ganguly and Rahul Sharad Dravid.
On matchday, Sri Lanka won the toss and captain Arjuna Ranatunga elected to bowl first. It looked like a smashing decision when India’s opener Sadagoppan Ramesh was bowled by Chaminda Vaas in the first over. But soon, Sri Lanka would have major regrets over the choice made during the toss.
While Sri Lanka needed just five deliveries to get the first Indian wicket, they had to wait for almost 45 overs for the next. It must be noted that before this match, Ganguly and Dravid’s batting strike rates in ODIs were 68.66 and 67.33 respectively. The latter had even been dropped from the limited-overs side because he was considered to be batting slowly.
On this occasion, the duo showed their class and adaptability as they batted aggressively. When a wicket is lost early in ODIs, teams usually bat in a risk-free manner to ensure that they have wickets in hand later in the innings. But Ganguly and Dravid played with a different mindset here, taking the attack to the Sri Lankan bowlers early on.
At the end of the 10th over, India were 71/1 and at the end of the 15th – the over until when fielding restrictions were on during those days – they were 94/1. In the late 1990s, influenced by the exploits of first Mark Greatbatch of New Zealand and then Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana of Sri Lanka, teams tended to attack more when only two fielders were allowed outside the circle. But despite that, a run-rate of over six at the end of 15 overs was considered grand in 1999.
Even when the fielding restrictions ended, Ganguly and Dravid didn’t slow down. They carried on the momentum they had built during the start of the innings and grew from strength to strength. Both notched up magnificent hundreds – for Dravid, it was his second in successive matches. He was coming into his own in limited-overs cricket.
The partnership finally ended when Dravid was run-out by Muttiah Muralitharan for 145 (off 129 deliveries), which was his highest ODI score back then. Speaking of Muralitharan, this run-out was the only dismissal that he was part of in India’s innings – the legendary spinner took no wickets and conceded 60 runs with the ball, which wasn’t that bad when compared to some of the other Sri Lankan bowling figures on the day.
Dravid’s dismissal had brought an end to the second-wicket stand at 318. It was the highest partnership for any wicket in ODIs until then and it was also the first partnership of 300+ in the format at the international level.
Ganguly, meanwhile, was out in the middle for all but one delivery in India’s innings. At the time, his 183 (off 158 deliveries) scored here was the highest individual score in an ODI innings by an Indian batsman. Until today, it still remains the highest score by an Indian in a World Cup innings.
On the back of Ganguly and Dravid’s breathtaking partnership, India managed 373/6 – at the time, India’s highest ODI total as well. In reply, Sri Lanka lost the wickets of the aggressive opening duo, Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana, early and they weren’t really in the game after that. The Lankans were eventually bowled out for 216 with India winning by 157 runs to keep their World Cup hopes alive.
India defeated England in the following match and booked a place in the Super Six, where they’d be knocked out of the competition. Dravid ended the tournament as the top run-scorer (461) which put an end to all debates about his abilities in ODI cricket.
The partnership would be an ODI record only for a few months as Dravid (once again) and Sachin Tendulkar combined to put on a stand of 331 against New Zealand in November 1999. The record is currently held by Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels of the West Indies who put on a 372-run partnership against Zimbabwe during the 2015 World Cup. Ganguly and Dravid’s effort against Sri Lanka is now fourth on the list.