So what, you say? Well, Atletico are co-owned by Sourav Ganguly, the Blasters by Sachin Tendulkar. Two men who did battle side by side, against the meanest and most ferocious quicks, against the wiliest and most skilful spinners. Two men who struck up the tandem of all tandems, the princely left-hand batsman from Bengal with an elegance to die for, and the awww-inducing right-hand maestro from Mumbai, the lord and master of the batting crease with an aura and a pull that remains unmatched. Even if only just these days.
Ganguly and Tendulkar have been on opposite sides of the fence previously, and not just as co-owners of ISL teams, of course. They have squared off in domestic cricket, as well as in the Indian Premier League. The one showdown, however, that remains freshest in memory dates back to September 2003, in the Irani Cup at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, where all the superstars of Indian cricket descended to get the cricket season in India off to a cracking start.
It was to be a blockbuster season for Indian cricket. Home Tests against New Zealand, followed by a four-Test series in Australia, and culminating in the first full tour of Pakistan since 1989. There couldn’t have been a more appealing, arresting game to kick things off – Tendulkar’s Mumbai, the defending Ranji Trophy champions, against Ganguly’s Rest of India, a blockbuster line-up that included Sehwag, Dravid, Laxman, Yuvraj, Kumble, Harbhajan and Zaheer.
For once, the action matched the hype, reality entered into a happy marriage with expectation. There were runs from Tendulkar, 94 and 50. Wickets from Zaheer, 5 and 1. And, most crucially, runs from Dravid, 41 and a truly sensational 121 that helped Rest make light of a 95-run deficit and chase down 340 on the final day with three wickets to spare.
The most vivid mental picture of that game revolves around Dravid, completely unamused by his first-innings dismissal by the offspin of Ramesh Powar. In that same first innings, a VVS Laxman lookalike that physically resembled the Hyderabad magician but batted like some poor cricketing imitation had pottered around for an hour and a half and endured a 53-ball torture while making five of his most forgettable first-class runs. There was a score to be settled, a mission to be accomplished, and as they had done several times before and after that day, the two men dismantled a quality Mumbai attack on the final day.
Rest were 55 for 2 when play began on day four, Sehwag already back in the hut and Dravid on 16. As we watched, alongside a very good crowd, in stunned disbelief, Dravid twice danced down the track in the first 15 minutes to deposit Powar deep into the stands beyond long-on. Hello?! Was this a game of impostors? Of stunning doppelgangers?
Dravid settled down after putting Powar in his place, and the original Laxman came twirling the wand after nightwatchman L Balaji had frustrated Mumbai for nearly two and a half hours. For the next 182 minutes, Dravid and Laxman put on another masterclass, dancing feet, sharp eyes, monk-like concentration and a blatantly positive approach firmly pushing a quality attack on to the back foot. 168 of the very best were stacked up at a tremendous rate when Laxman, tamely, popped a catch to silly point for easily the best 99 I have seen – 125 balls, 14 fours, one six. Take that! Dravid went on to complete his century and took his side to within 35 of the target, allowing Ganguly to apply the finishing touches.
The Dravid-Laxman partnership is the most romantic of associations in Indian Test cricket. Dravid and Tendulkar, Test cricket’s most prolific pair with 6920 runs and 20 hundreds, is the most successful, and the Sehwag-Gambhir alliance was entertaining all the way through, but more than the 4,065 runs and 12 century stands, it is their scarcely believable 376 at the Eden Gardens in 2001 that lent a whole new charm to the Dravid-Laxman tandem.
And, when you speak Tendulkar and Ganguly as a pair, you automatically think 50-over cricket, don’t you? And why wouldn’t you? They are the most successful 50-over association in world cricket, 8227 runs in 176 innings at 47.55, with 26 stands in excess of 100 and 29 others between 50 and 99. To put things in perspective, the next most prolific duo is Sangakkara and Jayawardene – 5992 runs in 151 innings, average 41.61, 15 century partnerships.
Which is why, the other day, during the Mumbai Test, when partnership numbers flashed on the television screen after M Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara brought up their seventh 100-plus stand in just 35 innings together, one almost fell off the chair. Still very early in their jugalbandi, Vijay and Pujara had aggregated 2251 runs at the end of the Mumbai game, and possess the highest average for any Indian pair that has put on more than 2000 runs in Test cricket – a staggering 64.31. There is only one other duo that has an average in excess of 60. Na, not Dravid-Tendulkar, not even Dravid-Laxman. It’s Ganguly-Tendulkar. Double-take and a double-take of the double-take later, it was obvious that failing eyesight wasn’t to blame.
A dear friend in Chennai who has most numbers at the tips of his fingers and therefore makes the internet somewhat redundant at most times went into an apoplectic rant at what we both admitted was a pretty startling revelation. Tendulkar and Ganguly averaging 61.36 in Tests? Come onnn, you got to be kidding me! No sir, not kidding, for that’s what it is – 71 innings, 4173 runs, 61.36 average, 12 partnerships topping 100. Only Dravid and Tendulkar have more hundred stands together for India in Tests.
That got my addled brain scrambling to recall the Ganguly-Tendulkar epics in Test cricket. 281 in Ahmedabad against New Zealand in 1999, when Tendulkar brought up his first Test double. A manic 249 at Headingley in 2002, runs flowing and Nasser Hussain almost pleading for bad light as Ganguly flayed Andy Caddick and Andrew Flintoff, Matthew Hoggard and Alex Tudor, all operating with the second new ball, to all corners and beyond. And then there were several others too, less readily springing to mind but there nevertheless – 255 in Ganguly’s second Test at Trent Bridge in 1996, 256 against Sri Lanka in Mumbai the next year, 142 in Mohali in Ganguly’s farewell series against Australia in 2008.
Just goes to show that they have been such a strong presence as a one-day opening pair that their Test exploits as a duo have perforce been relegated to the background. That, allied with the efficiency of Dravid-Tendulkar and the romanticism of Dravid-Laxman. But Tendulkar-Ganguly will remain one for the ages. And nothing that happens on Sunday will ever change that.
Source : www.wisdenindia.com