By Suvajit Mustafi
February 13, 2001. It was the eve of Valentine’s Day. Mohabbatien had hit the screens a few months back, and ideas were aplenty. The study leaves for the boards had started. My fellow teenagers were either busy queuing outside the stationary shops or skillfully removing the bricks from the school walls, making sure the gaps were big enough for the gifts to slide in.
Even the other nerdy cricket followers with no other love interest prepared for the looming ICSE and worried more about India’s chances later that month. Steve Waugh’s men had arrived. One such batch mate caught me outside the tuitions trying to convince me on why Balaji Rao should play in the first Test. I wanted to rush home to prepare for my idea of a perfect Valentine. For me, there was no more celebrated romance than watching Sourav Ganguly step out to the spinners or a Sachin Tendulkar taking on the attack. I would seldom cheat the mentioned to watch a free-flowing Brian Lara or the magicians – Wasim Akram and Shane Warne – in action. But usually, I remained committed.
This was the ideal day for this weird lover boy. Valentines’ Day had indeed come a day early.
#OnThisDay 18 years back. THIS match was played.
The #fanboy recalls #challengerstrophy #ValentinesDay #sachintendulkar #souravganguly #indiancricket #fan@SGanguly99 @sachin_rt @cricketaakash @im_sandipan @ovshake42 @CricfreakTweets @Cric_Writer https://t.co/xcdibyCIXZ pic.twitter.com/HPolqwAVLo
— Suvajit Mustafi (Rivu) (@RibsGully) February 13, 2019
Long before the IPL, Challengers Trophy gave fans an opportunity to witness the duel between their favourite Indian cricketers. On this day, the Ganguly-led India Seniors took on India B that was being captained Robin Singh and had the great Tendulkar in its rank.
India Seniors: Sourav Ganguly (C), SS Das, VVS Laxman, Hemang Badani, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Vikram Rathour (WK), Ashish Kapoor, Ashish Nehra, Debasish Mohanty, Javagal Srinath
India B: JP Yadav, Sachin Tendulkar, Amay Khurasiya, Sukhvinder Singh, Dinesh Mongia, Robin Singh (C), Mohammad Kaif, Vijay Dahiya (WK), Nikhil Chopra, Dodda Ganesh, Surendra Singh
Note: At that point of time, Sehwag, Kaif and Nehra had just played an international each.
Dadagiri at Chepauk
India Seniors elected to bat. I felt anxious as Ganguly got a duck in the first match a day back. This time the Seniors were off to a breezy start. Nothing was unusual. The fifty came up in as many balls. Das would then fall for a 35-ball 25.
Ganguly was the best ODI batsman back then. He led the run charts in 1999 and 2000 respectively, smashing 11 hundreds in just over 20 months and averaged in excess of 50. Extraordinary numbers considering Virat Kohli was still in his preteens and wouldn’t make his debut in another seven years.
Ganguly found good support in VVS Laxman and considering the era, the Seniors were off to a flyer. Ganguly exuberated his natural elegance, timing the ball beautifully, and breezed to his fifty off 58 balls. He then danced down the track and deposited Chopra over the ropes twice in the 14th over. The 100 came in the 16th over.
Things would change for Laxman a month later after the Eden Gardens epic. However, he was already in rich form. Though his international career hadn’t quite taken off, in domestic cricket, he remained a monster. Longer format or the shorter, he remained the same artist at the crease. He caressed four boundaries through off-side and stayed at his fluent best. A day prior, he had top-scored for the side with a 72-ball 78. This was only an extension. Only Tendulkar’s leg-spin was able to contain him. There were seven dots before one came in and broke through his defence.
However, Tendulkar posed no such threat for his ODI opening partner. There were the odd appeals, but Ganguly found himself at ease against Tendulkar. He soon upped the ante. He got to his hundred with a six over long-off off Kaif. The following over, Tendulkar was hit over the roof. All-rounder Sukhvinder was brought into the attack in the 31st over.
By then Ganguly had made a reputation against left-arm orthodox, and he was already striking well. The over of the match commenced. Ganguly started with a forward defence and then massacred the poor left-armer for four sixes and two fours. To compound the miseries, there were two no-balls too.
India B had bowled 15 no-balls in the innings. Ganguly was earlier twice caught on 10 and 40 off no-balls.
With 34 plundered off five balls, the Indian captain targeted 40 and fell in the deep to catch by JP Yadav. The Seniors were 246 for three after 31 overs. Ganguly was out for 142 off 106 balls.
The cocktail of madness and elegance left me speechless with mixed emotions. ‘Ganguly had the golden chance to register the first ever List A double hundred by an Indian’, the fan in me would often think. Back then only Ali Brown had a List A double hundred in a fifty or lesser overs affair.
Two other left-handers took it on from there. Badani (70 off 65) and a teenager Yuvraj (51 off 53) had a steady 96-run stand before Rathour went berserk with an 11-ball 30 not out.
Months later, Sehwag would enter my list of favourite cricketers. However, on this day, he was cleaned up for a golden duck.
The Seniors registered 392 for six in their fifty overs, the then highest score in a 50-over domestic List A game. Before this, Leicestershire’s 382 for 6 against Minor Counties in May 1998 was the highest List A 50-over score.
Before this, the record on Indian soil belonged to the Tendulkar-led Wills’ XI against Hyderabad in November 1995. Tendulkar, Gagan Khoda and Sanjay Manjrekar had slammed hundreds in the side’s 379 for 3 in 50 overs.
Sri Lanka’s 398 for five against Kenya in the 1996 World Cup remained the highest ODI score.
Tendulkar was the only bowler who went under six per over, registering figures of 9-0-52-1. Considering the innings run-rate touching eight, Tendulkar’s numbers were phenomenal. Thanks to his figures, the 400-mark wasn’t breached. He had a bigger role to play though.
God’s own ground
Chepauk had seen some great feats from Tendulkar. This was a match of less significance, but Tendulkar is a proud individual. It was still a half-finished game of cricket that was to be won. India B, in their ranks, had the best batter in the world.
Tendulkar got India B to a strong start. A well-set Tendulkar could even hit an in-form Shane Warne out of the part, and therefore other spinners were merely a threat. Still, in his first year as a full-time national captain, Ganguly was making a mark with his tactics. He decided to attack Tendulkar with only pace and introduced no spin till the time the maestro batted. Tendulkar looked at extreme ease against Srinath and Mohanty, men whom he must have played a lot in the nets. Tendulkar found boundaries at will and dealt Nehra severely.
Unlike Ganguly, Tendulkar did not find good enough support from the top-order. Yadav felled to a direct hit from Yuvraj. Khurasiya soon departed leg before to Srinath and Ganguly wasn’t done dealing with the veteran all-rounder Sukhvinder, dismissing him for five.
India B were 90 for three after 12 overs. Tendulkar found a steady partner in Mongia, and when it seemed the former was beginning to take things away, Nehra struck. An uppish shot from Tendulkar found Ganguly.
Tendulkar’s 77 had set the platform. India B required 261 off 190 balls with six wickets in hand. Mongia kept them in the hunt with a fine hundred (102 off 87), but India B jumped on the axe courtesy run-outs and also running into Ganguly.
Skipper Robin (64 off 66) and Kaif (40 off 21) were both run-out, and so was a dangerous looking Chopra. India B were bowled out for 362 with 20 balls still remaining!
Nehra picked up the most important wickets of Tendulkar and Mongia. In the years to come, he would make a reputation for striking important wickets despite giving away runs. He did so by leaking 75 off his 10 overs.
Ganguly later cleaned up Dahiya to finish with 8-0-81-2. He took a catch and was involved in affecting two run-outs. Ironically, there were no Man-of-the-Match awards declared for this tournament.
The match aggregate of 754 runs was then the highest for a List A game. As the calendars rolled in the new millennium, 350s and 400s would become more frequent. Eighteen years on, this match still finds itself on the 16th spot in the highest aggregate for a List A game.
All this is from an era even before the concept of T20 was incepted.
What happened next?
None of the other games in the tournament were extraordinary affairs, but it was Valentine’s week worth living and recollecting for this starry-eyed fan.
The trinity isn’t complete without naming Rahul Dravid, the then national vice-captain. With a strokeful 92, he would better Tendulkar (24) in the next game to lead India A into the final. He would then go on to outshine Ganguly (34) too in the final, this time with an 88, but Badani (104*) and Sehwag’s (94) 168-run stand off the sixth wicket would guide the Seniors to the tournament triumph.
Well, Ganguly won a final as a captain. This was an extreme rarity in those days.
India Seniors vs India B, Feb 11, 2011 – Brief Scores:
India Seniors 392 for six in 50 overs [Sourav Ganguly 142 (106), VVS Laxman 36 (40), Hemang Badani 70 (65), Yuvraj Singh 51 (53), Vikram Rathour 30 (11)*] beat India B 362 all out in 46.4 overs [Sachin Tendulkar 77 (59), Dinesh Mongia 102 (87), Robin Singh 64 (66), Mohammad Kaif 40 (21)] by 30 runs.