By Srian Obeyesekere
Sri Lanka not only orbited into a new planet by creating history in winning cricket’s biggest pot of gold, the cricket world cup in 1995-96, but as a hitherto little known entity in the ICC fold doing it in style by bringing down the very might of the world Australia, who was the No.1 cricketing country in the world was a phenomenal achievement.
Looking back 24 years hence on that epic win on March 17, 1996 in Karachchi, Lahore, is indeed significant to Sri Lanka cricket that was enriched by that record Breaking feat by Arjuna Ranatunga’s team that thus engraved their names as magnificent men for valor. For, as valiant is the phraseology of conquering warriors at war, in sports bat ball game of cricket’s ultimate high stakes competition bringing down the giants in the game in that vein was warrior stuff. And, what is more it opened the eyes of not only the entire cricketing world of taking notice of little known Sri Lanka from the sub continent Indian Ocean as the new king of cricket, but also thrust the country into the commercial world. Countries that had not noticed Sri Lanka much suddenly began to take notice. Ranatunga and his men had roundly succeeded in marketing Sri Lanka to the entire world on the economic front.
It was the perfect start under the Lahore skies. Popularly referred to as roly poly Ranatunga for his chubby outlook, and in cricketing terms regarded as Captain Cool for an ice cool ascending approach that had earned him that trade mark nick name, there he was from the word go putting in the Australians to take first lease after winning the toss. Such was the oozing confidence in which the team basked in the final battle lines drawn following a smashing entry that had put the high riding Sri Lankans on the brink of the world cup having smashed India in the semi-finals at Kolkota, grinding down a riotous Indian home crowd that were not sporty enough to accept defeat and invaded the field as Sri Lanka was poised for the final kill. It culminated in no nonsense match referee Clive Lloyd awarding the match to Sri Lanka by default.
The grand final between Sri Lanka and Australia, as it was, was hyped by all the spice that such a final could hold out. While Mark Taylor’s Australians were regarded as the hot favourites for the invincible aura they basked in, Ranatunga’s Sri Lankans gallop that put them a step away from cricket’s biggest prize had galvanized the team as no pushovers.
What is more, playing in the sub continent slice edged the Lankans chances. The first exchanges was on the even keel of the modest with Australia putting up 241 for 7 in 50 overs; a total in a final that is usually regarded as defendable. Top scorer was skipper Mark Taylor with an 83-ball 74. But Sri Lanka’s dominance was capped by the failure of the Waugh brothers with opener Mark upfront removed by Chaminda Vaas for 12 and Steve dislodged by Kumar Dharmasena for 13.
It undid the fine second wicket 101-run foundation laid by Taylor and Ricky Ponting, who made 45 off 73, when Australia sat pretty on 2 for 137 when Taylor was removed by Aravinda de Silva, the man who would ultimately prove to be the architect of Sri Lanka’s historic win. De Silva went on to come tops with his slow spin with the best figures of the Lankan bowlers of 3 for 42. In effect, Ranatunga’s bowlers had done a containing job in keeping the strong Australian batting lineup under check. Overly, 242 was an achievable, but testing target for the Sri Lankan batting machinery that ran deep on a neutral venue. But the start was to prove disastrous as Sri Lanka lost Sanath Jayasuriya, who had proved to be a batting sensation throughout for 9 with the total 12 and soon after Romesh Kaluwitharana for 6, and reduced to 23 for 2, the mighty Australian bowling juggernaut of the impeccable Glen McGrath and company was with tails reared up poised for the kill. Into the precarious walked in Sri Lanka’s biggest lynchpin Aravinda de Silva who had plundered the Indians in a match winning Player of the Match 66. On the face of it, the scales were now well placed in Australia’s favour. But it was the now or never moment for Sri Lanka and for Aravinda. To fail would mean the end of a dream for country and self to a batsman who had worked his way to being regarded as Sri Lanka’s most faithful servant with the bat. He had blazed a trail of taking on the mightiest of attacks from his famous century against Australia in their own backyard against the likes of McDermott and many more awesome attacks.
There was no doubt of his ability. But here was a defining moment of the very pot of gold that could unnerve the best. That Aravinda rose to the occasion in living to the adage ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’ as he plundered the Aussie attack in a mercurial knock showcased by immaculate timing and front foot driving in a memorable 107-run unbeaten knock spiced with 13 boundaries, was a feat for posterity. His 125-run third wicket alliance with Asanka Gurusinha who made 65 off 99 balls with 6 boundaries and a six was the cornerstone to the 7-wicket triumph to which Ranatunga fittingly put the icing on the cake hoisting arch foe Shane Warne for 6 in a 37-ball onslaught decked with 4 boundaries and a six.
To the credit of Gurusinha, his was as magnificent an innings for the unflinching support lent to De Silva in lifting Sri Lanka from the depths of early despair to the ecstasy of touching cup glory. Put into basket, those were the team efforts that put Sri Lanka in the rare hall of world cup winning fame alongside Australia, the West Indies, India and Pakistan at that time. De Silva rounding off with successive Player of the Match Awards was a personal milestone tucked into the to date unequalled rare milestone of becoming the only batsman in cup history to score a century chasing a target.
Australia 241/7 50 Overs Run rate: 4.82
(M.A. Taylor 74, R.T.Ponting 45, M.G. Bevan n.o. 36, S.G. Law 22,
P.A. de Silva 3/42)
Sri Lanka 245/3 (46.2 Overs) Run rate: 5.28
(P.A. de Silva n.o. 107, A.P. Gurusinha 65, A. Ranatunga n.o. 47)