Cavalier Lankan charmers

The Asian Age.  | R Mohan

Sports, Cricket

The middle order masters in Aravinda de Silva, Gurusinha and skipper Ranatunga reveled on subcontinental pitches to forge a formidable outfit.

Sri Lanka skipper Arjuna Ranatunga receives the 1996 World Cup from Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan PM.

Slighted by Australia and the West Indies not wishing to tour their country after a terrorist attack in Colombo, Sri Lanka went on to win the World Cup with sterling displays in the knockouts. Their opening batsman Sanath Jayasuriya improved upon the Mark Greatbatch method of outright onslaught against the new ball with occasional help from ‘Little’ Kaluwitharana. The middle order masters in Aravinda de Silva, Gurusinha and skipper Ranatunga reveled on subcontinental pitches to forge a formidable outfit.

There were more teams (12), more host countries (3) and more venues (26) than ever. There was exciting cricket in three weeks and 30 matches with some sensational results like Kenya’s victory over the West Indies when the minnows roared at the lion and South Africa’s solid, all-round LOI cricket with some phenomenal fielding. Even so, the ‘real’ World Cup (also the last to be sponsored by big tobacco) began only with the quarter-finals.

India’s win over Pakistan in a stirring last eight clash in Bangalore had kindled hope of the major host going on to lift the World Cup for the first time. The Indian dream was to be shattered in the semi-finals. South Africa had their quarter-final stolen from them by a majestic innings from Brian Lara that took the initiative away from the Proteas who then came a cropper because of their lack of technique against spin.

Having been cheated by rain in their first semi-final appearance in Sydney in 1992, the desperately keen South Africans were ousted in the first of what was to be a series of chokes. England were smothered into submission by a Jayasuriya blitz of 82 off 44 balls that made the chase a breeze. Australia chased down a big New Zealand total thanks to the splendid form of Mark Waugh whose wristwork charmed spectators throughout the competition.

The semi-final at the Eden Gardens in front of one lakh people was extraordinary for the fall of two wickets in the first over from where Sri Lanka recovered through Aravinda de Silva’s elegantly timed strokes. On a crumbing pitch, it became a different ball game for India after Tendulkar was dismissed and a collapse to 120-8 led to unrest in the stands. As folded papers lit from bonfires began to be hurled at Sri Lankan fielders, the match was awarded to them.

In a close semi-final in Chandigarh, Oz made recovered from early shocks to 207 but were bowled to victory after the West Indies, cruising at 165-3, lost eight wickets for 37 including three for six runs in three death overs by Shane Warne. The final in Lahore — Pakistan’s first ever floodlit match — became Aravinda de Silva’s match. He took three wickets, two catches and played an innings of incredible elegance - 107* off 124 balls with 13 fours and never lofted the ball in anger. Ms Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan PM, gave away the trophy to the jubilant Sri Lankans. They were the fifth different champions in successive World Cups from 1979.