Aravinda de Silva made his 181st ODI for Sri Lanka one for posterity. It was against all odds that the dapper Sri Lankan right-hander fashioned a remarkable World Cup winning knock of an unconquered 107 (124 balls, 13 fours) against Mark Taylor’s Australia at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on March 17, 1996. He had rolled his arm earlier and taken the wickets of Taylor, Ricky Ponting and Ian Healy for impressive figures of three for 42 in nine overs.
It was a confident and stylish de Silva on view for nearly three hours after Sanath Jayasuriya was run out for nine and Romesh Kaluwitharana was dismissed by Damien Fleming. From a dire-looking 23 for two, Sri Lanka went on to crush Australia by seven wickets with 22 balls remaining. It was a supreme show by de Silva after Arjuna Ranatunga chose to chase a target in spite of knowing well that the previous five winners had all batted first.
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Sri Lanka began the competition without playing Australia in the first league match in Colombo on February 17. Taylor’s team did not travel to Sri Lanka because a bomb blast had killed 80 people on January 31 in Colombo. The West Indies too did not visit Sri Lanka a week later. Sri Lanka gained four points because of no-shows by Australia and the West Indies and then scored wins against Zimbabwe and Kenya in the remaining two home matches played in Colombo and Kandy.
Sri Lanka sprang a surprise on India in Delhi and England in Faisalabad. Thereafter, it knocked out India in the semifinal on a turning track at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata. And one of the stars of Sri Lanka’s smooth sailing into the final was de Silva. He made 91 against Zimbabwe, 145 against Kenya, 31 against England and 66 in the semifinals against India.
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Aravinda’s 107 not out was a masterpiece that vindicated Ranatunga’s confidence in his batting line-up against an Australian attack of Glenn McGrath, Damien Fleming, Shane Warne, Paul Reiffel and the Waughs — Steve and Mark.
Sri Lanka needed someone to support de Silva in the initial rescue act and Asanka Gurusinha took upon himself this vital role, making 65 off 99 balls with half a dozen fours and a six. The previous World Cup-winning captain Imran Khan attributed Sri Lanka’s victory to the experience Ranatunga’s team had.