1996 World Cup: Sri Lanka on top of the world

The margins of wins in the knockout are a testimony to Sri Lanka’s superiority in the sixth World Cup.

The day was clearly Aravinda de Silva’s with drives on the rise and the various other standout strokes he played. Aravinda vs Australia it was.   -  V. V. Krishnan

They must be just about recovering from the partying in Colombo in what must have been the longest and merriest party of a lifetime. But isn’t it just lovely that so many should have been so gladdened by the deeds of their cricket team that has scaled the Mount Everest of limited-overs cricket?

It is an amazing turnaround from what the Sri Lankans were just two years ago when they were losing to all and sundry. To beat the world and win the World Cup without dropping a match is simply the most outstanding performance since the heyday of the West Indians in the ’70s.

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The margins of wins in the knockout are a testimony to how superior Arjuna Ranatunga’s men were in the sixth World Cup. They pulverised the English, scoring their runs at will, bludgeoned the Indians into a tame surrender by bowling their spin effectively on a wearing pitch after recovering from early batting disaster, and then downed the Australians.

There could not have been a more comprehensive statement of superiority than to win this difficult World Cup knockout of three matches, including their first-ever quarterfinals. This is another of cricket’s fairy tales, a re-run of the Cinderella story where the neglected stepdaughter is magically converted into a princess.

Mark Taylor may have believed he had been given a gift when asked to take strike in the final. And he batted well enough to believe he may have set up the launching pad for a score in the region of 300. Such a total was certainly possible. This is where Ranatunga’s captaincy made all the difference. His handling of the middle overs was the finest piece of tactical captaincy seen in a long time.

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Only three boundary hits in the last 26 overs after that brilliant start are ample reflection of how the momentum had been checked by the bowling and the captaincy.

Of course, the day was clearly Aravinda de Silva’s with drives on the rise and the various other standout strokes he played – Aravinda vs Australia it was. There was a definitive dedication to this innings which made it different from the free-flowing effort at the Eden Gardens. He permitted himself no wild swings at the ball.

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There was no risk to be taken other than in some uncoordinated running between the wickets, which is standard practice when Asanka Gurusinha is one of the partners. The two may have soon realised that the only threat to their existence in the middle was the sharp single rather than the bowling although the Aussies helped by putting down Gurusinha.

How do you bowl to someone like Aravinda when he is perfectly capable of driving the good-length ball on the rise through the covers, block the next ball on the same line and then take the next one and ease it pass mid-on?

It may have taken a while for the greatness of the team’s achievement to sink in. No World Cup can be won by sheer hard work, sheer brilliance or just sheer luck. You need a combination of the three and the Lankans can boast of the fact that they had the magic formula working for them from the very beginning of the World Cup though they were shunned early on when the Aussies and the West Indians refused to play ball. The only major team they did not beat, on the field or even technically, in the World Cup was South Africa. Such was the momentum the Sri Lankans had attained that I doubt even the dedicated South Africans would have withstood this batting force from the emerald island. They reigned supreme.

Edited excerpts from The Sportstar, March 30, 1996.