A pleasant combination of youth and experience

Sri Lankan skipper Arjuna Ranatunga with the World Cup. Among those applauding him is then Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (extreme right).-V.V. KRISHNAN Sri Lankan skipper Arjuna Ranatunga with the World Cup. Among those applauding him is then Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (extreme right).

It was Aravinda's World Cup indeed as he aggregated 448 runs at an average of 89.60 apart from claiming four wickets, including three in the momentous final. He had emulated India's 1983 World Cup hero Mohinder Amarnath by winning the `Man of the Match' honours in the semifinal and the final. Vijay Lokapally reminisces Sri Lanka's success in 1996.

Sri Lanka did not win its first match in the 1996 World Cup because, technically, it never played one. Australia, as did the West Indies later, did not travel to Colombo, citing security reasons, and Sri Lanka got full points without a ball being bowled.

To put it simply, it was recorded that Sri Lanka `won' the match because the opposition backed out.

Fate pitted Sri Lanka against Australia again in the tournament. This time it was the last match of the competition, and Ranatunga needed no extraneous factors to decide the course of the contest. He had Aravinda de Silva to put Australia in its place with an innings that matched Clive Lloyd's sensational century in the 1975 final at Lord's.

The chaotic presentation ceremony at the Gaddafi Stadium was in contrast to the excellent manner in which the World Cup was conducted — India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka backed each other well to put up a grand show. That Sri Lanka won the Cup was an icing on the cake and in keeping with the form and growing reputation of Ranatunga and his band of entertainers.

Australia's capitulation in the final did not surprise the experts who had predicted Sri Lanka's progress. It was an outstanding feat by a team that had a pleasant combination of youth and experience with Ranatunga, Aravinda and Asanka Gurusinha showing the way for Sanath Jayasuriya to decimate the opposition right through the tournament.

Sri Lanka warmed up with a fluent victory over Zimbabwe at SSC, Colombo, with Aravinda smashing 91 to be adjudged `Man of the Match' and Gurusinha chipping in with 87. Jayasuriya was a failure.

Sri Lanka won its next match `quite comfortably' when the West Indies refused to travel to Colombo.

The tournament was 24 matches old when Sri Lanka ran into the host at the Ferozeshah Kotla. Sachin Tendulkar hit a century, Jayasuriya did not, but he helped Sri Lanka win the match with his blazing strokeplay, 79 off 76 balls. In the process the Sri Lankan ended Manoj Prabhakar's career, ironically on the latter's home turf. Sri Lanka was to meet India again but more about it later.

Sri Lanka returned home to play Kenya in serene Kandy. Led by Aravinda's punishing 145 off 115 balls, Sri Lanka amassed 398 and won by 144 runs. This was the last match of the league stage.

next It was England's fate to suffer at the hands of Jayasuriya. At the docile Iqbal Stadium surface in Faisalabad, Jayasuriya launched a blistering assault scoring 82 off a mere 44 balls with 13 fours and three sixes. The Englishmen had no clue as Sri Lanka won by five wickets to set up a semifinal clash with India.

The scoreboard stated Sri Lanka won by default at the Eden Gardens. It had outplayed India and was a clear winner that dark night as Calcutta sullied its image as a great cricket venue. It was a very poor advertisement for the game as crowd disturbances brought the game to a stop.

By opting to field first India placed itself in a difficult spot. Sri Lanka was 85 for four when Aravinda got out. It was a crucial stage but Sri Lanka recovered through Roshan Mahanama, Ranatunga and Hashan Tillakeratne.

A target of 252 proved beyond India's reach as Sri Lanka overcame the resistance of Tendulkar and made the most of the fast deteriorating pitch. Once it became apparent that India would not make it, the spectators showed the ugly side of their character and brought the game to a stop by pelting stones and other objects on the Sri Lankan fielders. Lloyd, the ICC Match Referee, did not waste time in calling off the match and declaring Sri Lanka the winner. At that time India was left stranded at 120 for eight from 34.1 overs with only Vinod Kambli, in tears, believing the home team could still win. It remained nothing but a dream.

The finale was regal indeed. Australia, spearheaded by a fine 74 from skipper Mark Taylor, seemed to have set up a decent total. To make 242 to win against an attack comprising Glenn McGrath, Damien Fleming, Shane Warne, Paul Reiffel and the Waugh brothers was not easy. But then Aravinda had made up his mind to leave his mark in the competition.

Aravinda's 107 not out off 124 balls with 13 fours saw Sri Lanka win by seven wickets, a result none grudged. He had Gurusinha and Ranatunga for company in two handsome partnerships. It was Aravinda's World Cup indeed as he aggregated 448 runs at an average of 89.60 apart from claiming four wickets, including three in the momentous final. He had emulated India's 1983 World Cup hero Mohinder Amarnath by winning the `Man of the Match' honours in the semifinal and the final.