The 1996 cricket fiesta reached its quarterfinals with eight teams qualifying for the knockout stage. Unbeaten Sri Lanka, alongside Australia, India and West Indies confirmed their places from Group A. The South Africans, who remained undefeated in Group B, were followed by Pakistan, New Zealand and England. The cricketing giants were preparing for an enthralling showdown in yet another World Cup.
Jayasuriya overwhelms England
England, who were unable to beat a Test nation in their group stage, were up against Sri Lanka for the first quarterfinal at Faisalabad on 9th March. Winning the toss, skipper Atherton elected to bat, hoping for a competitive total against Sri Lanka’s pinch-hitting onslaught. However, wickets at regular intervals restricted English hopes as they ended up scoring 235/8 in 50 overs. Spinners took charge as Muralitharan, Jayasuriya and Dharmasena captured 2 wickets each while Phil DeFreitas reached his maiden ODI fifty, top scoring with 67.
The reply was a little too much as the game was taken away by Jayasuriya’s opening ambush itself. Although Kaluwitharana was dismissed early, Jayasuriya continued his raid especially targeting Illingworth, of whom he cropped four successive boundaries. DeFreitas’ 2 overs cost 32 as Jayasuriya needed only 44 deliveries to forge 82 with 13 fours and 3 massive sixes. By the time he was stumped by Jack Russell, it was certainly ‘game over’ for England. The total stood at 113/2 in 13 overs, virtually halfway to the target. With the initial damage done, rest of the batsmen scored the remaining deficit with 9 overs to spare. England ended their dreadful campaign, failing to qualify for a semi-final for the first time in history.
A heated exchange at Chinnaswamy
A sizzling encounter between India and Pakistan took place in Bangalore. The boiling confrontation drew ardent fans and was expected to be a keenly contested affair. India won the toss and chose to bat as they piled up 287/8. Opener Navjot Sidhu’s 93 earned him the eventual man of the match award. Although they had wickets in hand, the run rate was barely 4.5 and it was Ajay Jadeja’s forgotten cameo of 45 in 25 balls which later proved to be vital. He along with the tail, smashed 51 in the final 3 overs. Waqar Younis who bowled two of those, conceded 40 runs.
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The slow over-rate deducted one over as Pakistan was required to achieve the target in 49. Their openers Saeed Anwar and stand-in-skipper Aamer Sohail gained the upper hand, with a quick-fire, 84-run opening stand. Anwar was dismissed for 48 by Javagal Srinath. But Sohail continued, reaching 55 from 45 with a slashing off Prasad to the boundary while Pakistan were cruising at 113/1 in 15 overs. In the heat of the moment, Prasad’s spleen was nipped when Sohail signaled him to fetch the ball. Prasad came back immediately to bowl out Sohail, who tried to repeat the same shot while the fretful farewell by Prasad erupted the vociferous crowd at Chinnaswamy. The tables were turned as a disturbed Pakistan side lost the plot. Miandad was run out for 38 as it turned out to be a bitter swansong for the veteran who was appearing in his sixth World Cup. India seized the opportunity as Pakistan was restricted to 248/9 giving them a 39-run win.
Lara Dazzles, the favourites bid adieu
South Africa met West Indies at Karachi on 11th March. South Africa, surprisingly omitted Allan Donald from their pace attack to bring in the unconventional spinner Paul Adams. Upon winning the toss, the Windies elected to bat. After Courtney Browne’s departure for 26, Brian Lara joined Chanderpaul to add 138 from 25 overs. Lara’s aggressive play was balanced by Chanderpaul who anchored the other end before falling for 56. Lara continued his sway, scoring a majestic 111 in 94 balls. However, late resurgence forced them to slip from 210/2 to 264/8 as the last ten overs produced just 48 runs.
The South African response was strengthened by Daryll Cullinan and Andrew Hudson’s partnership taking them to 118/1 in 25 overs. Overshadowed by the usual West Indies pace attack, spinner Jimmy Adams made the breakthrough to remove the pair in quick succession. They held on to the edge, grabbing the remaining wickets as the Proteas were all out for 245 in 49.3 overs.
Relentless Waugh propels Australia
On the same day, Australia played against New Zealand in Chennai. Lee Germon won the toss and opted to bat. The 168-run fourth wicket stand between Chirs Harris and Germon saw New Zealand cruising at 200/3 in 33 overs. Germon’s 89 was his first ODI fifty while Harris claimed his first century. Harris’ imposing 130 runs in 124 was ceased with a one-handed catch by Reiffel on the boundary off Shane Warne. Their impressive 286/9 was an uphill task for Australia.
Resorting to their tactics, Germon deployed Depak Patel with the new ball, who sent Taylor for 10. But Mark Waugh with support from newly promoted Warne, lashed his way to another refined century. He was watched by his twin Steve, at the other end, who continued after Mark’s dismissal to see them home in the 48th over with six wickets to spare.
A bitter end to a thrilling game
On 13th March, Eden Gardens hosted the first semi-final between Sri Lanka and India. Stakes were high as an estimated 120,000 passionate fans gathered to witness an exciting encounter. Azharuddin won the toss and elected to field, perhaps to avert another Delhi chase. It was the perfect start for India as both openers Jayasuiya and Kaluwitharana were sent back to the pavilion in the first over. Gurusinghe soon followed but determined Aravinda de Silva and Mahanama began to rebuild the innings. Aravinda rose to the occasion, scoring with ease as he hammered 66 in 47 balls. Although hampered by wickets, Sri Lanka maintained a steady run rate of over 5. After Mahanama retired at 58 following a cramp, Ranatunga and Tillakaratne ensured that Sri Lanka would reach a competitive total of 251/8.
The target was gettable as Tendulkar led the response. With Tendulkar in command, the Indians were in a comfortable position at 98/1 but the turning point of the game came when he was stumped by Kaluwitharana for 65. The shift of momentum took a toll as the Indian batting line up collapsed like a house of cards, leaving them at 120/8 with Jayasuriya taking 3 for 12, two catches and a run out. The infuriated home crowd began to throw bottles and set fire to the seating as the Eden Gardens reached its boiling point. With an impossible 132 needed from 15.5 overs, and only two wickets in hand, referee Clive Lloyd and the officials decided to award the match to Sri Lanka by ‘default’, as further resumption wasn’t possible, making it the only World Cup game to be called off.
A West Indian tragedy at Mohali
On the following day, Australia and West Indies played the remaining semi-final at PCA stadium, Mohali. Batting first, Australia recovered from a strenuous 15/4 to post 207/8. Stuart Law and Michael Bevan spearheaded the recovery by scoring 72 and 69 respectively. A solid reply saw the Windies steaming at 165/2, needing 43 from the last nine overs. But Shane Warne stepped in, to capture 3 quick wickets. Ultimately needing 6 from 5 balls with 2 wickets left; Ambrose was run out while Walsh was bowled by Damien Fleming. It was a stunning 5-run win for the Australians, partly due to the needless panic by West Indies.
Aravinda delights, an island rejoice
The two finalists graced Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore on 17th March as the scarcely-rated Sri Lankans faced the much-fancied powerhouse from Australia. Arjuna Ranatunga won the toss and decided to field first, hoping for early swing and considering the recent successful run-chases by his batsmen. It brought on much debate as no team had won a World Cup final batting second. The start by skipper Mark Taylor and Mark Waugh was impeded at 36 when danger-man Waugh was caught at square-leg by Jayasuriya. But Ponting joined Taylor to cut the mustard with a 101-run stand, taking them to 137 by 27 overs. Taylor was dismissed for a well-made 74 following an attempted sweep off de Silva’s spin, while Ponting too returned after his stumps were rattled by de Silva for 45. With two fresh batsmen in, the Sri Lankan spinners launched their grip on the game. Boundaries dried up, as the scoreboard which read 110/1 after 20 overs, was reduced to 178/5 at the end of 40 overs. However, Bevan and Law’s late defiance kicked in, taking them to 241/7 in 50 overs.
In the second essay, the Aussies took the early charge as the pinch-hitting duo perished in quick time. Jayasuriya, who was already named the player of the tournament, was marginally run-out while Kaluwitharana was dismissed by Fleming for 6. But that was seemingly the end of Aussie dominance as Aravinda de Silva joined Asanka Gurusinghe to turn the game around. With the dew playing a crucial role, the pair exploited the conditions. Gurusinghe was dropped on 53 at mid-wicket. Two further catches were also missed. Aravinda’s delightful drives were reinforced by Gurusinghe’s ‘flat batting sensation’, which included a six off Warne’s bowling. Gurusinghe departed for 65 while the deputy was joined by Ranatunga, who continued the assault with the pendulum having already swung in Sri Lanka’s favour. Needing 51 from the last ten, the little ‘Sri Lankans’ were all guns blazing. Aravinda, who came in at an onerous position, finally reached a well-deserved century. The 7-wicket victory was sealed in the 47th over as the skipper himself scored the winning runs with a late cut to the third-man boundary off McGrath. It was a glorious triumph as the Sri Lankans were crowned world champions, merely 14 years after playing their first Test match. Aravinda de Silva, who dominated the finals with 3 wickets, two catches and an unbeaten 107, was named man of the match.
Skipper Ranatunga received the Wills Trophy from the hands of late Pakistani Premier Benazir Bhutto before hoisting it to the Lahore night sky, not only bringing momentous rejoice to a beautiful island nation, but also making a strong statement in the world of cricket.