Only six teams have featured in all World Cups since the tournament’s inception in 1975 and Sri Lanka is one of them. The team has played 80 games in World Cups since their first encounter against West Indies at Old Trafford and won 38 and lost 39.
Two games had ended in no results while one game was a tie – of course the famous match in Durban that sealed South Africa’s fate and cost Shaun Pollock, one of nicest men in cricket, his job.
Sri Lanka’s numbers may be not as great as Australia’s who have an enviable record having won 69 of their 94 World Cup games. They are the tournament’s most successful team as well having won the title a record five times. Sri Lanka’s poor numbers is due to the fact that during the early days they struggled to complete but since 1992 have found their feet in the big stage having won the title once and ended runners-up twice.
But their beauty has been always to punch above their weight.
After years of struggle to gain Test status, a strong message was sent in 1979 when Anura Tennakoon’s side beat a star-studded Indian team at Old Trafford and prior to that in the 1975 edition had given the Aussies a scare at The Oval.
The 1983 tournament although Sri Lanka won just one game, they competed well and lost close encounters and bit more experience would have helped them to cross the line.
The following tournament in 1987 was a disaster although Sri Lanka were expected to do well with the World Cup moving out to India and Pakistan. They lost all six games in the tournament and following the event, the team was restructured.
Sri Lanka first showcased that they were a force to be reckoned with in the 1992 edition where they had a decent campaign and scripted two famous wins. Their first ever encounter against South Africa, who were returning from apartheid was in this tournament and Aravinda de Silva’s side won a low scoring thriller.
The game against Zimbabwe was the complete opposite as Sri Lanka became the first team in the world to successfully chase down a target of over 300.
Soon the team was trying out new things and pinch-hitting had come to the fore by 1996. Although Rumesh Kaluwitharana wasn’t as ferocious as Sanath Jayasuriya, the pair left a telling impact and Jayasuriya fittingly was named Player of the Series and won an Audi A4.
Although Sri Lanka’s batting was formidable, their bowling lacked depth. The team’s superior fielding standards, as good as that of Australia and South Africa at that point, helped mask the bowling deficiencies. The team also had several all-rounders who could chip in with a few overs.
Aravinda de Silva reserved his best to the knockout stages and showcased his class knocking out India and Australia. Sri Lanka were World Champions.
The defending champions’ campaign in England in 1999 was disastrous. The team was carrying too many ageing players and the spin bowling options were far too many and it backfired in early English conditions. More than the bowling, the batting was a huge let down as Sri Lanka crashed out of the first round.
Although Sri Lanka had adopted an aggressive youth policy after the poor campaign in 1999, they recalled veterans Hashan Tillakaratne and Aravinda de Silva and the team did well to reach the semi-finals in 2003.
By 2007, Sri Lanka’s bowling looked formidable with Lasith Malinga joining forces with veteran Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan and they went onto reach the finals before losing to the competition’s best team – Australia.
The consistency was again there in 2011 as the team reached the finals but failed to deliver the knockout punch against India. A lot of people get carried away with conspiracy theories but conveniently forget that India were the better team in the competition. They had beaten Australia in the quarters and Pakistani in the semis. Whom did Sri Lanka beat? England and New Zealand in the knockouts.
The campaign in 2015 was hugely disappointing for the main reason that the team had cruised along playing fantastically well but in the quarter-final they flopped – that too against South Africa. For a change the wrong team chocked that night in Sydney. What was unbelievable was Sri Lanka gifting away a hat-trick to part-time spinner J.P. Duminy.
Several seniors had signed off after the 2015 event and Sri Lanka were in transition. That transition took a while and they did mess up the team selection a bit picking up players who were never part of the World Cup plans for the 2019 campaign. Despite all the drama and mayhem, the team did reasonably well winning three games while two of their games were washed out.
What’s in store for them in 2023 campaign will be known by next week.