Aravinda de Silva was Man of the Match in the World Cup final having scored an unbeaten 107. He had also taken three wickets and two catches in the final.
Late Tony Greig’s words on television with Sri Lanka one stroke away from their greatest moment in sporting history will live in memories for ever. “It’s only a small place Sri Lanka. But they have come a long way…” It was on a day like this, 17th March 1996, Sri Lanka were crowned World Champions beating Australia in the final in Lahore.
They had been in the big league only for 14 years having become Full Members of the ICC in 1982. Having overcome numerous hardships over a decade and half, in Lahore they created history. They beat numerous odds as well. Until then, no team had won a World Cup final chasing and no host nation had won the trophy.
Australia were firm favourites to win the title. But the Sri Lankans had momentum behind them and were street smart. Throughout their campaign, they were brave and fortune certainly favoured the brave.
Jubilant Sri Lankan players on the field moments after captain Arjuna Ranatunga scored the winning runs to win the ICC Cricket World Cup.
Arjuna Ranatunga’s side played the first 15 overs like the last and teams had little time to counter the onslaught of Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana. When they failed in the semis and finals, the brilliance of Aravinda de Silva rescued them – a back to the wall half-century in the semis and a classy unbeaten hundred in the finals. The team’s batting was so strong with Roshan Mahanama slotted at number seven and the likes of Chaminda Vaas and Kumar Dharmasena chipped in with valuable contributions at number eight and nine.
Their bowling wasn’t the greatest in the competition but the exceptional fielding compensated for this deficency. Australia spilled a few chances in the final and Sri Lanka grabbed them all. Clive Lloyd, a man who had won the World Cup twice, summed it up all when he said, ‘Catches win matches’.
Australia along with the West Indies had boycotted their group games in Colombo pointing out security reasons. The Central Bank bombing a fortnight before the competition had killed over 100 people and crippled the economy.
Arjuna Ranatunga receives the World Cup trophy from Prime Minister Benezir Bhutto.
Sri Lanka were told that they had to play the two games in India or give up points. But their versatile Board Chairman Ana Punchihewa and late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar fought tooth and nail to ensure there was fair-play. It also helped that the head of PILCOM – the organizing arm of the World Cup – was a loyal friend – Jagmohan Dalmiya.
Here was a team that had peaked at the right time. It helped that Dav Whatmore had arrived as Head Coach and he had placed a high premium on fitness and through Alex Kontouri helped raise fitness standards of players. Then there was of course Duleep Mendis, the nation’s first cricketing hero who was splendid in his dual role as Manager cum Chairman of Selectors.
This day will be remembered by all Sri Lankans for a long time to come. Team work had led to dream work.