When Sri Lanka killed two birds with one stone | Sunday Observer

When Sri Lanka killed two birds with one stone

Sri Lanka’s cricketers celebrate winning the World Cup by beating Australia
Sri Lanka’s cricketers celebrate winning the World Cup by beating Australia

Much has been written about Sri Lanka winning the 1996 Cricket World Cup. But what has not being highlighted is the fact that when it did happen it marked two unprecedented occasions.

The first was that a host country or co-host bagged the trophy when Sri Lanka skipper Arjuna Ranatunga stood on the podium with the prize in Lahore, Pakistan. The second landmark was that it marked the first time that the team batting second won the prize after the previous five champions West Indies (1975 and 1979), India (1983), Australia (1987) and Pakistan (1992) won by defending their totals.

The 1996 Cricket World Cup, also called the Wills World Cup 1996 after its official sponsors, ITC's Wills brand, was the sixth Cricket World Cup, organised by the International Cricket Council (ICC). It was the second World Cup to be hosted by Pakistan and India and for the first time by Sri Lanka.

The tournament was won by Sri Lanka led by Arjuna Ranatunga, who defeated Australia in the final  by seven wickets (with 22 balls remaining)  at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Pakistan. It was where Aravinda de Silva became the player of the match and the player of the series was Sanath Jayasuriya.  The match was played on March 17, 1996, with Steve Bucknor and David Shepherd as umpires for a crowd of  62,645 spectators.

India hosted 17 matches in as many venues while Pakistan hosted 16 matches at six venues and Sri Lanka was the host for four matches at three venues.

Controversy dogged the tournament before any games were played with Australia and the West Indies refusing to send their teams to Sri Lanka following the bombing of the Central Bank in Colombo by the LTTE in January 1996. Sri Lanka, in addition to offering maximum security to the teams, questioned the validity of citing security concerns when the International Cricket Council had determined it was safe.

After extensive negotiations, the ICC ruled that Sri Lanka would be awarded both games on forfeit. As a result of this decision, Sri Lanka had to beat only Kenya and Zimbabwe to qualify for the quarter-final. In the final Australia scored 241/7 in 50 overs and in reply Sri Lanka made 245 for 3 in 46.2 overs.

This was the 1996 ICC Cricket World Cup final, the sixth installment of the ICC Cricket World Cup since its inception in 1975 in England. It was Australia's third World Cup final appearance after their win in the 1987 edition and the loss to West Indies in the 1975 ICC Cricket World Cup final. Sri Lanka  were  the  first  country to win a World Cup final batting second. The United Arab Emirates, Netherlands and Kenya were the new entrants.

Two matches were scheduled to be played at  the R. Premadasa Stadium, but neither took place as Australia and the West Indies declined to play in Sri Lanka. One match was played at the SSC ground and the other at Trinity College ground Asgiriya.

All the Test-playing nations participated in the competition, including Zimbabwe who became the ninth Test-status member of the ICC following the last World Cup. The three Associate teams (previously one) to qualify through the 1994 ICC Trophy – the United Arab Emirates, Kenya and the Netherlands – also made their World Cup debuts in 1996.

In this final Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga won the toss and sent Australia out to bat. After a blazing start from captain Mark Taylor and young superstar and future captain Ricky Ponting, Australia fell from being 137 for 1 to 170 for 5 after which Sri Lanka's four pronged spin attack of Muttiah Muralideran, Kumara Dharmasena, Aravinda de Silva and Sanath Jayasuriya took its toll.

After Australia limped to 241 for 7 in its quota of 50 overs, Sri Lanka overcame a nervous start where they lost both openers before the score was 30, to win in 45 overs. Sri Lankan batting sensation Aravinda de Silva played a match-winning knock of 107 not out and was assisted ably by fellow veterans Asanka Gurusinha (65) and captain Ranatunga (47 not out). De Silva was named man of the match after he had taken 3–42 in his 10 overs earlier in the Australian innings as well while Sanath Jayasuriya got the man of the series award.

The Sri Lankans, coached by Dav Whatmore used  Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana as opening batsmen to take advantage of the fielding restrictions during the first 15 overs of each innings. At a time when 50 or 60 runs in the first 15 overs was considered adequate, Sri Lanka scored 117 runs in those overs against India, 123 against Kenya, 121 against England in the quarter-final and 86 against India in the semi-final. Against Kenya for which team this writer was the Liaison Officer, Sri Lanka made 398 for 5, a new record for the highest team score in a One Day International that stood until April 2006. 

Gary Kirsten scored 188 not out against the United Arab Emirates at Rawalpindi, Pakistan. This became the highest individual score ever in any World Cup match until it was surpassed by Chris Gayle (215) of the West Indies and New Zealand's Martin Guptill (237) in the 2015 Cricket World Cup.

Sri Lanka won the first semi-final over India at Eden Gardens in Calcutta, in front of a crowd unofficially estimated at 110,000. Chasing Sri Lanka's innings of 251 for 8, India had slumped to 120 for 8 in the 35th over when sections of the crowd began to throw fruit and plastic bottles onto the field. The players left the field for 20 minutes in an attempt to quieten the crowd. When the players returned for play, more bottles were thrown onto the field and fires were lit in the stands. Match referee Clive Lloyd awarded the match to Sri Lanka, the first default ever in a Test or One Day International.

In the second semi-final in Mohali, Australia recovered from 15 for 4 to reach 207 for 8 from their 50 overs. The West Indians had reached 165 for 2 in the 42nd over before losing their last eight wickets for 37 runs in 50 balls.

Sri Lanka won the toss in the final and sent Australia in to bat despite the team batting first having won all five previous World Cup finals. Mark Taylor top scored with 74 in Australia's total of 241 for 7. Sri Lanka won the match in the 47th over with Aravinda de Silva following his 3 for 42 with an unbeaten 107 . It was the first time a tournament host or co-host had won the cricket World Cup.

The Sri Lanka  squad -  Arjuna Ranatunga (captain),  Aravinda de Silva (vice captain),  Upul Chandana, Marvan Atapattu, Kumara Dharmasena, Asanka Gurusinha, Romesh Kaluwitharana (wk), Sanath Jayasuriya, Roshan Mahanama, Muttiah Muralideran, Ravindra Pushpakumara, Hashan Tillakaratne, Chaminda Vaas, Pramodya Wickramasinghe