25 years ago on March 17th Sri Lanka captured the coveted cricket world cup title for the first time .It exuded aura of invincibility as few teams ever did like a great emperor annexing territory after territory. A red letter day was written in cricket with an underdog triumphing for the 2nd time. We must salute them for binding or knitting their untapped talent into a world conquering unit. Above all they took cricketing artistry to its helm. Sri Lankan cricket had come off age .A new script was written in history. It gave glimpses or flashes of its great talent in Sharjah in 1995 when it overpowered Pakistan and West Indies and coming within touching distance of beating Australia in the triangular tournament of 1995-96.Without doubt they started as the dark horses. For one I fancied Sri lanka with their dynamic aggressive attitude and spirit propelling them. Earlier Srilanka was infused with a bunch of talented individuals who on their day could reveal cricketing prowess in divine proportions with players like Roy Dias ,Ratnayake or Duleep Mendis..However it could not make an impact as a collective unit.
Aravinda De’Silva was technical perfection and style personified,Jayasuriya re-defined cricketing trends blasting all guns or striking thunder and lightning from the word go while Arjuna Ranatunga was the ultimate epitome of great leadership. I don’t have a word to do justice to the flourish De Silva and Jayasuriya displayed or the partnership between Ranatunga and Aravinda in the final.Jayasuriya resembled a circus acrobat or magician when tearing the bowling apart while Aravinda took artistry to regions of the sublime. I can’t forget De ‘Silva’s 66 on bad wicket a Kolkata in the semi-final performing major repair job ,literally stitching the wound at its gravest area. In the final he blended batting domination and craftsmanship as very few have done in a world cup, like a surgeon and poet moulded into one. The Lankans displayed their nerves recovering from a mini-crisis in the semi-final and final.No skipper ever rallied his troops in a world cup as Aravinda who revealed tactical prowess in regions of the sublime. I apologise if being unjust but I do not think that even Clive Lloyd or Imran Khan marshalled their forces as well, tactically. To me on the day of the final Sri Lanka could have given a run for their money to the best Australian and West Indies teams that won the world cup. Few teams ever posessed as much ammunition to create impact of an inferno or displayed cricketing spirit at such a height.
In Asian conditions its magnitude of invincibility from 1996-98 was comparable to the best ODI sides ever. They resembled pack of tigers coming out of an ambush with pugnacity that was very hard to be rivalled. On many an occasion they recovered from the depths of despair to pull of stunning victories.Former cricketing great Ian Chappell classed Sri Lanka with the best ODI teams ever in 1998.Till then I saw no team as Clinical as Sri Lanka in a world cup run chase. Few teams were better balanced if you consider the batting depth, allrounders in the team and versatility of the bowling attack. In world cup history I never witnessed a team going about its business in the manner of Sri Lanka who from the very word go of their innings would send t tremors in the camp of the opponents.
Sadly rarely have Sri Lanka resurrected their 1996 triumph even if they have in junctures given flashes or glimpses of it. The Sri lankan team in 2001 in Sharjah arguably was even better, while in 2007 and 2011 they came within touching distance of winning the title. Arguably Sri Lanka never had a skipper with the ability to galvanise his troops as much as Arjuna Ranatunga or whose tactical genius could propel many a famous victory. I maintain that in summer of 2006 and winter of 2001 they came close to invincibility.
What would go against Sri Lanka in 1996 being rated amongst the best ODI sides ever was that they were not so successful away in tournaments like Pakistan or India. Arguably it was also blessed by the fortune of not having any opposition before the quarter finals because of the boycott of teams to play in Sri Lanka.The toss played a crucial factor on a broken wicket in the semi-final at Kolktaa when India had to chase.Sri Lanka were also fortunate not to play South Africa, who may have been the bets team of the tournament. Still it is ironic that Sri Lanka became the 1st home team ever to capture the coveted title. It also did convincingly beat India in a group game at Delhi. In most clinical fashion it chased down the target India set them of 271.
Neverthless let us not take anything away from the untold glory Sri Lanka achieved. It must be noted that Sri Lanka was the first team ever to win a world cup final chasing a target as well as the first home team to triumph.
In the history of the world cup I had never seen a full strength English bowling attack broken to pieces as by Sri Lanka in the quarter final.
I feel that Aravinda De ‘Silva’s precious 66 in the semi-final against India was the innings of the world cup. Scored of a mere 47 balls,Aravinda took bating skill on a bad track to regions rarely traversed ,like a musical composer and technician blended into one. In few semi-finals have teams batting first ressurected from dire straits as the Lankans did in 1996, on a difficult wicket
The counter assault of Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda De’Silva in the final at Lahore against Australia will flash in my memories forever .The sheer trampling of opposition in sport was rarely seen in a final, displaying temperament at its ultimate height. It possessed every ingredient of what made cricket beautiful-be it power, entertainment or grace.Sri Lanka were in trouble at 23-2 and the Aussies looked favourites. However that day Sri Lanka took was as clinical as a surgeon performing an operation and at every juncture played in tune with the situation. The pair was reminiscent of an army setting up a base from which it could unleash a final blitzkreig. De’Silva’s rampage on Mark Waugh with ten overs to go and Ranatunga’s rattling of Shane Warne virtually gave the final knockout punch or mortal blow to Australia and the rest was merely an icing on the cake. It was a glorious sight witnessing Ranatunga coming down the wicket to execute a straight drive of Warne.Desilva hit the final nails in the coffin with a delicate leg-glance and imperial cover drive. In no final have I seen victory achieved with such finesse in a run chase and never seen a powerful side in a world cup till then like Australia ,treated with such sheer disdain. David was literally toppled by Goliath that day.I just cannot forget the jubilation or ecstasy of Ranatunga and De’Silva on climbing the final summit. Rarely had a powerful side received such a battering in a world cup final as Australia did in 1996 ,as though the opponents went out to teach them a lesson.
It must be noted that Sri Lanka was the first team ever to win a world cup final chasing a target. In few semi-finals have teams batting first ressurected from dire straits as the Lankans did in 1996, on a difficult wicket.In the history of the world cup I had never seen a full strength English bowling attack broken to pieces as by Sri Lanka in the quarter final. I feel that Aravinda De ‘Silva’s precious 66 was the innings of the world cup. Scored of a mere 47 balls,Aravinda took bating skill on a bad track to regions rarely traversed ,like a musical composer and technician blended into one.
Sri Lanka more than proved that the ODI game or World cup was not just about sheer class but about the ‘X ‘factor and star quality to lift your game to the optimum point. Ironically it is 25 years since a dark horse won a world cup.Sri Lanka more than proved how unpredictable ODI or World Cup cricket was championing the cause of the dark horses.
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist.Toured India,particularly Punjab .Written on Mass movements ,,Massline,Maoism on blogs like Democracy and Class Struggle and frontierweekly. An avid cricket lover too who has posted writings on blogs like Pakpassion Indian Cricket Fans and Sulekha.com Emailfirstname.lastname@example.org