Arjuna Ranatunga led Sri Lanka brilliantly as they defeated Australia in the 1996 World Cup final to win the tournament for the first time. (Image credit: Twitter)
The 1996 World Cup witnessed India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka playing hosts to the World Cup. India and Pakistan had already experienced hosting the 1987 World Cup but there was plenty of excitement with the announcement of Sri Lanka as the third host. However, there was a concern before the tournament when a bomb blast killed 100 people in Colombo. There were concerns that Sri Lanka might lose the opportunity to host the tournament. However, Jagmohan Dalmiya, the-then BCCI president, formed a team and headed the PILCOM (Pakistan, India and Lanka Committee for the World Cup) to show that security was good in Sri Lanka. The combined India-Pakistan team played against Sri Lanka in Colombo and reiterated that the situation was good. Despite that, Australia and West Indies refused to travel to Sri Lanka and their matches were forfeited.
In the entire tournament, no team played consistently except Sri Lanka. India lost to Australia in Mumbai despite Sachin Tendulkar’s brilliant 90 and they were blown away by a Sanath Jayasuriya blitz in New Delhi, despite Tendulkar’s magnificent 137. Sri Lanka, headed by Arjuna Ranatunga, rode the wave and buoyed by the brilliance of Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana at the top and Aravinda de Silva in the middle order, Sri Lanka roared into the playoffs for the first time.
South Africa, who had played brilliantly in the league stages, were eliminated by the West Indies while England was knocked out by Sri Lanka in Faisalabad thanks to Jayasuriya’s magnificent 88. Australia knocked New Zealand out while India got the better of their arch-rivals Pakistan, a match made memorable by Venkatesh Prasad getting rid of Aamer Sohail after the batsman had engaged in a confrontation.
Australia held their nerve in the first semi-final as West Indies collapsed in dramatic fashion to lose by five runs in the semi-final in Mohali. However, the second semi-final witnessed heartbreak. India had taken three quick wickets but Aravinda de Silva’s 66 and a splendid knock from Roshan Mahanama helped Sri Lanka reach 251/8. In response, Tendulkar got off to a flier and raced away to 65 when he overbalanced and was stumped by Kaluwitharana off Jayasuriya. India lost seven wickets for 22 runs and the Kolkata crowd could not take it.
The crowd hurled bottles and set the stands on fire as the match was awarded to Sri Lanka with India bowing out in dire circumstances. In the final between Australia and Sri Lanka at Lahore, Sri Lanka bowled with discipline with Aravinda taking 3/42. Mark Taylor’s 74 helped Sri Lanka reach 241/7 and despite losing Kaluwitharana and Jayasuriya cheaply, Aravinda and Asanka Gurusinha ensured there would be no hiccups.
Aravinda and Gurusinha took the attack to the Australian bowlers, in particular to Shane Warne and their 125-run stand put Sri Lanka on course. Ranatunga then led from the front and got Sri Lanka close to the line. Aravinda scored a brilliant century and when Ranatunga guided Glenn McGrath to the third man fence for a boundary, history was created. Sri Lanka won the match by seven wickets and the 1996 World Cup put them on the cricket world map. If Sri Lanka is a force in cricket, it is all due to the exploits of the team in 1996.
Most runs: Sachin Tendulkar of India with 523 runs. Average: 87.16.
Most wickets: Anil Kumble of India with 15 wickets. Average: 18.73
Venues: India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka