Sanath Jayasuriya came into the 1996 World Cup with a batting average of 19.53 from 98 ODIs. Even before he masterminded Sri Lanka to victory in the final, he emerged as the Man of the World Cup and was on his way to becoming one of the greatest all-rounders in overs-limit format. H Natarajan provides an eye-witness account of his sensational 44-ball 82 against England at Faisalabad in that World Cup.
Faisalabad’s Iqbal Stadium, situated in the northern province of Punjab, is not a venue England will fondly remember. On the 1987-88 tour, England captain Mike Gatting got into an ugly, finger-wagging verbal duel with Shakoor Rana, which led to a day’s play being lost and caused immense bad blood.
England were now again in Pakistan, this time for the 1996 World Cup. And this time it was the turn of captain Mike Atherton to get into troubled waters. At a media conference post the Group B game against South Africa, Atherton was unable to comprehend what a Pakistani journalist was asking. He kept answering the reporter to what he understood was the question, and the reporter kept repeating his question as he felt that Atherton what he had asked. After the third failed attempt, Atherton said to nobody in particular: “Will someone get rid of this buffoon?” Jaws dropped in the room at Atherton’s insensitive remark, that too at an official media conference against a mediaperson from the host nation. As UK’s Independent newspaper reported, “In a week when Imran Khan’s out-of-court payment to Mike Gatting [for underestimating the breadth of Gatting's cultural horizons] was widely reported in the newspapers here, it was not a smart thing to say.”
Atherton was taken to cleaners by the world press. It was a needless gaffe which got England much negative publicity. The team now arrived at Faisalabad, for their quarter-final game against Sri Lanka. Atherton won the toss — probably the only thing that went right for him on what was truly an unforgettable day in the annals of World Cup history.
Only all-rounder Phil DeFreitas crossed the half-century mark , as England posted a none-too-challenging total of 235 for eight in 50 overs. Even that total was much bigger in the final analysis, after being 173 for seven at one point. The spin troika of Kumar Dharmasena, Muttiah Muralitharan and Sanath Jayasuriya picked up two wickets apiece to restrict the Englishmen.
The proceedings thus far did not surprise anybody. While the Lankans flew into Pakistan by topping Group A, England would have been grateful for the revised format of the championship that kept their hopes alive. They had the least impressive record of the eight qualifiers, with victories only over minnows Netherlands and United Arab Emirates.
The Sri Lankan opening pair of Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana were already showing the world what a double-barreled attack meant in the games leading into the quarter-final. Before the start of the World Cup, there was concern about the blasts in Colombo. But as the sixth edition of cricket’s quadrennial showpiece unfolded, the only blast that had a devastating effect was the explosive batting of the Sri Lankan batting! Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana showed that the first 15 overs were as much death overs as the last 15, when they scored 43 runs in three overs against India and 50 in four overs against Kenya. It was like an advertisement for a sports car — zero to six in six seconds flat!
Champagne after flat beer
Sanath Jayasuriya’s batting came like champagne after the flat beer served by the English batsmen. The southpaw made another mockery of the overs-limit field restrictions in the first 15 overs, taking aggression to a new level at the Iqbal Stadium.
His blitzkrieg equaled the fastest 50 [off 30 balls] in World Cup history and was within striking distance of antiquating the championship’s fastest hundred [off 72 balls by Kapil Dev in 1983] when he fell for 82, which incredibly came of just 44 balls!
Jayasuriya embarrassed the English think-tank for asking the left-arm spinner Richard Illingworth to open the bowling with Peter Martin. Illingworth went for 17 runs — including four boundaries — in the fourth over of the innings.
Darren Gough then went for 15 in his second over.
Jayasuriya greeted the introduction of DeFreitas with a thump through the covers for his tenth boundary to bring up his World Cup record-equaling half-century. Jayasuriya’s legalised mayhem then mauled DeFreitas in the all-rounder’s second over. The left-hander lofted DeFreitas over long-on for a six, slammed him off the backfoot through the covers for an four, and hoisted one over long-off and on the pavilion roof for another six. He then took two of the next ball and followed it up by flicking the fifth ball to the boundary. The 22 runs that came off the over was just one shy of the costliest over in World Cup.
Just when the stadium was agog with possibility of the fastest-ever hundred in World Cup, he was brilliantly stumped by Jack Russell off Dermot Reeve. Jayasuriya could not capitalise on the good fortunate he enjoyed a ball earlier when he was bowled by Reeve off a no ball. Jayasuriya had contributed 82 runs in Sri Lanka’s total of 113 for two.
To place Jayasuriya’s exploits in perspective, he came into the1996 World Cup with a batting average of 19.53 from 98 ODIs and 71 wickets at 34.73. Everything changed dramatically during the World Cup for him as he went on to become one the greatest, feared and valued all-rounders in the overs-limit format. Such was his batting against England in the quarter-final that it reminded one of Ilie Nastase’s famous quote when Bjorn Borg was at his pomp and driving opponents into despair. Nastate said: “They should send him [Born] to another planet; we play tennis, he plays something else!’
Sri Lanka, who were 193 for three in the 25th over, scored eight runs in the next five overs as Hashan Tillekeratne and Roshan Mahanama used the time and overs to get some invaluable batting practice before the semi-final against India!
England failed to make the semis for the first time in World Cup in six World Cups.
Sri Lanka had slaughtered England in the quarter-final and then buried Indian hopes in acrimonious semis in the Eden Garden, to receive a hero’s welcome in Lahore [the vicarious pleasure for Pakistan was for vanquishing their quarter-final loss to arch-enemy India]. Sir Richard Hadlee’s pre-tournament “dark horses” had galloped in style to make every post a winning post and emerged as one-day cricket’s thoroughbred. Arjuna Ranatunga’s men may well have felt they were playing at home as they beat Australia in the final at Lahore to herald Sri Lanka’s finest hour in international cricket.
Brief scores: England 235 for eight in 50 overs (Phil DeFreitas 67, Dermot Reeve 35; Muttiah Muralitharan 2-37, Kumar Dharmasena 2-30, Sanath Jayasuriya 2-46) lost to Sri Lanka 236 for five in 40.4 overs (Sanath Jayasuriya 82, Asanka Gurusinha 45, Aravinda de Silva 31) by five wickets.
(H Natarajan, formerly All India Deputy Sports Editor of the Indian Express and Senior Editor with Cricinfo/Wisden, is the Executive Editor of CricketCountry.com. A prolific writer, he has written for many of the biggest newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. A great believer in the power of social media, he can be followed on Facebook at facebook.com/H.Natarajan and on Twitter at twitter/hnatarajan)