Sri Lanka Cricket Team 1996
After playing the 1975 WC as minnows, Sri Lanka became champions in 1996 (AFP Photo)

In the build-up to the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, CricketCountry brings to you the most memorable moments and matches from the tournament over the years – right from its first edition, way back in 1975. With 54 days to go, in our latest World Cup Countdown, we rewind to March 17, 1996 when Sri Lanka created history.

Sri Lanka had marched in style into the final. They were now determined to stop the Australian juggernaut. Captain Arjuna Ranatunga made an auspicious start by winning the toss and inserting the opposition at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.

After Mark Waugh gifted away his wicket by flicking Chaminda Vaas into square-leg Sanath Jayasuriya’s hands, Mark Taylor and Ricky Ponting put things in perspective by adding 101 in 115 balls.

Taylor scored 74 with the help of a six and eight fours before falling to Aravinda de Silva after setting a solid base. The Australian run-rate at the fall of Taylor’s wicket was an impressive — by 1996 standards — 5.22.
However, the pitch underwent a dramatic change in character and started giving copious assistance to the spinners. Ponting, who was batting confidently, was bowled by Aravinda for 45. With his exit, the Australian innings lost momentum. The promoted Shane Warne was stumped off Muttiah Muralitharan.

Aravinda then got into the act to dominate the proceedings. He first took a well-judged catch in the deep to thwart Steve Waugh’s effort to go over the straight field and then took another catch to end Stuart Law’s stay at the wicket. Aravinda then came on to bowl Ian Healy through the gate as the batsman shaped for a drive.

The Australian innings lost its way in the middle overs; they were able to score just 44 between the 25th and 40th overs and just 29 between the 30th and 40th overs.

Thanks to Michael Bevan (36 in 49 balls), Australia were able to score 63 in the last 10 overs to set Sri Lanka a fighting target.

Sri Lanka got into quick trouble when they began their reply. They lost their two turbo-powered openers Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana with just 23 on the board.

The crisis was palpable when Aravinda walked into join one-drop Asanka Gurusinha. Aravinda was brilliant coming into the final with scores of 91, 8, 145, 31 and 66. He had already made his mark as a bowler with figures of 9-0-42-3 and as a fielder.

Aravinda was in command from the very first ball he faced.

The key to the Australians’ fortune on a wicket that afforded copious turn was Shane Warne. But Aravinda destroyed him with clinical precision, throwing him out of the attack and inflicted such a debilitating bowl that the leggie was a shadow of his self.

Warne ended the day with none for 58 in his 10 overs.

Aravinda added 125 runs in 15.2 overs with Gurusinha, who was fortunate to be dropped thrice. But Gurusinha did not allow the reprieves play on his mind as he lost no opportunity to attack the Aussies during his 99-ball 65.

After Gurusinha’s exit, Ranatunga hastened Australia’s doom in his inimitable, wristy ways, remaining unbeaten on 47 (off 37 balls).

Ranatunga added 97 runs with Aravinda for the unbeaten fourth wicket. It was fitting that the two senior pros were in the middle when Sri Lanka scaled their biggest cricketing peak.

He remained unbeaten on 107 and emerged as the man of the final for his exemplary all-round performance.

Twenty-one years after playing the inaugural World Cup in 1975 as minnows, Sri Lanka were now the world champions of the abridged version of the game.

Brief Scores: Australia 241 for 7 in 5 overs (Mark Taylor 74, Ricky Ponting 45, Michael Bevan 36 not out; Aravinda de Silva 3 for 42) lost to Sri Lanka 245 for 3 in 46.2 overs (Asanka Gurusinha 65, Aravinda de Silva 107*, Arjuna Ranatunga 47*) by 7 wickets