World Cup 1996: Sri Lanka’s Moment Of Glory After Politics Interfere With Cricket

World Cup 1996 saw the ugly head of terrorism and politics rearing up, with teams refusing to travel to SL, giving security as their excuse

World Cup 1996: Sri Lanka’s Moment In The After Politics Interfere With Cricket

World Cup 1996 (credit: Twitter)

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THE 1996 ICC World Cup, the Wills World Cup, saw many a new thing, including three hosts instead of the usual two. It however also saw the ugly head of terrorism and politics rearing up, with teams refusing to travel to Sri Lanka to play their matches, giving security as their excuse. This is where the tournament was different from any other before this since political unrest and its fallout had not been experienced by cricket till now, barring the Apartheid regime in South Africa. With India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka hosting the tournament, many of the power corridors of the sport, in Australia and elsewhere, tried to use their muscle to get things going their way, but it all fell into shape rather dramatically for Sri Lanka.

Australia and the West Indies refused to play in Sri Lanka in the tournament between February 14 and March 17, after some bomb blasts in the capital Colombo in January. Efforts to make them change their minds were all in vain.

Nevertheless, the International Cricket Council (ICC) was firm in not rescheduling the games and Sri Lanka got full points for both games with walkovers. Something that was to their benefit in the long run.

The tournament also saw the maximum number of teams participating, with the nine Test-playing nations being joined by three associate members in Kenya, the Netherlands, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Sri Lanka, with four points from two forfeits, were almost through to the quarter-finals even before stepping onto the ground. However, even in the other games, they found ways to surprise their rivals.

Call it indignation at being slighted by Australia or the West Indies, or the brilliant tactical acumen of coach Dav Whatmore, Sri Lanka were on another level.

The plan to use Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana as pinch-hitters at the top of the order bore rich fruit.

Their first ‘real’ match was Zimbabwe, which they won, and then they met India at New Delhi. Though the latter scored 271/3 off 50 overs, thanks to a run-a-ball 137 by Sachin Tendulkar and 72 not out from skipper Mohammad Azharuddin, Sri Lanka’s plan worked to perfection. Jayasuriya scored 79 off 76 balls and Kaluwitharana added 26 off 16 before Asanka Gurusinha, captain Arjuna Ranatunga and Hashan Tillekeratne sealed off a fine win.

Sri Lanka Then Crushed Kenya To Top The Group

Getting into the quarter-finals was not a great feat this year. All the teams had to do was to win two games. Everyone beat the UAE and Netherlands and four sides including India and Sri Lanka entered the quarter-finals.

India Stop Pakistan Again

India met Pakistan there, with India winning the Bangalore match by 39 runs. Navjot Singh Sidhu scored 93 and everyone chipped in as India scored 287/8 and Venkatesh Prasad and Anil Kumble claimed three wickets each as Pakistan were restricted to 248/9 off 49 overs.

Sri Lanka were not bothered too much by England and duly entered the semi-finals, where they met India, at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata.

Fire At Eden

Despite Azharuddin’s disastrous decision to field first on a breaking Eden pitch, India began sensationally, with Javagal Srinath dismissing Jayasuriya, Kaluwitharana, and Gurusinha, with the first two wickets falling with the score at just one run.

But the inimitable Aravinda de Silva, Roshan Mahanama, Ranatunga, and Tillekeratne came good and Chaminda Vaas used the long handle effectively as the visitors ended at 251/8.

India never got off the ground on the crumbling pitch and though Tendulkar got 65, it was a wasted effort as India were reduced to 120/8.

The Eden crowd was unforgiving and flames were seen in the stands as the anger boiled over. The match was halted and subsequently, Sri Lanka won by default, Vinod Kambli’s tears as he walked off being a stark reflection of India’s dismay.


The final, ironically, brought Sri Lanka face to face with Australia, who had snubbed him at the beginning of the tournament. The islanders had not forgotten and they made Australia pay.

The Aussies batted first at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore and Mark Taylor (74), Ricky Ponting (45) and Michael Bevan (36 not out) got some runs but the Sri Lankan spinners, especially the innocuous off-spin of De Silva, were deadly. All Australia got was 241/7.

Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana left early again by De Silva was in supreme form, carving out 107 not out, while Gurusinha (65) and Ranatunga (47 not out) made sure that the Sri Lankans had vengeance and also the World Cup.

It was quite a sensational achievement for the Sri Lankans and their cause was vindicated, in one of the most dramatic World Cups ever.

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