17th March 1996. A new world champion nation was born. The small island Sri Lanka won their maiden ICC Cricket World Cup by beating Australia in the final at Lahore’s Gaddafi stadium. It took them just 14 years to win the world cup after getting the test status in 1982 and the entire country was ecstatic.
It was a thoroughly dominant performance by the Sri Lankan team in the tournament. They masterminded the formula of utilizing the fielding restriction in first 15 overs with the dynamic opening duo of Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana. They had a strong middle order including the ‘madmax’ Aravinda de Silva and Captain Arjuna Ranatunga. In Dav Whatmore, they had an innovative coach and it showed in their strategies. Although there were helps as Australia and West Indies refused to travel to Sri Lanka for the political tension and the threats of LTTE, and those two matches were forfeited by them in Sri Lanka’s favour. They beat Zimbabwe and Kenya easily in their country and also beat India at Feroz Shah Kotla by six wickets. The fearless hitting by Jayasuriya became the talking point of the tournament.
They continued their good showing from the group stage to beat England in the quarter-final. Jayasuriya scored a 44-ball 82 and the target of 236 was chased in 40 overs. Their semi-final win over India at Eden Gardens was a memorable affair. They lost both their openers in the first over and were soon 35-3. But their lower middle order contributed and led by de Silva’s 66, they put up 251. After a decent start, Indians crumbled once Sachin Tendulkar was out. From 98 for one they collapsed to 120 for eight and then the match abandoned due to the crowd. The unhappy Eden Gardens crowd started throwing bottles and other objects in the ground and the match was awarded to Sri Lanka.
Finally, Sri Lanka and Australia met each other in the final. Till then no team had ever won a world cup final batting second. But Sri Lankans that year was in a mood to rewrite history. Australia put up a score of 241 with primary contribution from Captain Mark Taylor and young Ricky Ponting. Another failure of the openers was over-shadowed by the majestic 107 scored by Aravinda de Silva. Earlier in the day, he took three wickets and two catches and although the winning runs were scored by Captain Arjuna there was little doubt over who would be the Man of the match in that beautiful night for Sri Lankan cricket.