Aravinda de Silva: How we won the ’96 World Cup | Daily News


Man-of-the-Match in the semi-final and final:

Aravinda de Silva: How we won the ’96 World Cup

Great moment for Aravinda de Silva as he celebrates a hundred in a World Cup final
Great moment for Aravinda de Silva as he celebrates a hundred in a World Cup final

When Sri Lanka prepared for the 1996 World Cup in the subcontinent they never dreamt that at the end of the tournament they would be holding the most coveted cricket trophy in their hands.

Even after they got through the group stage no one ever gave Sri Lanka a chance of winning let alone making it to the final. The group stage of course was marred by Australia and West Indies forfeiting their matches against Sri Lanka citing security concerns and refusing to travel to Colombo for their matches. Thus Sri Lanka had the bonus of two wins under their belts without bowling a ball. The three matches they played in the group stage was against Zimbabwe at the SSC ground, India at New Delhi and against Kenya in Kandy – all three of which they won quite comprehensively.

At what point did Sri Lanka think they had a chance of winning the final?

“It is very difficult to say but on hindsight you can say that when we got to the quarter-finals I remember telling Arjuna (Ranatunga) if we get through this quarter-final I am sure we are going to go through and win because that was the pressure point, the knockout stage and, we had never got to that stage before,” recalled Aravinda de Silva one of the stars of the 1996 World Cup triumph.

Sri Lanka took on England in the quarter-finals at Faisalabad and thrashed them by five wickets with plenty to spare.

“That win took a lot of pressure off the team and gave us the opportunity to go out there and do our best. That’s all what we asked everyone to do,” said De Silva.

The semi-final and final saw the best of De Silva who won the Man of the Match awards in both matches. In the semi-final against India at Eden Gardens, Kolkata, De Silva scored a masterly 66 off 47 balls after they were 35-3 to help Sri Lanka to 251-8. India were reduced to 120-8 in 34.1 overs when the crowd erupted and the game was awarded to Sri Lanka who went on to qualify for their first-ever World Cup final.

One man cannot win a match or tournament

From the other side Australia advanced beating West Indies in the semi-final and met Sri Lanka in the final at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on March 17.

De Silva was once again in his element. Before his epoch-making century he had already made an impact in the final during the Australian innings capturing the wickets of captain Mark Taylor, Ricky Ponting and Ian Healy with his gentle off-breaks and holding on to two catches that sent back Steve Waugh and Stuart Law.

When he arrived at the crease in Sri Lanka’s run chase of 242 they had lost both openers Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana for 23. De Silva set about repairing the early damage in a partnership of 125 with Asanka Gurusinha (65) and one of 97 (unbroken) with his captain Arjuna Ranatunga (47 n.o.) that saw them achieving the target in the 47th over and thereby creating history. De Silva’s contribution with the bat was an unbeaten 107 off 124 balls laced with 13 fours.

“Obviously a hundred in a World Cup final is something which I will cherish for the rest of my life. But that 66 in the semi-final against India was crucial for us to get to the final,” recalled De Silva. “At the time when I went in we were two down for nothing basically and I thought okay this is an ideal opportunity. I really love situations like that to go out and take on the opposition. So I went out there and I told myself that I am going to take them on. That’s what happened.”

“We won not because I made runs in the semi-finals and final, it was a team effort. One man can never win a tournament or a match but that contribution can be vital. It was more the way we played as a team which was very important and also the little contributions from even some of the junior players at that time like Murali, Vaasy, Kumar Dharmasena, Kalu. All these players made a huge difference because they all did their part in little ways which contributed to the big picture. That is what really made the difference,” he said.

What caught the opposition by surprise was the blazing starts openers Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana gave to the team by making maximum use of the first 15 overs.

“Sanath was batting down the order and he was failing and getting out and the top order was also failing, so we moved him to the top and brought Roshan (Mahanama) down because we needed some experience down the order. It worked out well because Sanath was clearing the 30-yard line due to the field restrictions. Every time he batted in the middle he was caught on the boundary. That really helped and made a huge difference. All the seniors had a discussion with Davy and everyone that’s how it came about,” said De Silva.

Credit to support staff

For any team to be successful preparation ahead is important and in this aspect De Silva gave a lot of credit to the support staff which at that time (unlike today) comprised of only three people – manager Duleep Mendis, coach Dav Whatmore and physio Alex Kountouri.

“I must give credit to Davy at that time to be able to get these youngsters together which is very important. To give them the confidence which they needed and be able to get them to perform and to Alex who really gave us the necessary fitness levels to sustain the performances right through the tournament,” said De Silva.

“Preparation was mainly due to the management on the fitness side and getting the combinations right. Davy was involved with the selectors. Duleep is a guy who was around all of us. To me actually with Davy working with the younger lot, Duleep’s contribution made a huge difference to the senior boys. A person like Duleep being with us and keeping that humour going in the dressing room and making sure that we were never under pressure gave the confidence we required. That was also a huge part because stability for the team, the players to have faith in the management and selectors was very important and Duleep gave that sort of confidence to the entire team,” he said.

I thrived in pressure situations

“Cricket is all about confidence that’s why I said stability in a team is very important. The backing of the selectors and the management is of importance, trust and faith in the captain is important, all those things matter. For me at that stage I didn’t have any insecurities, I go out there wanting to give out my best and do the best I could in the middle. The only pressure I faced was the opposition, nothing else. I go out there look at the situation and tell myself okay here’s an opportunity. In pressure situations like that I thrive because I really enjoy going out and taking on the opposition,” De Silva continued.

“If I look through my career I’ve seen that whenever we have been in a difficult situation I have done well. I don’t know but I now tend to do some research and found out in situations like that what was going through my mind. I’ve realized that those were the times I really wanted to go out and show my potential. That has been inside me but when we are something like 200 for 2, I sometimes lose interest which is not a good thing but in cricket you can’t afford to relax but that has been my nature as a youngster.

“If I was given another opportunity to be a youngster to play the game I would take every game like the way I would approach a difficult situation. Those are things which I have learnt through the game and I would try to pass on to the youngsters because those are the experiences we need to use to educate and develop these youngsters. The time we started we didn’t have anyone to really tell us about the mental side of things and situations and all that which I have faced throughout my 20-year career,” he concluded.

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