In my five and half decade cricket commentary career, my most memorable cricket match was the sixth World Cup finals between Australia and Sri Lanka played at Gaddafi stadium. Lahore, Pakistan on March 17, 1996. to date its exactly 26 years.
The sun was blazing, fair, lovely weather prevailed. Leading to the ground from my hotel, I witnessed Lahore, the Garden City of Pakistan bubbling with excitement. The beautiful ground was filled to the capacity. A carnival atmosphere prevailed. There were easily more than 70,000 spectators. The pavilion filled to the rafters.
The Australians were dressed in canary yellow with green lettering; where as Sri Lankans were attired in deep blue with yellow lettering.
At 2.00 p.m, the two teams, Australia and Sri Lanka stood at attention in front of the main pavilion for their respective National Anthems. The technician who handled the public address system, pressed the wrong button, instead of the Australian National Anthem – Advance Australia fair, the South African National Anthem – Nikosi Sikela Africa filled the air.
However, in a matter of forty (40) seconds, the error rectified and Australian and Sri Lanka National Anthems – Namo Namo Matha were played. Bad Omen for Australia.
Few minutes before the two captain tossed, former Pakistan Captain, Charming Gracious, pleasant, handsome personality Imran Khan, who, I have met in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Sharjah met me. I casually asked about Gaddafi wicket. He was of the opinion – Sri Lanka should bad first, if they win the toss.
The dynamic Sri Lanka skipper won the toss, invited Australians to bat. He believed in chasing – Teams strength. The out field was soggy. There was bit of moisture in the wicket.
The play began openers Taylor and Mark Waugh, starting the proceedings. When the total – 36 – Mark Waugh flicked Chaminda Vaas to the safe hands of Sanath Jayasuriya. The new batsman Rickey Ponting, handled the seamen confidently.
After the 13th over, shrewd technician, brilliant skipper Arjuna Ranatunga called Muttaih Muralitharan and Kumar Dharmasena to bowl. They did not bowl loose deliveries. Australian pair looked confident and comfortable. They posted 100 in the 19th over. Ranatunga held back his front-line spinners. He used his part-time spinner left armer Sanath Jayasuriya and right arm spinner Aravinda De Silva. Taylor – Ponting combination advanced the score to 137 in the 27th over. Aravinda’s off-breaks frustrated Taylor. When the total was 152 Taylor edged a sweep to the safe hands of Jayasuriya. After facing 73 deliveries, Ponting returned to pavilion with 45 runs. Shane Warne was sent to thrash the bowlers. He scored only 2 runs – Muralitharan captured his wicket. Sri Lankan slowmen, bowled brilliantly to their field. Skipper Ranatunga’s field placings were excellent. Aravinda De Silva (9-0-42-3) Muttiah Muralitharan (10-0-32-1) Kumra Dharmasena (10-0-47-1) were the pick of the bowlers.
Australia – 241/7 in 50 overs:
Sri Lanka began disastrously. Openers – Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluvitharana perished when the total was 23. Vice – Captain Aravinda De Silva and Asanka Gurusinghe repaired the Sri Lankan innings with commitment and dedication. The put the country before salves. Tall left hander Asanka Gurusinghe, scored a power packed 65 in 99 balls. Aravinda De Silva, made an outstanding stylish century. In the 47 over. In the same over, with an inperia driver through covers Aravinda brought his score to 107 not out.
The Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga had the proud distinction of scoring the winning hit with his trade mark glide through the vacant slip area. The ball kissed the ropes at the third non fence. Arjuna- the gully, cricketer, master batsman remained unbeaten with a fine 43 runs.
The committed, dutiful skipper smiling Arjuna Ranatunga was mishandled by an unruly mob that breached security. The jostling continued after he had received the precious World Cup up from Benazir Bhutto – Prime Minister of Pakistan. “Pickpocket” made off with the cheque in the chaos and pilcom replace it and additional Bonus of US Dollars 100,000.
In the final summing up of the 1996 World Cup finals, I traced the history of cricket in Ceylon/Sri Lanka and paid a slowing tribute to the great Yugapurusha – Man of the Ira late Gamini Dissanayake a great politician of charm, President of the Cricket Board. He was totally responsible in securing Test status for Sri Lanka. I mentioned Gamini Dissanayake’s contribution to the game over the years, but unfortunately he is no more. He became a victim of a LTTE suicide Bomb RDX plastic explosion;, Where fifty three, including him were killed at Totalanga close to the Kelani River.
On the early hours of March 18, 1996 I too arrived with winning Sri Lanka team in the early hours at Katunayake Airport. A rousing welcome first given to the victories Sri Lanka cricket team holders of the 1996 world cup.