Today is a special day for every Sri Lankan who knows his/her cricket. It was on this day 25-years-ago we won the Cricket World Cup at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore beating the fancied Australia in the final. Mark Taylor’s side were favourites to win or so everyone thought.
This day brings back a lot of good memories and pride when I think about the final and how the boys played the whole tournament in 1996. I will not be overstating if I say Sri Lanka changed the way one-day cricket was played with their innovative style and approach.
We came to this tournament with just four wins out of the 20 World Cup games we had played since 1975 and nobody expected us to throw surprises at everyone.
I had the dual role of being Manager of the Sri Lankan team and Chairman of Selectors. We were responsible for finding a winning combination. I must acknowledge that I had a very knowledgeable set of past cricketers in the selection committee who gave me a lot of assistance in putting together the best combination for the victory in Lahore.
During that period each member of the committee was so committed to the task that when one started to make a move everyone understood exactly why it was being made. That was the level of knowledge the other selectors had. I would like to offer my sincere thanks to them.
In 1995 Dav Whatmore and Alex Kountouris were introduced to the national team. I was there as a conduit between the players and these two gentlemen from Australia. Even though Dav was born in Sri Lanka, he had his schooling in Australia and went on to play Test cricket for Australia. Alex was new but we formed the management committee of the team.
We made our start in 1995 in Pakistan where we beat them. We also had a very successful tournament in Sharjah. Later that year we went to Australia just before the World Cup. Our first game took place in Perth which was marred by ball tampering allegations. We were later exonerated. Despite the odds, we had a very good tour of Australia. The boys started to believe in themselves. The tactics were laid down in Australia for the forthcoming World Cup.
Our success depended largely on our game plan of being aggressive in the first ten to 15 overs. This went onto change the way ODI cricket was played. Our strategy took everyone by surprise. When the World Cup was in progress, all the other teams were still getting to know what we were doing. But before they could really know and counter our moves, the tournament was over and we were World Champions.
Celebrations went on for so many months. Now, after 25 years of that monumental achievement, so many memories come back. Although we are far away from Sri Lanka we still think of those good times when we had a brilliant team.
I can still remember that day before the World Cup final in Lahore when everyone was talking about the dew factor. I and Arjuna went out to the ground at night and nobody knew about it, just to see the dew. We saw that there was a lot of dew on the ground and we knew that if we bowled at night we were going to find it difficult defending a total. So it was decided that if we won the toss we would bowl first.
In Arjuna, we had a captain, who was fearless and aggressive. A captain who wasn’t afraid to take decisions. He was well backed up by master tactician Aravinda, who was his deputy. We also had the fortune of having a set of brilliant cricketers around who knew exactly what to do when things were not going well for the team.
I offer my sincere thanks to the whole team and to the Board at that time which was led by Ana Punchihewa for the wonderful memories that are coming back even after 25 years.
I know that there will be celebrations today but unfortunately Dav, Alex and I will not be able to come due to the current situation (caused by Covid-19). We feel bad about missing this event but I hope you will have a wonderful time reliving the memories of 1996.