The Sri Lankans were fast gaining the reputation of being exhilarating strokeplayers, and possessing an efficient, accurate attack. They had already served notice during their tour to Australia prior to this competition.
Tendulkar was superb once again. He did not blast away from the outset, for the importance of the match was not lost on him. He built a strong foundation in the company of Sanjay Manjrekar who, although not pedestrian, was sedate as usual.
The Mumbai lads put on 66 runs off 82 deliveries before Manjrekar left with the score reading 93. It was then that Tendulkar changed gears. He had taken 72 balls to get his first 50, but now he zoomed off.
The little vice-captain put the attack to the sword as only he could. His second fifty took only 50 balls, and then he went berserk, scoring at over two runs per ball.
He put on 175 runs for the third wicket with Mohammad Azharuddin in 26 overs, at close to seven runs an over. When he left in the last over, the score was already 268. His 137 came off as many deliveries, and comprised 5 sixes and 8 fours.
Azharuddin remained unbeaten on 72 off 80 balls, with four boundaries. A target of 272 was a stiff one for any team.
But that was only if measured by an ordinary yardstick. In this tournament the Lankans were no ordinary side.
Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana put on 53 for the first wicket in 5 overs. The crowd was stunned into silence. Prabhakar bore the brunt; he was hit for 11 runs in the opening over of the innings, and 22 in his next. His analysis at that stage read 2-0-33-0.
Venkatesh Prasad came on for the fifth over and brought temporary respite, dismissing Kaluwitharana for 26. These came off 16 deliveries with six fours; the tiny wicketkeeper had set a sizzling pace.
The momentum was kept up even after his departure. After 10 overs the score was 82, and after 15 it was 119, a rate of nearly 8 runs per over.
Jayasuriya and Asanka Gurusinha added 76 runs in just 67 balls. Though they fell in quick succession, along with Aravinda de Silva, the score had advanced to 141 for four in 22.2 overs. Jayasuriya had blazed away to 79 off 76 deliveries with 9 fours and 2 sixes.
Another 131 were required, but the asking-rate had crashed below 4.75 per over. India could have come back into the game only if they captured a few more wickets.
This is where the depth of the Sri Lankan line-up came to the fore. Skipper Arjuna Ranatunga and Hashan Tillekeratne batted serenely to keep the scoreboard ticking.
Coming on for his second spell of two overs, Prabhakar tried his hand at off-spin. This time his economy-rate was less than half that of his first spell; it still amounted to seven runs an over.
The Sri Lankans reached the target with 8 balls to spare. In a letter published in The Times of India, cricket administrator Balan Sundaram wrote: "The way in which the Sri Lankans mauled Prabhakar, one would have thought that they mistook him for (Tamil Tigers supremo) Prabhakaran."
This was the last time Prabhakar was seen in the international arena.
India: 271 for 3 wickets (50 overs), Sri Lanka: 272 for 4 wickets (48.4 overs) (CWC 1996)Published 10 May 2019, 16:29 IST