It was Sri Lanka's avowed goal to become the top cricketing nation by the year 2000. In One-day cricket, they reached there four years earlier and in achieving this, one of the major roles was played by Aravinda de Silva.
In the day-night final at the Gaddafi Stadium, Australia put up a fighting total of 241 for seven in their 50 overs. Sri Lanka started disastrously, losing both their dashing openers Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana early. De Silva strode in to join Asanka Gurusinha at 23 for two. From then on Sri Lanka took charge as de Silva played one of the innings of his life. He began playing his strokes in his usual authoritative, but correct, manner. His drives, cuts, and pulls were from the top drawer, and soon it was apparent that he was determined to win the match off his own bat. He reached his fifty at a run-a-ball. The partnership with Gurusinha realised 125 runs in 25 overs and put Sri Lanka well on course for the title.
If the Aussies still harboured any hopes of wresting their second world title in the sub-continent, they were shattered when de Silva and skipper Ranatunga batted in tandem. They paced the innings beautifully, always keeping the target in view but never seen to be in a tearing hurry. In fact, they did not give Australia even a sniff of victory, so completely in command were they. Fighters though the Australians are, they seemed completely helpless on this occasion as the two experienced Sri Lankan batsmen advanced serenely.
De Silva was brilliant. He reached his much-cherished and well-deserved hundred off 119 deliveries as his captain continued to belt the ball around. There were still 22 balls left when de Silva hit his 13th boundary to clinch victory for the delirious Sri Lankans. He remained undefeated on 107, scored off 124 deliveries. The unbroken partnership with Ranatunga was worth 97 runs in just 16 overs, a brilliant effort and the crowning glory to a meticulous campaign.
But that classic century was not Aravinda de Silva's only contribution in the glorious win. He seemed to have a Midas touch in this match. His controlled off-spin fetched him the wickets of Australia's highest scorers, Mark Taylor, and Ricky Ponting, along with that of Ian Healy. As Australia were cruising along at 137 for one in the 27th over, de Silva struck to have Taylor caught by Jayasuriya for 74. Four overs later he bowled Ponting, and the Aussies had been pushed on the back foot with two new batsmen at the crease. Their scoring-rate fell as wickets kept tumbling. De Silva finally knocked back Healy's leg-stump, but before that, he had a hand in two more dismissals. He caught Steve Waugh and Stuart Law to make it a dream match for himself and his team.
Rarely had a player so dominated a One-day match. He had a hand in five of the seven Australian wickets that fell and was on the field for all but 32 balls of the match. His century was the third in a World Cup final after Clive Lloyd's 102 in 1975 and Viv Richards' unbeaten 138 in 1979. De Silva's knock was every bit as great as these earlier classics. The 1996 World Cup final was Aravinda de Silva's match, a memorable performance that will stand out like a beacon in the annals of the premier tournament.
Australia: 241 for 7 wickets (50 overs), Sri Lanka: 245 for 3 wickets (46.2 overs) (CWC 1996)
Published 11 May 2019, 15:35 IST