Sri Lanka of the 1996 World Cup: Tribute to the side that revolutionized cricket
Cricket was a purists' game.
A game where technical efficiency and survival of the batsmen was far more important than risky runs. School coaches used to punish students for hitting unorthodox shots or aerial slogs.
A score of 230-240 in a 50 over game was a competitive one and anything above 250 was considered brilliant. 300 was a seemingly impossible task.
Batsmen used to knock the ball around initially, have wickets in hand, and only be aggressive during the final stage of the innings. Aerial shots were scarce and a six was as monumental an achievement in cricket as a goal in football.
Then entered the Sri Lankan team of the 1996 WC.
It was one of the most under-rated teams walking into the World Cup - much like what Bangladesh or Afghanistan is now. A team with a lot of potential and a hunger to win, yet not being taken as seriously or in the same league as an Australia, South Africa or England.
In one tournament, within a couple of months, this team shocked the cricketing world by winning the tournament, and in the process, completely revolutionizing the game.
And the man pivotal for this revolution – Sanath Jayasuriya.
Before Sehwag, Warner, Gayle or Gibbs, it was Jayasuriya.
His thought was simple – runs are runs, whether you score them in the first 10 overs or the last 10. Instead of waiting for the fag end of the innings when the ball is soft and the field is spread, score your runs by attacking in the first 15 overs, when the ball is hard and the field is in.
Jayasuriya, Kaluwitharana and Gurusinha - the top 3 of the Sri Lankan batting order were backed by their captain, Ranatunga, to attack the bowlers initially, and not worry about their wickets. Their place in the side was still surmount irrespective of their performance.
They did not have to hit daddy hundreds, but just quick 30s or 40s. This would put the bowlers under pressure, and lay a foundation for the rest of the batting order to capitalize on.
They had stalwarts like Aravinda De Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga to anchor the innings along with Roshan Mahanama and Hasan Tillekeratne to finish things off.
This batting side, with its unique approach and volcano of talent, was one of the most destructive batting sides ever.
With the swing of Wickramasinghe, the miserly death bowling of Vaas and the spin of Muralitharan and Dharmasena, Sri Lanka had an almost invincible bowling attack, a treat to watch in sub-continental conditions.
This team was one of the best white-ball sides ever, who surprised the cricketing world by defeating India and Australia in the 1996 World Cup to become world champions, thereby leaving a mark in history and completely changing the way the game is played.
1. Sanath Jayasuriya
2. Romesh Kaulwitharana (w)
3. Asanka Gurusinha
4. Aravinda de Silva
5. Arjuna Ranatunga (c)
6. Roshan Mahanama
7. Hashan Tillakaratne
8. Kumar Dharmasena
9. Chaminda Vaas
11. Muttiah Muralitharan