Cricket World Cup flashback: How the Sri Lankans turned heroes in the eventful 1996 edition
Sri Lanka became the first host nation and the second South Asian team to lift the World Cup trophy in 1996, marked by huge spectator attendance, though security issues, slow-and-low pitches and crowd trouble triggered controversies.
After nine years, the World Cup returned to the sub-continent, with Sri Lanka joining Pakistan and India as co-hosts. However, following a deadly attack in January 1996 by guerrillas of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on the Central Bank Building at Colombo, Australia and the West Indies refused to play in the island nation.
Though the authorities promised high level of security, the two sides remained adamant, and ultimately the International Cricket Council (ICC) decided to award both matches to Sri Lanka.
The sixth World Cup drew 12 teams – nine Test playing nations and three associates – the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Netherlands and Kenya who qualified from the ICC Trophy in 1994 - and was staged from February 14 to March 17 at 26 venues spread across the three nations. The teams were divided into two groups of six teams each, with the top four from each group making the quarter-finals.
Much of the Sri Lankan success could be attributed to the blistering knocks of their openers Sanath Jayasuriya, later declared Man-of-the-Series, and wicketkeeper-batsman Romesh Kaluwitharana who made mincemeat of the opposition bowlers in the first 15 overs by taking advantage of the fielding restrictions.
India were involved in a thrilling group game against the eventual champions with, Sachin Tendulkar scoring a blistering hundred. But it went in vain as Sri Lanka won the match by six wickets.
Another fiercely competitive match was the quarter-final at Bangalore's Chinnaswamy stadium between arch-rivals India and Pakistan, which generated high passion in the two neighbouring countries. India's opener Navjot Singh Sidhu cracked a superb 93 as India totalled 287.
In reply, Pakistan lost wickets at regular intervals as the asking rate escalated. The pressure proved too much and their batting suffered a collapse. From 231 for five, Pakistan were reduced to 239 for nine. They ultimately lost the match by 39 runs.
All hell broke loose in Pakistan. Wild allegations flew. A crestfallen fan broke his television and then shot himself. Angry fans burnt the effigy of captain Wasim Akram, who sat out the match with a muscle pull. His house was also attacked.
The match also signalled the end of the glorious career of batting great Javed Miandad, which was his sixth appearance in the World Cup.
The first semi-final raised some questions and triggered violence at a packed Eden Gardens in Kolkata. Indian skipper Mohammed Azharuddin put Sri Lanka to bat on a newly- laid track, which experts had predicted could crumble as the match progressed. Sri Lanka piled 251 foe eight, with batsman Aravinda de Silva scoring a 47-ball 66.
After the early loss of Sidhu, Sachin Tendulkar and Sanjay Manjrekar steadied the Indian ship. Tendulkar was going great guns, but was stumped. Azharuddin perished to a return catch soon after, and the Indian batting crumbled like cookies, as Jayasuriya and other spinners turned the ball square. From 98 for one, India slipped to 120 for eight.
A section of the crowd went berserk and started raining fruits and plastic bottles on the outfield. They lit papers and set fire to some of the seats. Match referee Clive Lloyd stopped the game for 15 minutes, and took the players out to allow matters to calm down. But as the game restarted, more missiles landed on the ground, and more fires were lit. Lloyd deemed no more play was possible, and awarded the game to Sri Lanka by default.
Several Indian players were seen sobbing. Azharuddin and manager Ajit Wadekar said the decision to send Sri Lanka in to bat first was a collective decision. But middle order batsman Vinod Kambli denied it and put the blame on the skipper.
The second semi-final went down to the wire. Australia suffered initial jolts to be precariously placed at 15 for four, but Stuart Law and Michael Bevan came up with half centuries to stem the rot and piloted the baggy greens to a modest total of 207 for eight. The West Indies, in contrast, started off well, and reached 165 for two in the 42nd over. But then suddenly their innings went haywire, and the Caribbeans were skittled out for 202.
The Sri Lanka-Australia final at Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore, saw the co-hosts win the toss and send the rivals in to bat.
The chief minister of Pakistan's Punjab province created a minor ruckus when he tried to enter the field with 6,000 "friends" who didn't possess valid pass or tickets. But they were denied entry into the stadium.
On the field, Australia notched up 241 for seven. Sri Lanka reached the winning target with 22 deliveries still to be bowled. De Silva was adjudged the Man-of-the-Final for his all round effort (3/42 and unbeaten 107).
But things went out of control once the match ended. People from all corners entered the ground. Ranatunga fell down thrice with the invaluable Cup trophy in his hand.
However, for the cricketers and the people of the tiny island nation that was a trivial incident. The entire nation soaked in the celebrations and all Cup-winning players, overnight, became national heroes.