Exactly on this day (17th March) in 1996, Sri Lanka won their first-ever World Cup by beating Australia in the final in Lahore. Before that edition of the tournament, Sri Lanka had a terrible record in the World Cups. In the previous five editions, they had never gotten past the group stages of the competition while winning just 4 of their 26 games. Australia, on the other hand, had won the tournament in 1987 and were thus the favourites for the final.
Before the start of the 1996 World Cup, not many had given Sri Lanka even an outside chance of progressing far let alone going all the way. However, the Arjuna Ranatunga-led side had some other ideas as they took the world by storm and won the tournament in style.
The grand final
Coming to the final, it was the first-ever day-night game played in Pakistan and Ranatunga decided to bowl first in the game which was definitely the biggest one in Sri Lanka’s history at that time.
Ranatunga was hoping the conditions would help his seamers early on but his decision backfired. Sri Lanka pacers could not make an impact with the new ball and Australia were comfortably placed at 137 for 1 by the 27th over. But just when it looked Australia would post a big total, Aravinda de Silva turned the game on its head. He started by dismissing Mark Taylor to end a second-wicket stand of more than 100 runs, before bowling the set Ricky Ponting.
De Silva’s first five overs went for just 19 runs as Sri Lanka managed to put pressure on Australia. The right-arm spinner later returned to dismiss Ian Healy as Australia huffed and puffed to 241 for 7 after the solid start. Muttiah Muralitharan was also economical, conceding just 31 runs off his ten overs. For Australia, their skipper Taylor top-scored with 74 while Ponting scored 45. Towards the end of the innings, Michael Bevan’s unbeaten 36-run knock guided them to a challenging total.
Aravinda – Ranatunga take Sri Lanka home
Chasing 242 to win their first-ever World Cup, Sri Lanka started on a poor note. They lost their star opener Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana for just 23 runs. But before Australia could pile more pressure on the Islanders, de Silva bailed them out and took them to the historic title win with an unbeaten hundred. He and Asanka Gurusinha steadied the ship after the early blows. With the dew making things tough for the Australian bowlers, the duo made the most of it. They shared a 125-run stand for the third wicket to turn the game on its head.
Paul Reiffel broke the stand when he castled Gurusinha for 65. De Silva found another able partner in Ranatunga as the two shared an unbeaten stand of 97 runs to take Sri Lanka home in the 47th over. De Silva remained unbeaten on 107 off 124 balls while Ranatunga slammed an unbeaten 47 off 37 balls. Sri Lanka also became the first team to win the World Cup while batting second.