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Aravinda Da Silva
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Cricket World Cup moments: Sri Lanka stun Australia in 1996 final

There had already been plenty of shocks and surprises in the Cricket World Cup but the 1996 edition was arguably the most impactful of any, before or since, as Sri Lanka went on to defeat Australia in the final.

Although their status in the game was on the rise, Sri Lanka were still regarded as outsiders for World Cup glory in 1996, with previous winners Australia, India and Pakistan seen as the front-runners, alongside the ultra-consistent South Africans.

The Islanders had only acquired Test status in 1982 but, under the inspirational leadership of Arjuna Ranatunga, they upset the odds to secure their maiden world triumph against the might of the soon-to-be dominant Australians.

WhatWorld Cup 2023
When5th October - 19th November 2023
How to watchSky Sports Cricket & Main Event
OddsIndia 11/5, England 3/1, Australia 4/1, Pakistan 7/1, New Zealand 15/2, South Africa 10/1

Burgeoning rivalry brought out Lanka's best

Sri Lanka could point to their controversial tour of Australia just months prior to the tournament as the start of their journey to becoming world champions, while it would have undoubtedly provided any extra motivation, if needed, to get the better of Mark Taylor's men.

Sri Lanka had been soundly beaten in the Test arena but at least showcased their potential in the shorter format by getting the better of West Indies in the triangular event, only to lose to the hosts in the final.

However, the no-balling of Muttiah Muralitharan along with accusations of ball tampering made sure their tour took an ugly turn, which only seemed to get worse as it progressed, with the Sri Lankan players capping it off by refusing to shake hands with their counterparts after the final ODI.

A fair degree of animosity was developed between the two sides going into the tournament, which only intensified when Australia refused to play in Colombo in the Group A stage encounter, with the co-hosts taking a dim view of their opponents' approach.

In fairness to Australia, West Indies also boycotted their match in Colombo due to security concerns, following a bomb attack on Central Bank just two weeks prior to the World Cup in the ongoing civil war. Still, both sides were fined and Sri Lanka, with further fuel on the fire, were awarded the two points to help their progress to the knockout stages.

New strategy re-invents the game

Coach Dav Whatmore and captain Ranatunga had hatched a new plan to help them conquer the world, taking an ultra-aggressive approach to the powerplay that is almost taken for granted in the modern era, particularly following the introduction of T20 cricket.

Good players will find the gaps regardless - as demonstrated by the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Mark Waugh, promoted up the order to capitalise on fielding restrictions - but the manner in which Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana went after the bowlers was unseen before, often going aerial to get the innings off to the fastest possible start.

it didn't always go to plan but such was Jayasuriya's ground-breaking performance overall that he scooped the player of the tournament award. His destructive innings of 82 off just 44 balls against England in the quarter-finals was a particular standout, while he also contributed seven wickets with the ball.

Sri Lanka's aggressive approach also saw them post a then-world record score of 398-5 against Kenya, and yet there were still doubters as they prepared to take on Australia in the showpiece.

More than one way to skin a cat

Even after beating India - for the second time in the tournament - in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in the semi-finals, Australia were favourites to land their second title, although reasons could be found for doubting Sri Lanka.

The openers had failed and Ranatunga's men did well to recover from 2-1 and 35-3 to post 251-8, built around Aravinda de Silva's scintillating 66, but that still did not look like enough to stop the might of India.

With Tendulkar striking a brilliant 65 on his way to finishing as the tournament's top runscorer with 523, things were looking rosy at 98-1 but once he fell, the wheels came off with India collapsing to 120-8.

This proved too much for the fans to bear as they set stands on fire and pelted the ground with fruit and water bottles, ultimately leading to the game's abandonment with Sri Lanka awarded the match by default to progress to their first World Cup final.

Despite history being on the side batting first in the showpiece, Ranatunga had spotted that evening dew could cause problems for the bowlers and had no hesitation in putting Australia into bat.

It did not look an overly inspired decision as the Aussies recovered from the early dismissal of Waugh with Taylor and Ricky Ponting putting on 101 for the second wicket. However, the spinners grabbed a hold of the run-scoring and stifled the life out of the batters, restricting Australia to 241-7.

Aravinda Da Silva

That total looked competitive when the dangerous opening pair were back in the pavilion at 23-2 but De Silva played an inspirational knock, firstly in partnership with Asanka Gurusinha (65) as they added 125 for the third wicket.

Ranatunga played a pivotal role as well as he caressed a 37-ball 47 in an unbroken stand of 97 with "Mad Max" as they guided the side to the target with more than three overs to spare.

De Silva finished unbeaten on 107 and, having taken 3-42 as well as a couple of catches, was the undoubted star of the final.

Sri Lanka had won their first World Cup, and the game has arguably been changed forever.

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