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The Electronic Telegraph De Silva has major say as Sri Lankans settle score
BY CHRISTOPHER MARTIN-JENKINS IN LAHORE - 18 March 1996

Sri Lanka (245-3) beat Australia (241-7) (Lahore) by 7 wickets

THE two final ironies of the World Cup were these: Sri Lanka, against the state-of-the-art professionals of world cricket, were tactically cuter and altogether more efficient on the big night; and they were fresher and sharper than their distinguished opponents to a considerable extent because those same opponents had refused, albeit for entirely understandable reasons, to play them in the preliminary round.

Although legal repercussions will persist, the bitterness created by the Australian decision not to play in Colombo, and any lingering resentments from Sri Lanka's tour Down Under, will be forgotten in the afterglow of their stylish, confident and utterly deserved victory over Australia in the sixth World Cup final. That it was really only a small upset is indication of how far and how quickly Sri Lanka have travelled since they were considered one of the two weakest of the nine Test nations.

They won by seven wickets, with 22 balls to spare, a huge margin in limited-overs cricket. Aravinda de Silva followed Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards as only the third man to score a century in a World Cup final and his innings was in the same class as the memorable ones at Lord's by those great West Indians in 1975 and 1979.

De Silva's batting has always been touched by genius. Now, on the biggest occasion of his life, he played with quite wonderful judgment too. His 107 not out was scored off only 124 balls but he limited himself to 13 fours and a six. It is not easy for someone who, when the force is with him, can hit any ball almost anywhere he pleases to pace an innings to such perfection.

There could have been no more appropriate opponents than Australia; no more deserving partners in the cool swallowing-up of Australia's score than the two durable lefthanders - Asantha Gurusinha, a stalwart for so long, whose 65 off 99 balls included six fours and an astonishing, bludgeoned six over long-off from Shane Warne, and Arjuna Ranatunga, Sri Lanka's Napoleon.

Sri Lanka's fortune on the day was limited to the fact that Australia, having lost the toss, were obliged to field and bowl in a foggy dew

It was Ranatunga, already at a mere 32 the longest surviving international cricketer without any serious interruption to his career, who scored the winning runs with a reprise of the delicate offside tickle with which he had also hit his first ball, with supreme confidence, for four.

Sri Lanka's fortune on the day was limited to the fact that Australia, having lost the toss, were obliged to field and bowl in a foggy dew. The shrewd planning lay in the Sri Lankan decision, by the captain Ranatunga and his advisers, Duleep Mendis and Dav Whatmore, to put Australia in after a practice session under the lights had shown them how soaking wet the outfield would get when the sun set.

Most uncharacteristically, Australia had practised only by day, their coach Bobby Simpson, who usually misses not a single trick, having decided, reasonably enough up to a point, that they had played enough night cricket. Perhaps weariness from two tough games in succession, and two more overall than Sri Lanka, played a part in this potentially fatal decision to leave something to chance.

It was academic in a way because Mark Taylor lost the toss and was given first use of a lovely pitch for batting, but he would have batted anyway if the coin had spun the other way and that would have been as wrong as Azharuddin's decision to field in the Calcutta semi-final.

It was astonishing that having reached 137 for one in the 27th over, Australia should have been limited to 241 for seven

Sri Lanka deserved reward for their boldness - all five previous finals had been won by the side batting first - but even more from the way that they recovered in the field after a commanding innings from Taylor had left them dangerously exposed. It was astonishing that having reached 137 for one in the 27th over, Australia should have been limited to 241 for seven. The spinners, Muralitharan, Dharmasena, de Silva and Jayasuriya did the trick, supported by fielding of peppery keeness.

Pulling with relish and great power, often to balls barely short of a length, Taylor hit seven fours and a six in his 50 off 52 balls, mainly at the expense of Chaminda Vaas. Although Muralitharan suffered too as the quick-footed Rick Ponting lent his captain ideal support, the game changed from the moment that Taylor swept de Silva to deep backward square leg. Ranatunga read the tealeaves and brought his best slow bowler back, the other spinners supported well and in 25 overs Australia managed a single boundary: this on a quick outfield, despite overnight rain, and with a boundary of no more than 70 yards.

Michael Bevan stayed calm and made what he could from the later overs, but the Sri Lankans know his game inside out, as they do every other Australian's, and they did not give him room to make more than a couple of those clean strokes over extra cover or the bowler's head.

Australia in the field were not so tight. They made some brilliant stops, certainly, and their tall fast bowlers, Glenn McGrath and Paul Reiffel, both bowled particularly straight to an ideal length, but there were chances missed and many a fumble on the slippery surface.

Jayasuriya was a little unluckily ruled out by little more than millimetres on the evidence of several inconclusive replays after a fine throw from third man by McGrath and in the same over Kaluwitharana was late on a pull from Damien Fleming.

The image will long remain; one of the most romantic in the continuously evolving history of cricket

From the moment, however, that stocky little Aravinda, bright-eyed as a squirrel, stroked his first ball past the bowler off the full face of his bat, only one side was going to win. The support and skill of the two left-handers kept him company until the job was done, the money won and the new power in the world established.

The image will long remain; one of the most romantic in the continuously evolving history of cricket. Half past ten on a misty night in Lahore as the rain begins to fall. Arjuna Ranatunga, a tubby little 32-year-old in dark blue shirt and trousers, holds up a huge silver trophy: a monument to a little nation's marvellous sporting achievement.

Sri Lanka won by seven wickets Umpires: S A Bucknor & D R Shepherd Man of the match: P A de Silva Man of the series: S T Jayasuriya


Source: The Electronic Telegraph
Editorial comments can be sent to The Electronic Telegraph at et@telegraph.co.uk


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