Flashback: 1996 World Cup (Wills World Cup)

Wills World Cup 1996

Wills World Cup 1996

The 1996 Cricket World Cup was held in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka for the second time in the subcontinent with 12 teams competing for the ultimate prize in ODI. The defending champions, Pakistan were one of the favorites along with India and South Africa. For the first time, 12 teams were participating in a world cup, with 3 associate teams in UAE, Kenya and Netherlands.

The world cup started on wrong note with Australia and West Indies decided to forfeit the matches in Sri Lanka due to the worsened security situation. Fortunately for the reams, it did not affect quarterfinal chances. This world cup was seen as the battle between batsmen such as Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Mark Waugh and Bowlers such as Anil Kumble, Shane Warne and Mushtaq Ahmed. South Africa was the team to beat with their clinical precision in batting, bowling and fielding.

The league matches were easier due to presence of 3 associate teams and Zimbabwe with one exception.  In a stunning result at Pune, two times world champion West Indies were beaten by minnows Kenya in a sensational match, leaving West Indies chances of going through next stage in jeopardy. Elsewhere Gary Kirsten scored the highest score in the world cup of 188 against a weak UAE team and South Africa ended the league stage as unbeaten.

The knockout stages were one of the most entertaining matches in world cup history.  Starting with Sri Lanka who marauded the English bowling with Jayasuriya leading the Sri Lankan batting. It was sad to see a good bowler like Phil DeFreitas even trying spin bowling for a breakthrough. Sri Lankan batting was at ease with Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharna leading the batting with shots over in the infield in the first 15 overs of field restriction. The Sri Lankan strategy was to attack in the beginning and consolidate with their long batting line up, and in the bowling using their part time spinners to strangle the opposition in the spinning tracks of subcontinent.

The next match was a cracker between arch rivals India and Pakistan, meeting for only the second time in world cup history. So much was at stake in this match and Wasim Akram skipping the match due to injury created a big controversy which led to attack on his house by some irate fans in Pakistan. India started well but were restricted by some good bowling by Pakistan. The major push in the end in India’s score came when Ajay Jadeja attacked the bowling of Waqar Younis, whose toe crushers were tamed by some smart inside out shots. Even though India posted a decent score, Saeed Anwar provided some excellent start and later Aamer Sohail consolidated well to take Pakistan way ahead in the game. Then came the turning point of the game where in Aamer Sohail, in a moment of madness played a rash shot and got out. Once India got the hold on the match with regular wickets, Pakistan could not come back. Some late hitting by Rashid Latif and last effort by the ageing Javed Maindad was not enough to take them through.

The other quarterfinal match was between the unbeaten and clinical South Africa and West Indies.  South Africa was the stronger team on paper butting some brilliant batting by Brian Lara got them to a good score. South Africa bowled well to restrict West Indies after Lara’s dismissal. South Africa started well and were on course to another semi final when they panicked. Roger Harper bowled an incisive spell which led them to lose too many wickets. In the end they lost the match which they could have won. From here on, South Africans got the infamous ‘Chokers’ tag that they choke during the crunch situations.

The other quarter final was trans- tasmanian rivalry between Australia and New Zealand. The kiwis led by captain keeper Lee Germon,  led from the front by teaming up with centurion Chris Harris to post a good score. In reply Australia started well with Mark Waugh scoring a century but were still facing high required run rate. Aussie skipper Mark Taylor sent in Shane Warne as a pinch hitter and he provided the required momentum and threw the kiwi plans awry. At the end Aussies won comfortably to book a place in the semis.

The first Semi final was between India and Sri Lanka. India were favorites with their good performances till semi finals. In contrast, Sri Lanka were very well prepared and having already beaten India in the league phase, were confident to face the 1 lakh strong eden garden crowd supporting the home team. India got through the best possible start by taking out both the Sri Lankan openers very cheaply. With Gurusinha gone and Sri Lanka at 35/3, India were on way to reach the first finals in their own country. But Aravinda De Silva had other plans. In one of the best counter attacking batting display, he pushed the ball to all parts of the ground on both sides of the wicket. India were awestruck by his batting and by the time he left he had repaired the damaged done and Sri Lanka posted a healthy total on board. In reply India got off to a good start and in no time Sachin scored a half century to keep India on track. Once Sachin got out stumped to some smart bowling by Jayasuriya, Srilanka took the next 6 wickets in 22 runs leaving the hosts tottering at 120/8. The crowd could not take the humiliation and the match unfortunately had to be called off due to crowd trouble leading Sri Lanka deservedly in their first ever world cup final.

The other semi final between West Indies and Australia lived to its billing as the best match in the tournament. Australia started horribly by losing its first 4 wickets for 15 runs. Some brave batting by Law and Bevan led them to a respectable score. Bishop and Ambrose were the pick of the bowlers, with Walsh supporting them. West Indies had a good start and with Chanderpaul looking solid and Richie Richardson, they were cruising along and needed just 38 runs with 8 wickets in hand. In a turnaround reminiscent to their previous match, West Indies started crumbling against some disciplined bowling by the aussies. In one of the best spells by a spinner, Shane Warne took 3 wickets to leave West Indies with 2 wickets to score 7 runs for victory. In a heart breaking moment, Richie Richardson was helpless at the non striker’s end as Ambrose and Walsh lost their wickets paving the way for another final for Australia.

The final was played at the Gadaffi stadium in Lahore between Sri Lanka and Australia. When Sri Lanka elected to field, they were against history as no team had won chasing in final moreover no host team ever won a world cup. But Sri Lanka always had their strength in chasing with their long batting line up. Australia were restricted to 241, thanks to some good bowling by De Silva. In reply Sri Lanka again got to a bad start but some good batting by Gurusinha and a stunning hundred by the man of the match Aravinda De Silva led them to a memorable triumph. So Sri Lanka won the world cup fittingly without losing a game in the world cup.

Sachin Tendulkar ended up as the highest run getter of the competition and Anil Kumble the highest Wicket taker. This world cup showcased the captaincy of Mark Taylor, who may not have had the best time with the bat but was the best captain around. The use of a spinner as an attacking option in ODIs during the critical phase of the match was very commendable and Shane Warne did well most of the time.

Sri Lanka groomed Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharna  as the openers and their performance in Australia before the world cup was a warning to the world. Arjuna Ranatunga managed the resources very well having well known the limitation of each player. The advantage of having good part time spin bowlers allowed them to play with 7 batsmen. Their planning led them to a sweet victory in the world cup. India had their best player Sachin Tendulkar in ominous form but lack of support for him and the wrong decision by Azhar to field in the semi final led to their loss. South Africa was the most deserved all-round team whose one mistake in a match led them to crash out of the competition.

The world cup lived to its expectations as the best cricket competition with tons of runs scored but equally good bowling had an important part to play. It created many heroes in Jayasuriya, De Silva, Saeed Anwar and the ever consistent Sachin Tendulkar. The golden generation of spinners started with Warne, Murali and Kumble, starting the trend of attacking spinners.

Part two of the series looking back at the world cup archive.

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I am a lazy internet addict with deep interests in technology, sports and music. In the off time I like to cruise over the internet, read/watch thrillers and listen to sufi and rock renditions. Although could not pursue a career in sports, I religiously follow cricket, tennis & football time permitting. Presently stuck up as an IT employee.


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