Aravinda De Silva had made a name for himself much before the Wills Cricket World Cup of 1996.As an Indian and a fan of Kapil Dev, it pained me a lot when De Silva hit the great bowler for a six in a test match.
Aravinda made the headlines for his ability to take on the best of the bowlers-both pace and spin. He was not afraid to play the horizontal shots when the ball bounced. He was all power and at times, the ball just sped to the boundary seemingly at the slight wave of the bat. Aravinda seemed to infuse the finesse of some his predecessors like Roy Dias with power. As was the case with most of his teammates, Aravinda too did not mind having a paunch.
The 1996 World Cup saw Sri Lanka in its full glory where everything seemed to work for the men from the small island nation. The batsmen could score runs; the bowlers took the wickets while fielding was top class. Every member of the team contributed to the ultimate triumph while the class of Aravinda came into its won during the semi-finals and the finals.
Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana gave their team flying starts and most opponents were too shell shocked to trouble the rest of the Sri Lankan team. But in the semi-finals versus India at the Eden Gardens, things went from bad to worse for the islanders. Srinath sent the opening pair back to the pavilion with very few runs. Asanka Gurusinghe was given a rough time before he too fell to Srinath. Things started looking really rosy for India and a spot in the finals at Karachi seemed very real.
I can still remember the day of the match. It was the day when examinations were going on and every now and then I went away from the examination hall to get the latest scores. The first three wickets were followed by three crackers and after a while there was an eerie silence. The reason was Aravinda was taking on the Indian bowlers. There was a cover drive that looked ominous and in the company of Roshan Mahanama, De Silva took Sri Lanka to a good total. As it turned out, this total was beyond the reach of India and Sri Lanka was in the finals.
The finals featured Sri Lanka and Australia in the city of Karachi in Pakistan. The Aussies did not go to Sri Lanka for the preliminary round of matches citing security reasons. There were the usual mind games before the big match. The Aussies appeared confident while Arjuna Ranatunga did not blink. History had favoured the Aussies to win the World Cup for a second time. I had not fully recovered from the trashing India received from Sri Lanka but I did not want the Aussies to win.
The Aussies could not post a good total. The famed batting line-up boasting the likes of the Waugh twins, Stuart Law, Michael Bevan, Ponting and Healy failed to make a big score. The spinners of Sri Lanka made it difficult to score freely and Aravinda had a big role taking 3 key wickets-Mark Taylor, Ponting and Healy.
The target was not stiff but Shane Warne was expected to make the ball talk but the genius of Aravinda put an end to all such speculation. Like in the semi-finals, Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana failed.Aravinda scored a century and along with Gurusinghe put the match beyond the reach of the Aussies. There were all kinds of shots-the powerful and also the subtle ones.
Truly a great World Cup for a great player. Like Mohinder Amarnath in 1983, Aravinda contributed immensely with both the bat and the ball.