The World Cup final, played between Sri Lanka and Australia in Lahore on March 17 in 1996 was an unlikely summit clash.
Australia were former champions having won in 1987 while Sri Lanka had never gotten past the group stages of the competition before. But Sri Lanka, led by Arjuna Ranatunga, were a side that had a new approach to the game. With players like Sanath Jayasuriya, Romesh Kaluwitharana, Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan, it was a formidable unit.
Australia and West Indies had earlier refused to play in Sri Lanka over security concerns, which had helped them finish unbeaten on the group stages. In the knock-out stages, the eventual champions first beat England in the quarter-final and then reached the final after the semi-final against India was disrupted by unruly crowds.
But in the final, it was pure skill and mentality that won them their first world title, with Aravinda de Silva doing the star turn with an all-round show.
Australia were expected to have the edge given their experience and their opponent’s lack of it. At the Gaddafi Stadium, Sri Lanka won the toss and opt to bowl. The plan almost backfired with the quicks going for runs but for de Silva and Murali brought them back into the game
Mark Taylor (74) and Co finished on 241/7, a decent total and in response, Sri Lanka lost their destructive openers Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana cheaply. But the first-timers held firm and Asanka Gurusinha (65) and de Silva build a solid partnership.
De Silva finished unbeaten on 107 and with a little help from Ranatunga (47) sealed a memorable seven-wicket win with almost four overs to spare.
This remains Sri Lanka’s only ODI World Cup to date while Australia went on to win four more – 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2015.