Nostalgia: 1996 WC controversial even before it started

Published: Thursday, February 6, 2003, 23:53 [IST]
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Johannesburg: The 1996 World Cup in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka was controversial even before a ball was bowled. Just 18 days before Australia was due to play there, a bomb exploded in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo and, as a result, the Australians refused to play its match and was duly docked World Cup points, although it still made it through to the final. Subsequently, West Indies reached the same decision. Minnow Kenya caused an early shock when it beat West Indies after bowling it out for just 93.

Meanwhile Sri Lanka truly emerged as World Cup contenders when it faced England, which had only managed wins against the UAE and Holland in Group 'B', in the quarter- finals. Chasing 235 for eight, Sanath Jayasuriya launched his team's reply in spectacular style with 82 off 44 balls including three sixes and 13 fours. England had no answer to the assault and the Lankans were on their way. But their semi-final against India in front of a capacity 110,000 crowd at Eden Gardens produced fireworks of a different kind. India, batting second, was in charge until Sachin Tendulkar was stumped for 65. Wickets fell regularly until at 120 for eight, the angry crowd started throwing bottles onto the field from all angles.

There was no way the game could continue and match referee Clive Lloyd took the players off the field before awarding the game to Sri Lanka. Meanwhile Australia progressed in conventional fashion beating West Indies by five runs in a thrilling semi-final. It meant it now faced the team it had refused to play a month earlier in the tournament climax in Lahore. Sri Lanka's combative captain Arjuna Ranatunga put Australia in and saw opposing skipper Mark Taylor top score with 74 in a total of 241 for seven. Sri Lanka's much vaunted opening batsmen failed and it was 23 for two in the sixth over.

But Aravinda de Silva then played a masterful innings of 107 not out. He was well- supported by Asanka Gurusinha (65) in a stand of 125. Ranatunga (47 not out) then hit the winning run as Sri Lanka won by seven wickets with more than three overs to spare. The 1999 World Cup saw the competition come 'home' to England and was chiefly memorable for two extraordinary matches between Australia and South Africa. In the first, in the Super Sixes, South Africa made 271 at Headingley. It was a match Australia had to win but at 48 for three their chances were slim. Cue captain Steve Waugh, the ideal man for a crisis. However, on 56 he was somehow dropped by Herschelle Gibbs at mid-wicket, prematurely celebrating the catch.

"How does it feel to drop the World Cup Hersch?," Waugh reportedly said before going on to make a match-winning hundred. But for sheer drama that match had nothing on the semi-final between the teams at Edgbaston. In a game reckoned to be the best One-day International ever played, South Africa was on the verge of victory with one run needed off four balls. Lance Klusener was 31 not out off 14 balls albeit with last-man Allan Donald at the other end. Waugh, knowing Australia needed just a tie to go through on net run-rate, set a tight field while medium-pacer Damien Fleming held his nerve splendidly.

Klusener, with two balls still to come, rushed headlong after hitting to Mark Waugh at mid-on. Donald dropped his bat, Waugh flicked the ball to Fleming who in turn rolled it wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist who broke the stumps. The match was tied but Australia was in the final. There it would face Pakistan which, as usual had blown hot and cold. Against makeweights Bangladesh they lost by 62 runs in a game that will be forever dogged with allegations of match-fixing. But in the semi-final it thrashed New Zealand by nine wickets, Saeed Anwar and Wajahatullah Wasti sharing a World Cup first-wicket record of 194 in a match where fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar's express pace yielded three valuable wickets.

However, the Lord's final was an anticlimax with Pakistan bowled out for just 132 as Australia won by eight wickets. Inevitably more fixing claims followed but Australia could now lay claim to being the best team in both Test and One-day cricket and they aim to keep that crown over the next six weeks.

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