Eighteenth March 1996.
The return flight finally took off from Lahore at around 6.00 am. An event that had to wait for twenty-one years happened 35,000 feet in the air. Two ‘wounded soldiers’ on adjoining beds at St Thomas’ Hospital, laid low by an excessively aggressive ‘Mr Thomson’ in the first World Cup in 1975 met in celebration: Duleep Mendis, having presided over the vanquishing of the Australian side as the manager of the Sri Lankan team; Capt. Sunil Wettimuny now flying that victorious team home. Not to be outdone, the same fate decreed that the master-of-ceremonies at the awards ceremony that followed the final, was none other than Ian Chappell. Destiny really did have some tricks up her sleeve!
Having reached cruising altitude, Capt. Wettimuny announced, “It is party time” and boy, it was one helluva party!
Bars opened at the front and rear of the aircraft and freely served a variety of alcoholic drinks, compliments of the house. A disco of sorts had been set up on board. Non-stop baila was led by Aravinda de Silva’s father, Sam, and Roshan Mahanama’s father, Upali. The crowd was around these two and, at one point, there were too many at the front of the plane. For the safety of the aircraft, Capt. Wettimuny had to plead with them to get back to their seats. The elated crowd mingled with the cricketers, asking questions, taking photographs, and analysing the outcome of the match.
Souvenirs from the 1996 Wills World Cup final
Autographs of David Shepherd (Umpire), Clive Lloyd (Match Referee) and Cyril Mitchely (Third Umpire) on the reverse of my business card.
Autographs of ex-Sri Lankan cricketers Michael Tissera, Sidath Wettimuny, Anura Tennekoon, Ranjit Fernando and Duleep Mendis, and World Cup winners Arjuna Ranatunga, Aravinda de Silva, Sanath Jayasuriya, Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralidaran and Hashan Tillakaratne on the specially printed World Cup leaflet from the host hotel in Lahore, Pakistan.
During the flight, I asked Arjuna Ranatunga for a souvenir, to which he replied, “I even had to donate the socks I wore for the match.”
Later, when Sanath Jayasuriya joined us, a fellow passenger came along, carrying a large map of Sri Lanka. He asked Ranatunga and Jayasuriya to sign on their most liked cities in Sri Lanka.
Saying, “Jaffna is one place I have never been to but would very much like to see,” Ranatunga signed on the peninsula.
“Other than the overseas trips on tours, it is always Colombo–Matara, and Matara–Colombo for me,” said Jayasuriya. “Show me where Nuwara Eliya is on the map, as I would dearly love to visit,” and he signed accordingly.
Jayasuriya had been named World Cup Player of the Tournament 1996 prior to the final. Nevertheless, it was obvious that de Silva had stood head and shoulders above Jayasuriya, performance-wise, in the final.
Naturally, this became a hot topic between Jagath and me on the return flight. Jagath took up the position that Jayasuriya was a game changer through innovation.
“Jayasuriya’s average of around 37 during the World Cup was not great by any standards,” I said.
“But it wasn’t only the runs that mattered, but the way he got them. Just imagine, striking at over 130, Jayasuriya had softened the ball and the bowlers before the others walked in. Look at the overall influence he had, terrorising the opposition bowlers into submission.”
I countered with, “Out of the six matches that Sri Lanka played, Aravinda won four Man of the Match awards while Jayasuriya only won two. De Silva held five catches to Jayasuriya’s three and de Silva’s aggregate was nearly 450 runs against Jayasuriya’s 220 odd. How’s that?”
“In that case, how about Jayasuriya’s seven wickets against Aravinda’s four?” asked Jagath.
You may come to your own conclusions regarding who was the greater contributor, but, for posterity, their comparative performances in the 1996 Cricket World Cup is given below:
Sanath Jayasuriya and Aravinda de Silva at the 1996 World Cup:
We disembarked around 10.00 am at the BIA, and the team was given a rousing reception. While we made our way back home, drained emotionally and physically, the team’s motorcade finally reached President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s residence after two hours.
(Adapted from ‘Winds Behind The Willows’.)