|Event:||ICC World Cup 2006/07|
DateLine: 24th February 2007
Sri Lanka had always been a talented side often giving the impression of being too soft on the field until captain Arjuna Ranatunga changed it all with his aggressive approach to win the 1996 World Cup.
They always had skilful individuals, but as a team they achieved worldwide fame only under Ranatunga who taught his players to have faith in their ability and never to be overawed by the opposition.
Ranatunga defied history in the final when he put Mark Taylor's Australians in to bat after winning the toss - no team had ever won the World Cup chasing a target.
"I am not a person who takes much notice of history," said Ranatunga.
"We knew we could win that game by batting second. When I won the toss, I knew that we would have a very good chance of winning if we could keep the Australians down to 250 or 260."
Australia were restricted to 241 after being 137-1 at one stage, thanks to Ranatunga's clever use of his spinners. Sri Lanka then rode on Aravinda de Silva's masterful century to win by seven wickets at Lahore.
The victory changed Sri Lanka cricket for ever. Once the self-belief was gained, they were never to be taken lightly by the opposition in coming years.
"This is a victory for the entire country," said Ranatunga.
"My dream was to get to the final and contest it. Now that we have won, and I myself have contributed, makes me very happy. But this honour should go to many a person, and not just me and the team."
Ranatunga left Sri Lanka cricket in a healthy condition and his support played a big role in making opener Sanath Jayasuriya and off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan into world-class players.
His appearance was deceptive. He was not slim and trim like most of modern one-day cricketers. He carried extra flab, but was never a liability on the field because of his uncanny knack of anticipation.
Ranatunga was a bold leader not afraid of inviting controversy when it came to his team's interests.
He had a sixth sense of spotting match-winners and persisted with them despite a few failures. It eventually paid off when Jayasuryia, Romesh Kaluwitharana and Muralitharan played vital roles in their team's win.
Jayasuriya had been batting in the lower order in the beginning of his career before being tried out as an opener in the World Cup along with Kaluwitharana.
Ranatunga's team stunned the opposition when Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana exploited the fielding restrictions in early overs with their over-the-top hitting.
He also had batsmen to deliver when the tactic failed, like it did in the semi-final against India at Calcutta when both Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana fell cheaply.
He had a classy batsman in Aravinda de Silva, capabale of stepping up the run-rate without launching an all-out attack like the openers. His 66 in the sem-final and a hundred in the final are still among the Cup gems.
The batting had variety and depth, with Asanka Gurusinha, Roshan Mahanama and Hashan Tillakaratne all providing valuable support. Add to them Ranatunga, master of creating gaps where none appeared to exist.
(Article: Copyright © 2007 AFP)
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