| Aravinda de Silva made an unbeaten 107 in the 1996 World Cup final against Australia. He was named Man of the Match
Calcutta: “Follow the basics and stay calm” will be former captain, coach, chief selector and manager Duleep Mendis’ advice to Mahela Jayawardene when he wishes him “good luck” in the lead-up to Saturday’s World Cup final.
Currently the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) chief executive, Mendis was chief selector and manager when Arjuna Ranatunga’s highly motivated bunch lifted the 1996 World Cup. The Australians, led by Mark Taylor, finished second best.
“Our consistency has taken us to another final, but we shouldn’t allow the moment to overwhelm us... Keeping a cool head is important and I’m confident Mahela and coach (Tom) Moody have been emphasising just that,” Mendis told The Telegraph.
Having featured in the first four World Cups (1975-1987), the 54-year-old is more than aware of the requirements.
Physically, Mendis is in Colombo (“there are many things to take care of in SLC”), but his heart is in Bridgetown — “it’s an emotional time for us,” he explained.
The “many things” didn’t stop him from sharing his thoughts, though.
“Sanath (Jayasuriya) is one for the big occasion and, if he fires, then we’re almost assured of winning... However, (Muttiah Muralidharan) Murali could be the bigger threat for Australia... I’m not sure how the wicket is going to behave, but it’s assumed the Kensington Oval won’t be short on bounce,” Mendis remarked.
He went along with the popular view that the Sri Lankans have to be really wary of Glenn McGrath and, to a slightly lesser extent, captain Ricky Ponting.
“McGrath has been unbelievable and Ponting, like Sanath, is a man for the important moments... If we see off McGrath and the other new-ball bowlers, then half the battle is won... Even if we don’t score many but keep wickets intact, the pressure will be on Australia.”
| Duleep Mendis
Going back 11 years, Mendis recalled that the “disturbing incidents” on Sri Lanka’s 1995-96 tour of Australia as also the Australians’ decision not to play in Sri Lanka (during the World Cup) brought the team together like never before.
“It motivated us... Bonded us... We wanted to make the final and were hoping Australia would also get there... We’d been hurt in Australia and the boys wanted to take revenge... As it turned out, we thrashed them (by seven wickets)...”
But for Prime Minister John Howard’s unwarranted comments on the Muralidharan issue a couple of years ago, relations between the Sri Lankans and Australians have been reasonably good of late.
Still, for the generation which was either nursed by Ranatunga or grew up when he was calling the shots, nothing can give more satisfaction than defeating Australia.
Asked about the mood on the eve of that final at the Gaddafi, Mendis said: “The boys were tense... I remember the entire unit had early dinner after the team meeting and most were rather quiet... There was some tension but, at the dinner, nobody talked about the final... In fact, we’d consciously decided to keep it off our plates as we didn’t want the final to start the evening before!”
He added: “We’d made provision for our strategy going haywire... We did have a plan B in place, but didn’t have to fall back on it... What we’d been clear about was putting Australia in if we got the option... Having noticed the dew in the evenings, we knew gripping the ball would be difficult... That Arjuna won the toss gave us an advantage.”
Somewhat different factors are going to be at play on Saturday, but Mendis was quick to point out that guns would “cease to fire” during the final. “Cricket united the country in 1996... To my mind, it has had the same effect this time.”
According to Mendis, even if Jayawardene doesn’t bring the World Cup home, a “grand welcome” is planned. “We’ll be happier if we’re again world champions, but the team has already done very well and deserves to be feted.”
It’s an attitude which should take some of the pressure off the Kumar Sangakkaras and Lasith Malingas. The latter, by the way, had only been 12 when Ranatunga did a Kapil Dev and an Imran Khan.
BRIEF SCORES OF ’96 FINAL
Australia: 241 for 7 (Mark Taylor 74, Ricky Ponting 45; Aravinda de Silva 3 for 42). Sri Lanka: 245 for 3 in 46.2 overs (Aravinda 107 not out, Asanka Gurusinha 65; Damien Fleming 1 for 43). Result: Sri Lanka won by 7 wickets. MoM: Aravinda.