Players from the champion sides relive their World Cup journeys

'Arjuna got the unit together'

1996, part one: Aravinda de Silva on Sri Lanka's preparations for the tournament, their opening strategies, and their faith in Ranatunga and Murali (00:00)

February 28, 2011


'Arjuna got the unit together'

February 28, 2011

Sri Lanka's journey started towards the World Cup started back in 1995, when we were in Australia. There were lot of issues with Muttiah Muralitharan and that's when the team really came together to fight for one cause. I remember the guys playing for each other.

Our team management that comprised Dav Whatmore and Alex Kountouris made us realise the importance of fitness and proper training methods, and that took us to a different level. Since then, the team's fitness levels and the way they approach the big games is totally different, and lot of the credit should to go to Alex and Dav for really moulding the team into a fighting, spirited unit.

We tried the option in Australia when we saw how Kalu was batting down the order and getting out. We decided to push him up the order because we thought the value for his shots would be greater given the way he was playing and attacking the fast bowlers. That was the reason we decided to give him a go at the top of the order and strengthen the middle order to make it more solid. Sanath, of course, had had a bit of an average and mediocre career batting down the order, and they were two guys with lot of potential. We had to work out whether to slot them in to get the best value from the way they approached the game. That is how it worked out.

Not the first few times, but we felt that was the way to go because they were going to be in the side anyway. Sanath was useful as a bowler who could come in and bowl a few overs and Kalu was the wicketkeeper. So we had to slot them in a place where we could give the green light to go out there and do what they do best without putting any pressure on them, and also to understand the rest of the batting order. We knew that even if we lost two wickets in two balls we had the batting order to see the 50 overs through. I think he did very well. He got the unit together and was also very strong-minded, and that made it easier for the team to understand that the opposition was never a threat. We never thought at any given time that any opposition was not beatable. That was the sort of confidence that he brought in.

Murali was called but once he was cleared by the ICC we had no doubt as to whether he was going to survive in the game or not. We knew he was clear and clean and it was a case of keeping the faith in him. There was also lot of respect for him over how he kept his mental state going and fought through all these battles, and came out as one of the greatest bowlers ever to step on the earth.

In a way it was a blessing in disguise because when they didn't come, the team became that much more adamant and determined to make a point and was looking forward to playing them outside Sri Lanka. We met only one side in the process, which was Australia in the final, and that incident gave us the determination that was required to topple them.

Relationships with players and countries is sometimes exaggerated but as a bunch of players they were very competitive and nice. You have to admire the way they play the game; I, for one, really admire and appreciate the way the Australians and South Africans approach cricket and the way they play on the field. For the subcontinent lads, it is important to understand what sort of opposition you are facing and not undermine your ability but go out there and show them what you can really do. The cultures are different; we have a way of approaching situations and they have another. So it is only to do with the culture; as human beings they are as nice as any other cricketing nation.

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