Sri Lanka's crowning glory
World Cup No. 6
Minnows Holland, Kenya, United Arab Emirates
Format Two qualifying groups of six: each team played the other five in its group to determine the quarter-finalists. In other words, it took 30 matches to eliminate Zimbabwe and the three minnows, then seven more to reduce the remaining Test nations to one winner.
Innovations 15-over fielding restrictions had made their debut in 1992, but 1996 was the year the pinch-hitters really seized their opportunity. Sri Lanka, Australia and India exploited the wide open spaces with aggressive early batting. England didn't. The third umpire also made his first appearance in front of the TV monitor.
Early running Sri Lanka finished top of Group A despite beating only India of the fancied teams; Australia and West Indies forfeited their matches in Colombo rather than travel to a city where over 1000 people had been injured in a terrorist bomb only three weeks earlier. But South Africa were the clear favourites after five hyper-efficient victories in Group B. Gary Kirsten's 188 not out against UAE was a Cup record. England, meanwhile, lost all three of their games against Test nations, wobbled against Holland, and lost their lunch against UAE (at least, Neil Smith did).
The quarters Jayasuriya savaged England, who went down to their tenth successive defeat by a Test nation, but skipper Atherton got off lighter than Wasim Akram, who dropped out of Pakistan's tie with India, citing a side-strain. His Lahore house was stoned after they lost by 39 runs. A spectacular 130 from NZ's unheralded Chris Harris left Australia in need of their highest total batting second to win an ODI: Mark Waugh's record third hundred of the tournament (he had already become the first man to make successive Cup tons) made sure they got it. But the surprise packages were West Indies, as Lara's 111 inspired them to a 19-run win over South Africa.
The semis A Calcutta crowd of 110,000 boiled over as India slid to 120 for 8 in pursuit of Sri Lanka's 252. Fires were started in the stands, leading to a win "by default" for SL. India's decline had come as a surprise after Srinath removed ballistic openers Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana in the first over, but de Silva's 66 led a recovery. That was nothing, however, when compared with Australia's comeback: they were 15 for 4 before Law and Bevan dragged them up to 207 for 8, then West Indies cruised to 165 for 2 in the 42nd over. But four wickets from Warne and some tactical wizardry from Mark Taylor precipitated an incredible collapse: West Indies lost 8 for 37 in 50 balls, and Richardson was stranded on 49 not out.
The final No-one had dominated a World Cup final to the extent that de Silva did here. He took two catches and three wickets, including Australia's top-scorers Taylor and Ponting, then strolled to an elegant 107 not out. Handicapped by a slippery, dew-covered ball, Australia dropped several chances, but never looked like defending 241.
Last hurrah Javed Miandad, the only man to play in every World Cup to date, finally bowed out. He batted three times, making 11*, 5, and 38 in the quarter-final. And Robin Smith's selectorial misfortune continued: he helped provide England's brightest moment, a record 147-run opening stand against Pakistan, and was dumped for good immediately after the tournament. It was also World Cup curtains for Richie Richardson, Roger Harper, Asanka Gurusinha, Ramiz Raja, Manoj Prabhakar, Phil DeFreitas, Dipak Patel, Andy Waller and Craig McDermott (three Cups each). McDermott bowled only three overs before returning home with a calf strain.
First hurrah Waqar Younis, surprisingly, was appearing in his first World Cup (back injury in 1992). Atherton and Gough made their debuts in the deflating defeat by New Zealand, for whom only four players had prior Cup experience. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ricky Ponting and Glenn McGrath added to growing reputations while Romesh Kaluwitharana is remembered as half of an all-conquering opening partnership, even though he made only 73 runs at 12.17.
Not to be forgotten Kenya beat West Indies in a qualifying match at Pune on Leap Year Day: Steve Tikolo, Kenya's only professional, top-scored with 29 out of 166, then Maurice Odumbe and Rajab Ali took three wickets apiece as West Indies crumbled for 93. The prize wicket of Brian Lara fell to a catch by portly, bespectacled keeper Tariq Iqbal; some thought it was the only ball he had held onto all day.