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Mad Max destroys India

Aravinda de Silva was in the zone at Eden Gardens, scoring at manic pace, yet without a trace of violence

Sambit Bal

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Aravinda de Silva is bowled by Anil Kumble, World Cup semi-final 1996
By the time Anil Kumble broke through, de Silva had wrested control for Sri Lanka © Getty Images
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Aravinda de Silva
66 v India, semi-final, 1996

Sri Lanka's path to the last-eight stage of the 1996 World Cup was made easy by two walkovers they received as a result of Australia and West Indies refusing to travel to Sri Lanka on security grounds, and it remains a bit a of myth that they were propelled by the explosive starts provided by Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana. Kalu scored a mere 73 runs in the World Cup at 12.16 and crossed 20 only twice.

Their legend was built mainly on a spectacular assault they mounted on India in the league match in New Delhi. Chasing 272, the openers blasted 53 in the first five overs with Manoj Prabhakar going for 11 and 22 in his first two overs. Jayasuriya went on to score 79.

It was in the backdrop of this massacre that India and Sri Lanka squared up for the semi-final at Eden Gardens. Mohammad Azharuddin's decision to invite Sri Lanka to bat was clearly influenced by the ease of the Delhi chase.

The match couldn't have begun in more dramatic fashion. Both of India's tormentors were gone in the first four balls, playing mirror-image shots - slashes to third man off Javagal Srinath. But what happened in the next one hour was breathtaking and magical.

Aravinda de Silva batted as if he was in a trance, untouched by the gravity of his team's situation, immune to the roars of a 100,000-strong partisan crowd, and undaunted by the occasion. He was in the zone.

His 50 came off 32 balls and contained 11 fours. Yet there was no trace of violence in it. Not for a moment did it feel manic. Instead, he was a picture of serenity and played the purest of cricket strokes, hitting cleanly and crisply between cover and extra-cover with such precision that fielders were rendered redundant. It inspired Christopher Martin-Jenkins to invoke Neville Cardus who once said wrote of Reggie Spooner: "He uses the bat as a lady might use her fan."

Such was de Silva's command over the proceedings that while Sri Lanka galloped along at nearly seven an over, Asanka Gurusinha scored only a run in 16 balls and de Silva barely noticed when his partner went, trying to play a rare stroke. He hit three more sublime fours after reaching 50 and was gone on the stroke of the 15th over, inside-edging Anil Kumble onto his stumps as casually as he had caressed all his fours.

It left Sri Lanka at 85 for 4, but India had been stunned and Roshan Mahanama, Arjuna Ranatunga and Hashan Tillakaratne batted sensibly to take Sri Lanka to 251, a total that would prove beyond India on a fast-deteriorating pitch.

The match finally ended in shame and tears for India when passionate Calcutta fans found the Indian collapse - seven wickets for 22 runs to reduce them to 120 for 8 from a relatively comfortable 98 for 1 - too hard to bear, and expressed themselves by throwing water bottles and any other objects they could grab on to the field, while also setting fire to the seating. Vinod Kambli left the field in tears as Clive Lloyd, the match referee, summoned the players in and later awarded the match to Sri Lanka.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

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