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Ranatunga's calm prevails in an unexpected thriller

With a match-winning 88, the portly Sri Lankan gave a hint of what was to come in four years' time

S Rajesh

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Arjuna Ranatunga celebrates winning the World Cup, Lahore, March 1996
Four years later, Ranatunga would lead Sri Lanka to an even greater triumph © Getty Images
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Arjuna Ranatunga
88 not out v Zimbabwe, 1992

Zimbabwe have had an uncanny ability to spring unpleasant surprises on more fancied opponents in the opening matches of World Cups - in 1983, they snuck past Australia by 13 runs, and in the next edition they almost knocked over New Zealand. Another huge upset was on the cards in 1992 when, powered by Andy Flower's 115 on debut and a blistering 45-ball 83 by Andy Waller, they walloped the Sri Lankans all around Pukekura Park in New Plymouth to amass a daunting 312 in 50 overs.

The target might not seem a lot in an age in which 300-plus totals are chased down with regularity, but 15 years ago it was worth a lot more. Going into that game, no team had scored more than 300 in the second innings of an ODI.

Obviously, no one passed that little bit of irrelevant information to the Sri Lankans. Athula Samarasekera and Roshan Mahanama got them off to a rollicking start, but at 212 for 5 in the 39th over, it looked all over for Sri Lanka.

At the crease, though, was the ample - and amply reassuring - figure of Arjuna Rantunga. The Zimbabweans had made excellent use of the bare pitch and the extremely small square boundaries. Andy Pycroft, one of their middle-order batsmen, reckoned the ground was suitable for nothing more than a local club's second-team ground.

Then came the time for Ranatunga to tuck in. Unhurried in approach and strokeplay, he scored at well over a run a ball without ever resorting to slogging. The dabs to third man and fine leg were his bread-and-butter strokes, but he was equally adept piercing the gaps and finding the boundaries and he finished with nine fours and a six.

All the while, even when the asking rate climbed to nearly 10 per over, Ranatunga kept his head, shielded the lower order, and continued with his rich vein of form, which had fetched him an incredible average of nearly 53 from his previous 22 matches. Fittingly, he hit the winning runs - his ninth four - as Sri Lanka eased to their target with four balls to spare in an amazing game that produced the second-highest ODI match aggregate at the time. A contest that on paper had appeared most unappetising had turned into a classic.

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo

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