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Toss: Sri Lanka.
Contrary to most expectations, Sri Lanka controlled their first World Cup final after the initial stages. Their batting was vastly more proficient against spin than Australia's; their catching was flawless whereas the Australians held one chance out of five; their ground fielding was sure while the Australians frequently fumbled; and their spinners obtained enough turn on what was otherwise a batsman's pitch to stifle the Australians after their confident start. Only in pace bowling were the Sri Lankans the lesser side on the day, and their two opening bowlers did not feature again after their first 13 overs had cost 72 runs.
The first day/night international in Pakistan was played in cool conditions, and there was no sun even in daytime. Storms the previous night were followed by rain just as Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto presented the Wills World Cup to Arjuna Ranatunga, one of the longest survivors among contemporary Test cricketers. In spite of the dampness, the Australians would have batted first in any event, but Ranatunga chose to field first in the hope of some early wickets for his seamers, and because his batsmen had shown exceptional maturity of temperament in their earlier run-chases. If his plan did not work out exactly - the hitherto impressive Vaas pitching too short - his seamers did succeed in removing Australia's best player of spin, Mark Waugh, who clipped a half-volley to square leg. But the significance of his dismissal was not apparent while Taylor and Ponting took the score to 137 by the 27th over. Then Taylor was caught sweeping at de Silva, who began his various contributions with a spell of five overs for two wickets and 19 runs.
Four overs later Ponting missed his cut at an off-break, which left Australia without a settled batsman to take on the four spinners as they tightened their grip. The balance shifted, and Australia's incoming batsmen were unable to work the ball through the gaps in the infield often enough, let alone score boundaries. After 20 overs their score was 110 for one, after 40 overs 178 for five. From the 24th over to their 49th, they did not reach the boundary except for a pulled six by Law. Whereas Taylor hit eight fours and a six, his team-mates mustered just five fours between them, as Ranatunga shrewdly kept his three off-spinners and Jayasuriya going until the end.
Given the excellence of Sri Lanka's batting, the Australians had to take early wickets and catch everything. By the sixth over they did have two wickets, Jayasuriya run out by the narrowest of margins on a TV replay, and Kaluwitharana mis-pulling to square leg. That, however, was the extent of Australia's catching: Law dropped Gurusinha when 53 off a straightforward pull to deep midwicket, and three half-chances were not taken. Considerable dew made the ball slippery, especially for the spinners Warne and Mark Waugh, and the Australians seemed to have little left in their tank for their third high-intensity game in seven days.
Gurusinha flat-batted Warne for four to long-on and for six over long-off from consecutive balls, and provided steadily accelerating support for de Silva, who began with a model on-drive for three first ball, and whipped Fleming's straight slower ball in front of square to give Sri Lanka's innings a momentum it never lost. In mid-innings he was content to push the spinners around and hit only the bad ball hard, and he made sure of his wicket, after Gurusinha was out to a wild swing and while Ranatunga was playing himself in.
Just as the required rate was climbing towards a run a ball, Mark Waugh conceded 12 runs from an over, so Sri Lanka needed just 51 off their last ten overs, which became a mere ten from five. de Silva went on to score the third hundred in a World Cup final (after Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards), and finished with 107 from 124 balls, including 13 fours, a remarkable strike rate given his certainty of application. It was the first time in six attempts that a side batting second had won the World Cup final.
While a light-hearted crowd favoured Sri Lanka throughout, no malice was directed towards the Australians, worried though they had been about repercussions from the Salim Malik affair. A well-lit and well-staged match was enjoyed by considerably more than the official capacity of 23,826 spectators.
Man of the Match: P. A. de Silva. Most Valued Player of the Tournament: S. T. Jayasuriya.
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