Winner: Australia

Benson and Hedges World Series, 1995-96

Trent Bouts

Australia won their third successive World Series, as expected, but the tournament did not quite follow the expected script. Their opponents in the finals were Sri Lanka, not West Indies. No one suspected this was a pointer to the course of the World Cup. But Sri Lanka had arrived fresh from success in Sharjah, were invigorated by an experimental opener, Romesh Kaluwitharana, and enjoyed a form of cricket in which they could get by without having to bowl their opponents out. They fought back after early difficulties and pressed Australia hard in the two finals, though they could not force a third.

Relations between the two sides, already tense after allegations of ball tampering and throwing in the Test series, deteriorated further, with Muttiah Muralitharan dropping out of the team after being called again for throwing. Peace talks were held at the Australian Cricket Board, where umpire Darrell Hair denied that he made racist remarks to the Sri Lankans and explained that he had addressed them as "you blokes". It was a season of crossed wires as much as crossed swords and the rancour continued into the last match at Sydney.

The problems seemed to harden the Sri Lankans, but distractions told against the West Indians. Brian Lara had refused to join the tour and they were as busy coping with enquiries over him as they were with the cricket. They did well to recover from four straight defeats, but losing their last match to Sri Lanka saw them out of the tournament.

Australia's plans for the World Cup began to take shape as the series progressed: they did not use David Boon at all and eventually dropped Michael Slater; Mark Waugh took over the opener's job with great success. Meanwhile, players wore numbers for the first time in this competition, but another initiative, the use of retractable light towers for day/night games at Adelaide, was postponed because of engineering difficulties.

Match reports for

1st Match: Sri Lanka v West Indies at Adelaide, Dec 15, 1995
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2nd Match: Australia v West Indies at Adelaide, Dec 17, 1995
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3rd Match: Australia v West Indies at Melbourne, Dec 19, 1995
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4th Match: Australia v Sri Lanka at Sydney, Dec 21, 1995
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5th Match: Australia v West Indies at Sydney, Jan 1, 1996
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6th Match: Sri Lanka v West Indies at Hobart, Jan 3, 1996
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7th Match: Sri Lanka v West Indies at Brisbane, Jan 5, 1996
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8th Match: Australia v West Indies at Brisbane, Jan 7, 1996
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9th Match: Australia v Sri Lanka at Melbourne, Jan 9, 1996
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10th Match: Australia v Sri Lanka at Perth, Jan 12, 1996
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11th Match: Sri Lanka v West Indies at Perth, Jan 14, 1996
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12th Match: Australia v Sri Lanka at Melbourne, Jan 16, 1996
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1st Final: Australia v Sri Lanka at Melbourne, Jan 18, 1996
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2nd Final: Australia v Sri Lanka at Sydney, Jan 20, 1996
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© John Wisden & Co