By Michael Roberts –
Arjuna Ranatunga’s timely recollections and assessments of Sri Lanka’s cricketing triumph at the Final of the 1996 World Cup at Lahore on March 1996 add up to a master class – balanced, wide-ranging, revelatory and judicious within the space limits of a news-item.
The most revelatory item of information was that the Manager, Duleep Mendis, and Arjuna secretly visited Gaddafi Stadium the night before the match and discovered the weight of dew on the ground – an unusual feature for that time of the year. This led them to decide on batting second if Sri Lanka won the toss – a decision they adhered to despite weighty advice against this course from weighty persons. THAT was a decisive act – one supported by good fortune in winning the toss.
The rest of the ‘act’ was not fortuitous. The Sri Lankan bowlers did reasonably well to restrict the Australians to 241 runs for 7 wkts in 50 overs –with the four spinners Murali, Dharmasena, Jayasuriya and Aravinda serving as chief weapons and Aravinda even snaring three wickets. Thereafter, Asanka Gurusinha (65 runs), Aravinda (103 n. o.) and Arjuna (47 n. o.) reached this target for three wickets in 46.2 overs – a comfortable and convincing win.
Arjuna’s Judicious Assessment
Arjuna Ranatunga’s appraisal is both wide-ranging and judicious. He provides us with examples of the team spirit that are quite enlightening and add fresh information to our historical store. He reminds us of the yeoman services provided throughout the competition by the Manager Duleep Mendis, the coach Dav Whatmore and the Aussie physiotherapist Alex Kontouris.
And, Wow, he reminds all readers of the heritage of good cricketers from the decades past by referring to a few stars from yesteryear (Mahadevan Sathasivam, C.H. Gunasekara, Michael Tissera, Anura Tennekoon and Bandula Warnapura) so as to drive home the point that the talent displayed during the World Cup was an outgrowth of good practices passed down from generational layer-to-layers below.
Moreover, he tells those who remain ignorant that there were good men and true within the administrative firmaments of cricket who sustained the whole enterprise. He names some as illustrations: Major General Heyn, Neil Perera, Nisal Senaratne, Abu Fuard, W. A. N. Silva, Ranjit Fernando, Anuruddha Polonowita and T. B. Kehelgamuwa. From my own interaction with touring Sri Lankan sides over the 1980s to 2000s let me add other examples and some illustrative moments.
One such hand was Bandu de Silva who served the BCCSL in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Sri Lanka was struggling to get ICC status. It was Bandu (now deceased?) who clarified how the West Indian tour of Sri Lanka in 1980 was an important factor in securing ICC approval for the island’s entry into the top layer.
Neil Perera (ex-St. John’s Panadura) was another assiduous administrative hand in the 1970s to 1990s. Neil and Ranjit Fernando were in charge of the Under 19 touring squad led by Aravinda when they played several 50-over matches against Australia Under 19 (including Craig McDermott and the Waugh twins) in Adelaide – so I became privy to some of the emerging developments then.
Gamani Dissanayake and Ana Punchihewa
Finally, and judiciously, Arjuna underlines the weight of Gamini Dissanayake’s role in the history of Sri Lanka’s cricket administration by the clever political work he put in so as to finalize Sri Lanka’s entry into top-rung ICC status.*…… And then there was Ana Punchihewa backing the work of Dissanayake in the 1990s and supporting the team during the years 1995/96 and the traumatic events in Australia and Lanka in december 1995 and-the-months following
Australian Prejudices and Australian Assaults, 1995-to-1996
In my reading the piece de resistance in Arjuna’s survey lies within the statement: “But I could see that the rest of my team-mates toughened up during our tour of Australia just prior to the World Cup.”
There is a complex and revealing history of cricketing politics behind this little line. Let me clarify via elaboration – elaboration that is constructed in part from inside knowledge arising from my location in Australia and from interaction with key supporters like Dr. Quintus de Zylwa in Melbourne and with the team during their Adelaide leg in January 1996 one month before the World Cup. After Murali was no-balled by Hair on the 26th, I happened to meet Dr Quintus by happenchance at the MCG grounds and he immediately pressed me to organise a support group in Adelaide to raise monies for the Sri Lankan administration.
In the 1990s, arguably, Australia was the kingpin in the world of cricket administration, while its talented players bestrode the ‘balconies of cricket.’ In 1995 several key figures in Australia’s cricketing administration decided to cleanse the cricket field of a stream of “chuckers” emerging from Asia. One was Bob Simpson the Australian coach THEN. During Sri Lanka’s preliminary matches Simpson even asked the ABC cameramen Viv Jenkins to capture Muralitharan in action.
Robert Craddock subsequently disclosed that in the lead-up to the controversial moment at the MCG on 26th December “a series of secret conversations between leading umpires, high-ranking officials and disgruntled players preceded the stunning decision to call Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan for throwing yesterday … At least one high-ranking Australian official felt strongly [that] Muralitharan [should] be exposed as a thrower and had lengthy barside conversations with a Test Umpire three weeks ago forcibly expressing the point.”
We can reasonably conjecture that the official in question was Simpson and the umpire was Darrell Hair. On the 26th December 1995 he no-balled Murali from a position at square-leg – a revolutionary act in one sense because such a call was (is) usually the preserve of the head-umpire. Hair did not receive support from Steve Dunne the Kiwi who was head-umpire at the bowler’s end; but he (Hair) SUBSEQUENTLY told Captain Arjuna that he would be no-balling Murali from whichever position he stood. The initial no-balling acts from square-leg led Arjuna to retire from the field for a spell to consult Duleep Mendis and others. But, on his return, Hair’s determination to no-ball Murali from any spot as umpire forced captain Arjuna to remove Murali from the attack. THAT was (as far as I recall) the end of Murali’s bowling on that tour of Australia.
Thus, it is clear that from the very inception Muralitharan was the main target of the Aussie powerbrokers. This placed Sri Lanka’s cricket team under the gun. This animus had been displayed earlier during the First Test Match at Perth in early December when the state of the ball was deemed suspicious by the umpires when Sri Lanka was fielding and a furore developed.
The Big Stick was reserved for the high-profile Test at the MCG. In what is now known to have been a pre-planned move directed by the Aussie coach Bob Simpson and others, the Australian umpire Darrel Hair no-balled Muralitharan while standing as head umpire– a revolutionary act in one sense because such a call was (is) usually the preserve of the square-leg umpire. This series of no-balling by Hair forced captain Arjuna to remove Murali from the attack … and he himself retired from the field for a spell to consult Duleep Mendis and others.
Subsequent grapevine tales indicate that several personnel in the Australian cricket world were aware beforehand that Murali (and, thus, sri Lanka) would be condemned in this dramatic fashion. Graham Halbish (no less that the Secretary of the Australian Cricketing Board) happened to drive to the match that 26th December morning with Owen Mottau, a colleague at the Prahran CC, and he told Owen that a contretemps would develop that day.
A contretemps and furore rolled into one it was. As one could imagine, this was HIGH DRAMA. The cricketing world was on fire. Murali could not bowl thereafter on tour.
In these circumstances, the Sri Lankan administrators (that is, Ana Punchihewa, Quintus De Zylwa et al) had to move quickly and urgently in their efforts to secure Muralitharan’s career and defend the accusation of “chucking.” While Dr Buddy Reid in Melbourne and Ravindra Goonetilleka in Hong Kong stepped into the ring with their analyses of the Murali action, the decisive techno-scientific intervention was also Australian. A team of specialists at the University of Western Australia marshalled by Dr Bruce Elliot and Daryl Foster proceeded to decipher Muralitharan’s right-arm-in-action. Foster, by happy happenchance, was also a cricket coach and had got to know Aravinda de Silva when he was coaching Kent in UK (talk of felicitous coincidences!!).
The fact that Murali has a plasticine wrist/bone that enables him to touch his wrist with his fingers was (is) central to the issue under inspection. While Muralitharan did not feature in any more matches during the tour of Australia, his career was saved by the decisive intervention of the team of bio-scientists at the University of Western Australia. He was able to participate in the World Cup in the Indian subcontinental realm in the months of February/March 1996.
But the story is not that simple. Australian prejudices and the animus directed towards Sri Lanka remained vibrant. The Australian team also realised that they were scheduled to play one of their first round World Cup matches in Colombo. Volare! Cantare! This, they thought, would mean facing up to local fan-fury. When they assembled in Adelaide in January 1996 for the Third Test match, there was a team meeting to decide if they should forfeit the match (a possibility because the point-score scheme in place for this World Cup would still enable them to reach the second round of matches if they won all other first round matches). To their credit, it appears that they decided to enter Sri Lanka if adequate security was provided. This was the spirit of Tobruk and that of the Anzacs at Gallipoli.
However, their worries were answered – that is removed – by unexpected events from unexpected quarters. On 31st January 1996, the LTTE blew up the Central Bank located in the heart of the Colombo’s business district known as the “Fort.” From the Tamil Tiger viewpoint this devastating blow at a strategic civilian target was a ‘commemorative’ challenge to the island’s annual “Independence Day of 4th February 1996. They were affirming that “independence” for Sri Lankans was NOT independence for the Sri Lankan Tamils attached to their conception of the world.
The Central Bank bomb blast was, as we know, Sri Lanka’s version of 9/11.
This event enabled the Aussie cricketers to skip the Sri Lankan leg of the World Cup without losing face in the Western firmament (the Lankan firmament and its opinions being of no consequence in their eyes).
THAT, then, was the series of momentous events preceding the Cricket World Cup scheduled for play within the countries constituting the Indian subcontinent.
When the Sri Lankan cricket squad battled manfully and made it to the finals, some Lankan fans succeeded in securing seats at the Gaddafi ground. Their lampoons let Darrell Hair know what they thought of him.
Arjuna was spot-on. Our fans are often an asset.
Goonetilleke, Ravindra S. 1999 “Legality of Bowling Actions in Cricket,” Ergonomics, vol. 42, pp 1386-97.
Hair, Darrell 1998 Decision Maker. An Umpire’s Story, Sydney, Random House.
Halbish, Graham 2003 Run Out. My Dismissal and the Inside Story of Cricket, Melbourne, Lothian Books.
Ranatunga, Arjuna 2021 “Arjuna Ranatunga’s Wide-Ranging Review of the World Cup Win in March 1996,” 26 March 2021, https://thuppahis.com/2021/03/26/arjuna-ranatungas-wide-ranging-review-of-the-world-cup-win-in-march-1996/
Roberts, Michael & Alfred James 1998 Crosscurrents. Sri Lanka and Australia at Cricket, Sydney, Walla Walla Press.
Roberts, Michael 2011 Incursions & Excursions in and Around Sri Lankan Cricket, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, ISBN 978-955-53198-0-5
Roberts, Michael 2011 “Currents, Clashes and Issues in Sri Lankan Cricket,” in Incursions & Excursions, pp. 1-19
Roberts, Michael 2011 “Saving Murali: Action On-field and Off-field, 1995-2005,” in Incursions & Excursions, pp. 111-38.
Roberts, Michael 2021 “Coming of Age. A Cricketing Landmark in March 199 with Pictures,” 5 February 2021, https://thuppahis.com/2021/02/05/coming-of-age-a-cricketing-landmark-in-march-1996-with-pictures/
Skandakumar, S. 2021 “Facing the Central Bank Bomb on 31st January 1996,” 7 February 2021, https://thuppahis.com/2021/02/07/facing-the-central-bank-bomb-on-31st-january-1996/
 Duleep Mendis from Moratuwa and S. Thomas’ College was an attacking batsman in his heyday and displayed his skills on the world stage –notably during the World Cup in UK in 1975 and when he faced a good England attack at Lords in Lanka’s first Test match at that venue. I have only met him twice – both occasions being in Adelaide in the late 1980s when Neil Chanmugam was the Manager. Neil and I had played cricket against each other and with each other at University circa 1960/61. So, by happenchance I was privy once to a strategy meeting between Duleep, Roy Dias and Neil. Duleep’s strategic acumen was revealed to me then.
 Dr. Quintus de Zylwa from Kingswood College, Kandy, has provided yeoman Sri Lankan cricketing interests for many years. Apart from the campaign to protect Murali, he gathered funds for the SL administration. I was among those he gathered together in Melbourne around 1997(?) in order to build up Lanka’s cricketing funds for Sumathipala’s administration.
 Apart from Muraitharan, there were other bowlers in that decade deemed suspect – among them Jayananda Warnaweera, Harbhajan Singh and Kumar Dharmasena.
 Halbish 2003, pp. 146-47.
 Robert Craddock in the Herald Sun, 27 December 1995.
 A New Zealander Steve Dunne was the other umpire. It is of some significance that he refrained from no-balling Muralitharan.
 The umpires’ suspicions re the ball appears to have been due to “an abrasive centre-wicket area” at the WACA. The details and the issues here are clarified in my article “Controversies,” in Roberts & James, Crosscurrents, 1998, 112-15.
 I received this piece of information much later from Owen Mottau. Owen is a Kingswoodian who has been an outstanding allround sportsman. My link with him comes partly through my residence as a boarder at his parents’ home in Nuwara Eliya in 1961 when pursuing research at the Archives.
 Murali stayed behind in Hong Kong when the team flew back to Sri Lanka in late January 1996 and Goonetilleka and his assistants toiled with Murali on a basketball surface and produced an informative technical report in an Ergonomic journal. It is an indication of the inequalities in power/clout in the academic and media world that this report had little or no impact within the ICC and world stage (or even in Sri Lanka). in contrast, and fortuitously, the findings of the UWA team were critical in saving Murali’s career …. and. thus, contributing towards Sri Lanka’s World Cup win.
 The intricate details of this set of tales have been presented in Roberts, Saving Murali, 2011.
 See Roberts, Saving Murali, 2011. Dr Bruce Elliot, Daryl Foster and Jacque Alderson deserve to be felicited with Sri Lankan honours for the due diligence and skill they displayed in their work on Murali’s mechanics.