Wish I'd Done That

Mahela Jayawardene: 'Aravinda's impact on the biggest game of his career was absolute'

The former Sri Lanka captain on a World Cup performance he wishes he had to his name

As told to Madushka Balasuriya  |  

Tanveer Mughal / © AFP/Getty Images

Aravinda de Silva: 3 for 42 and 107 not out vs Australia, 1996 World Cup final, Lahore

He was in the zone, simple as that. You know the one. Where you walk in and that feeling of complete and utter control comes over you. Sometimes it's easier if the bowlers aren't bowling well, or if the situation is not too pressurised; you can get an easy hundred. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about where it's a high-pressure situation, a good bowling attack, and you really have to nail it.

I don't think there was ever an innings that better encapsulates this than Aravinda's knock in the 1996 World Cup final.

Australia's attack had McGrath, Fleming, Warne, Reiffel. And they had a couple of part-timers, like the Waugh brothers, who bowled as well. Going into the final, Sri Lanka were definitely not favourites.

But the big-game players just have that kind of mindset - and that's what Aravinda showed us. On their day there's not much that can stop them.

I'm sure that day stands out for a lot of Sri Lankans, but that World Cup win was actually a turning point for most of the younger generation of cricketers. For me, it was particularly memorable because I was a schoolboy at the time, and that day was the day of my last inter-school "big match".

We only found out a few days before that game that Sri Lanka had made the final, so there was no way we could shift it. It was on a Saturday and Sunday. So as you can imagine, on Saturday we had a full house at the Khettarama Stadium, but on Sunday, it was just the school prefects, parents and teachers. Everyone else, probably the entire country, was watching the final.

I only managed to get home by the time Sri Lanka started the chase. And when the two wickets fell early, you couldn't help but fear the worst. But then Aravinda walks out - man, he was the player for us in that batting line-up.

From the first ball you sensed something special. The tempo he batted at, you just could see it in his eyes. And it was so different from his knock in the semi-final against India. That had been a blitz, a whirlwind counterattack, but this was calculated, controlled. Which in itself showed how versatile he was.

It was an innings that had so many layers to it too, ones that were gradually revealed as I got to know the man later in my career. As an 18-year-old, though, you're simply amazed at what you're witnessing - the complete self-belief, the concentration.

I only processed how great it truly was much later. How he had a game plan against Warne, how he played McGrath, how he played Fleming using the pace and getting across. It was a masterclass. If you rewatch it you'll notice that he was always covering his stumps; he always wanted the guys to bowl straight to him as much as possible. But he was so confident in his ability, he would just walk across - no fear of an lbw - and just keep milking it on the on side. He did that all game.

And if that was the extent of his performance, that would be enough, but it wasn't, was it? Aside from an unbeaten century, it's easy to forget that he also picked up three wickets and took two catches. His impact on the match was absolute. And all that in the biggest game of his career. Do I wish I'd done that? Who doesn't?