That tournament and its meaning is a line in the sand for the sport in our country. Before 1996 cricket was amateur. It was popular, but not a uniting force by any means.
But when we won in Lahore in 1996 that all changed. The success reached out to the future generations, showed them what could be achieved and allowed cricket to professionalise. It put Sri Lanka cricket on the map and we have been growing ever since.
People sometimes forget the backdrop to that tournament. Although we were one of the host countries along with Pakistan and India there was a civil war taking place and a big bomb blast in the capital city, Colombo, beforehand caused Australia and the West Indies to refuse to travel to play us.
We took those points as a result but still had to play India in India not once, but twice – including the semi-final at Eden Gardens in Kolkata. All the adversity brought everyone together though, and not just the players but the country as a whole. That is the effect we discovered cricket, and the ICC Cricket World Cup, can have.
The man who had the vision for us was, of course, Arjuna Ranatunga, our captain, along with coach Dav Whatmore. I hear former West Indies players still calling Clive Lloyd “skipper” now, long after they have all finished playing, and Arjuna was the same sort of figure for us. He had such belief in us, especially in sub-continental conditions, and in return we would run through a brick wall for him. He was the driving force behind the way we attacked the opposition.
Arjuna looked at Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana, hidden away in the middle-order, and decided their power was wasted as often they might only have a handful of overs to bat.
It is true the ICC Cricket World Cup had seen pinch-hitters before, with Ian Botham and Mark Greatbatch used in 1992, but this was something completely different. Sanath and Kalu’ were given license to attack and such was our belief in all our players that we were not worried even if they got out early. That gave them great freedom and they took advantage of it.