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Aravinda de Silva | Sri Lanka’s pocket-sized dynamite

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Last updated on 17 Oct 2023 | 05:07 AM
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Aravinda de Silva | Sri Lanka’s pocket-sized dynamite

The player ended his career with 6361 Test runs and 9284 runs in ODIs

If getting the captain and most players to back you unconditionally is a difficult objective, then standing up to their expectations is humungous. Former Sri Lanka cricket legend Aravinda de Silva played most of his career with this expectation on his shoulders.

The year 1994 was challenging for Sri Lanka cricket. Poor form, match-fixing allegations, and team management politics combined to form a chaos that bred inefficiency in the cricket camp. It was at this time that the Sri Lanka team was invited, along with Australia, UAE, Pakistan, India and New Zealand to play the Austral-Asia Cup hosted by UAE.

Sri Lanka were understandably not the favourites and the team didn’t fare well in the round-robin cum knockout tournament as well. They would lose both their games to Australia and New Zealand to finish last in the group and get eliminated early on.  However, headlines were made by captain Arjuna Ranatunga and a few other senior players who had protested the dropping of Aravinda de Silva, who had failed the fitness test ahead of the tournament.       

De Silva’s perception around the world was quite divisive. Debuting in Test cricket in 1984, the player did play crucial knocks for his country but was also known to throw his wickets away. His 122 against Pakistan in the 1985 Faisalabad Test or the 105 in the Lahore Test, were enigmatic displays of batting, but those knocks came very rarely.

After De Silva’s knock in Lahore in November 1985, his next Test century would come in December 1989 against Australia. He would then score a 267 against New Zealand in Wellington, albeit the match ended in a draw. Hence, it was easy to conclude that the player was mostly a passenger in the Sri Lankan team with rare green patches keeping him relevant.

Captain Ranatunga, however, had full belief in De Silva and decided to stick with him as he would later do with Mutthiah Muralitharan. However, having the captain’s belief was half the job done as the national team had to win something of substance to sustain the sinking interest in cricket back in their nation in the mid-1990s.

That chance would come in the 1996 World Cup, with the Lankans being one of the hosts. De Silva was a much better player of white-ball cricket, coming in the middle order, and was in great touch during the ICC event. After scoring a crucial 91 against Zimbabwe in the World Cup opener, de Silva’s 145-run knock against Kenya kept Sri Lanka’s dream run going. 

De Silva’s significance couldn’t be felt more than in the knockout stages when his late 66-run knock was just enough to push India out of the tournament at the Eden Gardens. However, the greatest knock of de Silva’s career came in Lahore in the ‘96 World Cup final against Australia.

It was also the time to settle scores for Sri Lanka’s horrible outing in the recently concluded Benson & Hedges World Series 1995/96, where the Aussies had drubbed the Lankans four times. It was the star-studded Australian team of the 1990s, and despite Sri Lanka being more acclimatized to the subcontinental conditions, they were definitely not the favourites. 

Ranatunga’s men started on a nervy note as well, with their star openers Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana getting dismissed after tallying 15 runs between them, while chasing a target of 242 set by Australians. 

While Asanka Gurusinha was holding the fort, Sri Lanka needed a stroke player. De Silva’s entry couldn’t have come at a more opportune time as the batsman would forge a 125-run stand with Gurusinha and then a 97-run partnership with Ranatunga to help his side win their maiden World Cup. In the process, de Silva remained unbeaten on 107, having hit 13 boundaries.

Though this was de Silva’s most career-defining innings, his career couldn’t be summed up just by the World Cup title. He would follow the World Cup with a super Singer World Series display as well, where Sri Lanka would again beat Australia to win the title. De Silva had ended as the top scorer with 334 runs in that tournament.

In an interview with The Australia, Ian Healy had called Aravinda de Silva pretty invincible post the 1996 World Cup and the Singers Cup. The player ended his career with 6361 Test runs and 9284 runs in ODIs. He would pitch in the ball from time to time and had 106 ODI wickets just like that.

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