Sri Lanka's Sanath Jayasuriya ... one of three survivors from the '96 Cup winning side. - Reuters
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (AP):
SRI LANKA aren't the only team that can draw inspiration from looking back to their 1996 Cricket World Cup triumph.
While the current Sri Lanka squad is preparing for tomorrow's Cricket World Cup final against Australia with stories of that win 11 years ago still circulating among players and fans, captain Mahela Jayawardene said countries such as Bangladesh and Ireland should be contemplating it to.
Sri Lanka were among the outsiders and had only recently moved on from having a mostly amateur squad when they beat favourites Australia to win the 1996 title. With innovative tactics and hard work, the unfancied side showed it was possible to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.
Bangladesh and Ireland upset India and Pakistan respectively to reach the second round of this World Cup while their more illustrious opponents went home early.
While that success is some way behind that of Sri Lanka 11 years ago, Jayawardene said the '96 Sri Lankans had set an example to all underdogs.
"The '96 group changed the course of Sri Lankan cricket completely and those guys cleared the way for us to achieve higher goals," the Sri Lankan captain said.
"As for other minnows, if you put in the hard work and you are dedicated to success, you can achieve anything."
Sri Lanka were a relative unknown at the 1996 tournament they co-hosted with India and Pakistan. However, they introduced a big-hitting game that changed not only the perception of the team, but that of one-day cricket.
Until then, teams would usually play tentatively at the start of their innings, only accelerating toward the end of the 50 overs.
Sri Lanka changed all that with openers Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana smashing bowlers out of the grounds, taking advantage of a rule allowing only two fielders beyond the 27-metre circle for the first 15 overs by hitting the ball over the top.
Teams now copy the approach, with even Australia opening with the big-hitting pair of Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist.
Sri Lanka have three survivors from the '96 team - Jayasuriya, spinner Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas - likely to play in tomorrow's final in Barbados.