World Cup

Cricket World Cup 1996: Underdogs Sri Lanka Script History

The 1996 Cricket World Cup, commonly known as the Wills World Cup 1996, was the sixth edition organized by the International Cricket Council (ICC). India and Pakistan hosted the World Cup for the second time (they had held the 1987 edition), whereas Sri Lanka co-hosted for the first time.

Sri Lanka won the tournament after defeating Australia by 7 wickets in the final on March 17, 1996, at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Pakistan. Now, let’s delve into the 1996 Cricket World Cup.

The Build-Up


The 1996 World Cup featured 12 teams competing in a round-robin style, followed by knockout rounds. The teams were divided into two groups of six, with the top four teams from each group proceeding to the quarterfinals. Then the winners of the quarterfinals played in the semi-finals, and two winners of the semi-finals clashed in the final.


17 venues from India hosted one World Cup match each, and 6 venues from Pakistan hosted 16 matches combined. While 3 venues from Sri Lanka were allotted 4 matches, out of which only 2 took place, Australia and the West Indies forfeited the other 2 matches due to security reasons.


The competition included all Test-playing nations, including Zimbabwe, which became the ICC’s ninth full member following the last World Cup. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kenya, and the Netherlands were the three associate teams to qualify through the 1994 ICC Trophy, and they all made their World Cup debuts in 1996.

Teams that participated in the 1996 Cricket World Cup:

  • Australia
  • England 
  • India 
  • New Zealand 
  • Pakistan
  • South Africa
  • Sri Lanka
  • West Indies
  • Zimbabwe
  • Kenya
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Netherlands


The former champions, Pakistan, and the hosts, India, were the favourites for this World Cup.

1996 World Cup Group Matches

Match 1: February 14 | England vs New Zealand

Batting first, New Zealand scored 239/6 thanks to Nathan Astle’s 101 runs. In response, England could only manage to score 228/9, and New Zealand won by 11 runs.

Match 2: February 16 | South Africa vs UAE

After being asked to bat first, South Africa went on to score a huge total of 321 runs, riding on the back of Gary Kirsten’s unbeaten 188 runs. This was the highest individual score in the ODI World Cup at that time. And this is the highest individual score by a South African batter in ODIs. Later, the Proteas restricted the UAE to 152/8, and South Africa registered a resounding win by 169 runs.

Match 3: February 16 | West Indies vs Zimbabwe

The West Indies’ bowling attack, led by Curtly Ambrose, restricted Zimbabwe’s score to 151/9. Then the Windies batters chased down the target in the 30th over with 6 wickets to spare.

Match 4: February 17 | Netherlands vs New Zealand

New Zealand elected to bat first and posted 307/8 in 50 overs. Barring a few batters, no one stood longer on the pitch for the Netherlands while chasing the target, and New Zealand won by 119 runs.

Match 5: February 17 | Sri Lanka vs Australia

Australia forfeited the match, and Sri Lanka won by default.

Match 6: February 18 | India vs Kenya

Kenya, playing in their first World Cup match, managed to put a decent total of 199 runs on the board. Sachin Tendulkar’s unbeaten 127 helped India chase the target in the 41st over and seal a 7-wicket victory.

Match 7: February 18 | England vs UAE

The UAE was bundled out for a mere 136 runs by England bowlers, with Neil Smith picking up 3 wickets. The chase was rather easy for the English side, as they won by 8 wickets.

Match 8: February 20 | New Zealand vs South Africa

New Zealand decided to bat; however, the decision didn’t go well as they were restricted to a total of 177/9 by South Africa. Later, Proteas captain Hansie Cronje (78) took his side over the ropes, and South Africa won by 5 wickets.

Match 9: February 21 | Sri Lanka vs Zimbabwe

Alistair Campbell’s 75 and crucial contributions from Guy Whittall (35) and Craig Evans (39) took Zimbabwe to a respectable total. While chasing the target of 229, Sri Lanka lost a couple early wickets; however, their batters didn’t let the game slip from their hands, and Sri Lanka won by 6 wickets.

Match 10: February 21 | India vs West Indies

Manoj Prabhakar, Anil Kumble, and Javagal Srinath played a key role in bowling out the Windies on 173 runs. In response, India lost quick wickets; however, middle-order batters steered India to a victory by 5 wickets.

Match 11: February 22 | England vs Netherlands

England won the toss and decided to bat first. Graeme Hick’s unbeaten 104 and Graham Thorpe’s 89 resulted in England posting 279/4 on the board. While chasing, the Netherlands lost 4 wickets under 100 runs; however, Klaas-Jan van Noortwijk’s partnership with Bas Zuiderent kept them in the game. But in the end, England won the contest by 49 runs.

Match 12: February 23 | Australia vs Kenya

Brothers Mark Waugh (130) and Steve Waugh (82) contributed significantly to Australia’s total score of 304 runs. In response, Zimbabwe’s opener Kennedy Otieno (85) and captain Maurice Odumbe (50) fought hard but fell short by 97 runs.

Match 13: February 24 | Pakistan vs UAE 

Due to an interruption of rain, the match was reduced to 33 over a side. The UAE batted first and managed to score 109 runs. The Pakistani top order chased down the target convincingly in the 18th over and won the match by 9 wickets.

Match 14: February 25 | England vs South Africa

The top and middle-order batters made a significant contribution to South Africa’s total of 230 runs. While defending the target, South African bowlers didn’t give many chances to England batters to run away with the game, and South Africa won by 78 runs.

Match 15: February 25 | Sri Lanka vs West Indies

The West Indies forfeited the match, and Sri Lanka won by default.

Match 17: February 26 | Pakistan vs Netherlands

The Netherlands’ top order failed miserably in front of the Pakistani bowling attack, but somehow Flavian Aponso’s 58 took them to 145/7 in 50 overs. Later, Pakistan chased to target in the 31st over and won the match by 8 wickets.

Match 16: February 27 | Kenya vs Zimbabwe

The Kenyan batting lineup tumbled to 134 runs while batting first. In response, Zimbabwe got off to a good start, but Kenyan bowlers didn’t let them chase the target easily by grabbing wickets in the middle. Craig Evans and Heath Streak managed to score the remaining runs, and Zimbabwe won by 5 wickets.

Match 18: February 27 | New Zealand vs UAE

Roger Twose (92) and Craig Spearman (78) took New Zealand’s total to 276 runs. In response, the UAE didn’t show much fight, and New Zealand convincingly won by 109 runs.

Match 19: February 27 | India vs Australia

Australia’s Mark Waugh scored 126 runs before getting run out, helping his side put up a fighting total of 258 on the scoreboard. Damien Fleming caused huge damage to the Indian batting lineup with his 5-wicket haul, and Australia won the game by 16 runs.

Match 20: February 29 | Kenya vs West Indies

Kenya, playing against a formidable West Indies, surprised everyone by defeating the 2-time world champions. After being asked to bat first, Kenya scored a meagre 166. It looked like the Windies would chase down the target easily, but the Kenyan bowlers did the unthinkable and bowled out the Windies for 93, and they won by 73 runs.

Match 21: February 29 | Pakistan vs South Africa

After deciding to bat first, Pakistan posted 243 runs on the board, riding on the back of Aamer Sohail’s 111 runs. South Africa looked good throughout the chase and triumphed the Pakistan by five wickets

Match 22: March 01 | Australia vs Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe won the toss and decided to bat first. However, only Andy Waller (67) put up a fight against the Australian bowling attack led by Shane Warne, and Zimbabwe was bowled out for 154. During the chase, Australia didn’t face any major obstacles and won the game by eight wickets.

Match 23: March 01 | Netherlands vs UAE

Shaukat Dukanwala starred with the ball for the UAE, as his 5-wicket haul helped them restrict the Netherlands to 216/9. Later, the UAE registered their first-ever ODI victory as they chased down the target with 7 wickets in hand.

Match 24: March 02 | India vs Sri Lanka

Sachin Tendulkar’s 137 and captain Mohammad Azharuddin’s 72 took India’s total to 271/3. However, the score was not enough as the Sri Lankan batters chased down the target with 6 wickets in hand.

Match 25: March 03 | Pakistan vs England

Robin Smith and captain Mike Atherton’s solid opening partnership of 147 runs powered England to a total of 249 runs. But the Pakistani top order also responded strongly, winning the match by 7 wickets.

Match 26: March 04 | Australia vs West Indies

After electing to bat first, Australia went on to score 229 runs thanks to Ricky Ponting’s 102 runs. In response, Richie Richardson (93*) played a captain’s knock and helped the West Indies win by 4 wickets.

Match 27: March 05 | South Africa vs Netherlands

Batting first, South Africa posted a huge total of 328 runs on the scoreboard. While chasing the target, the Netherlands could only manage to reach 168/8 in 50 overs, and South Africa registered a resounding victory by 160 runs.

Match 28: March 06 | Sri Lanka vs Kenya

Aravinda de Silva (145) and Asanka Gurusinha (84) helped Sri Lanka post the then-highest score in ODIs by a team. Sri Lanka posted a mammoth total of 398/5 in 50 overs. Despite Steve Tikolo’s 96, Kenya could only manage to score 254/7, and Sri Lanka won by 144 runs.

Match 29: March 06 | India vs Zimbabwe

After being invited to bat first, India managed to score 247/5, thanks to Vinod Kambli’s 106 and Navjot Sidhu’s 80. India’s bowling attack, led by Venkatapathy Raju, rattled through Zimbabwe’s batting lineup, helping India win by 40 runs.

Match 30: March 06 | Pakistan vs New Zealand

Except for Javed Miandad, every Pakistani batter contributed to Pakistan’s total of 281/5. In response, New Zealand batters did show some fight; however, they were bowled out for 235 runs, and Pakistan won the last group match by 46 runs.

Knockout Stage

1st Quarterfinal: March 09 | England vs Sri Lanka

England elected to bat first, but they could only manage to score 235 runs in 50 overs. In response, Sanath Jayasuriya’s quickfire 82 off 44 balls ensured Sri Lanka a victory by 5 wickets.

2nd Quarterfinal: March 09 | India vs Pakistan

Navjot Sidhu’s 93 and helpful contributions from other batters powered India to a good total of 287 runs. In reply, Pakistan got off to a good start, but they kept losing wickets after that, which resulted in India winning the match by 39 runs.

3rd Quarterfinal: March 11 | South Africa vs West Indies

The West Indies won the toss and decided to bat first. Brian Lara (111) proved his captain’s decision correct and helped his side reach a total of 264/8 in 50 overs. His century was instrumental for the West Indies, as they defeated South Africa by 19 runs.

4th Quarterfinal: March 11 | Australia vs New Zealand

The trans-Tasman rivals, Australia and New Zealand, fiercely fought in the 4th quarterfinal. New Zealand posted 286 runs, riding on the back of Chris Harris’ 130 and Lee Germon’s 89. While chasing, Mark Waugh led from the front, with Steve Waugh and Stuart Law providing the finishing touches. Australia defeated New Zealand by 6 wickets.

1st Semi-Final: March 13 | India vs Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka defeated India in the first semi-final at Eden Gardens in Calcutta in front of an unofficial audience of 110,000. After losing both openers quickly, Sri Lanka launched a counter-attack led by Aravinda de Silva, scoring 251 for the loss of 8 wickets. India began their chase promisingly, but following Sachin Tendulkar’s departure, the Indian batting order collapsed.

Following India’s collapse to 120 for 8 in the 35th over, elements of the audience began throwing fruit and plastic bottles onto the ground. The players left the ground for 20 minutes to try to calm the audience.

More bottles were hurled into the pitch, and fires were started in the stands when the players returned to play. Clive Lloyd, the match referee, awarded the match to Sri Lanka, the first default in a Test or ODI.

2nd Semi-Final: March 14 | Australia vs West Indies

Cricket history will always remember Australia and the West Indies’ titanic matchup in the 1996 Cricket World Cup semi-final. This crucial match, which took place at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium in Mohali, pitted two cricketing behemoths against one another.

In the first innings, Australia scored a respectable 207 runs after a top-order failure. Stuart Law (72) and Michael Bevan (69) provided much-needed stability in the middle.

In response, the West Indies made a great start but were met with a formidable obstacle in the form of Shane Warne’s miraculous deliveries. The game neared a nail-biting finish, with wickets falling and anxiety rising. Australia ultimately prevailed by a slim margin of five runs, sealing their spot in the championship’s final game.

Final: March 17 | Australia vs Sri Lanka

At the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Australia and Sri Lanka faced off in the 1996 Cricket World Cup final in a historic match. Sri Lanka made its first World Cup final appearance in this game.

Sri Lanka won the toss and elected to bowl first. Mark Taylor (74) and Ricky Ponting (45) put up a partnership of 101 runs for the second wicket. When Ponting and Taylor were dismissed, Australia slipped from 137/1 to 170/5 as Sri Lanka’s vaunted four-pronged spin attack took its toll. Despite the dip, Australia managed to reach 241/7 from 50 overs.

In response, Sri Lanka lost a couple of wickets early; however, Asanka Gurusinha (65) and Aravinda de Silva (107) stabilised their innings. After Gurusinha’s dismissal, de Silva partnered with captain Arjuna Ranatunga (47) to take home the coveted trophy. It is impossible to overstate the crucial roles that Arjuna Ranatunga’s leadership and Aravinda de Silva’s (107 runs and 3 wickets) all-around talent played in Sri Lanka’s historic victory. 

Special Moments in the World Cup of 1996

Hosts and the Controversy

The World Cup was held in three countries: India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. It was the first time that Sri Lanka was hosting any World Cup matches.

Before any games were played, Australia and the West Indies refused to send teams to Sri Lanka due to the bombing of the Central Bank in Colombo by the Tamil Tigers in January 1996. Sri Lanka promised to provide optimum security and also questioned the validity of citing security concerns when the ICC had declared it was safe.

The ICC then concluded that Sri Lanka would be awarded both games on forfeit after prolonged talks. As a result of this judgement, Sri Lanka qualified for the tournament without ever playing a World Cup game.

You can read more about this controversy here.

Sri Lanka’s Journey to the Finals 

The Sri Lankan team advanced to the quarterfinals with three victories and two forfeits. They eventually played in their first-ever ODI World Cup final, which they also won under the leadership of Arjuna Ranatunga.

The Eden Garden’s Debacle

Never did angry fans start a riot at the cricket stadium. During the 1996 World Cup, which India co-hosted, India was a major favourite. Sachin Tendulkar’s batting was crucial to India’s triumph. They advanced to the semi-finals, where they faced Sri Lanka in Calcutta’s Eden Gardens.

Despite not being considered favourites before the World Cup, Sri Lanka had a tremendous tournament. In the semi-final, Sri Lanka scored 251, which was above average. India, which was aiming to attain the target, was at one time at 98/1. Sachin was in top form and ready to lead India to victory. However, he lost his wicket after scoring 65 runs, and India fell from 98/1 to 120/8.

The mob was fed up with India’s fall. As the outraged crowd erupted into a riot, a few stands were set on fire. They threw plastic water bottles and beverage cans throughout the playground. Because of the hazardous circumstances and player safety, the game was properly called off, and the match was also awarded to Sri Lanka.

Kenya Stunned the West Indies in Pune 

Kenya made their World Cup debut in 1996, causing one of the tournament’s most shocking upsets. Batting first, the African nation only managed to score 166 runs. But what happened next had the audience scratching their eyes.

Kenyan bowlers Rajab Ali, Martin Suji, and Maurice Odumbe surprised the West Indies batting lineup, which had luminaries such as Richie Richardson, Brian Lara, and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Kenya wiped out the West Indies for 93 runs, handing them a humiliating 73-run defeat.

Sri Lanka Won the Final Against All Odds

Throughout the 1996 World Cup, Sri Lanka had both luck and form on their side. They received two walkovers due to Australia and the West Indies declining to play their matches in the country. They advanced directly to the quarterfinals, where Sanath Jayasuriya’s 44-ball 82 shattered the 236-run target.

Then, due to rioting, they were given the semi-final against India in Kolkata, which they would have won regardless. In the final in Lahore, Arjuna Ranatunga struck the winning runs to crown Sri Lanka as World Cup champions, capping off a remarkable run in the competition.

Final Thoughts

The 1996 Cricket World Cup had amazing moments, passionate rivalries, and historic victories. It demonstrated the tenacity and commitment of teams such as Sri Lanka, who emerged as surprising victors, as well as the talent and spirit of cricketers from all around the world. The 1996 World Cup remains a chapter in cricket history that continues to enthral fans and enthusiasts, from Australia’s dominance in the group stage to the controversy-filled final.

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