The 1996 World Cup was the turning point in Sri Lankan cricketing history.
Arjuna Ranatunga was the inspirational captain, Aravinda de Silva the highest impact player of the tournament and Sanath Jayasuriya the swashbuckling opener who blasted his team into the semi-finals and had a huge impact with the ball too.
But there was another hero. Completely forgotten and not given his due.
His contributions at number three were key in Sri Lanka’s triumph and assume far greater significance when seen in match-context and tournament-context.
307 runs from six innings at an average of 51 placed him only at number six on the runs-aggregate list and at number 18 as far as batting averages were concerned but when seen through the Impact Index sieve, Asanka Gurusinha emerged as the second-highest impact batsman of the tournament (after de Silva).
He scored tough runs, absorbing pressure (of falling wickets) and bailing Sri Lanka out of difficult situations. He forged key partnerships with the middle-order consistently throughout the tournament.
Sri Lanka were 5 for 1, chasing 229 against a strong Zimbabwe unit in Colombo (SSC) when Gurusinha walked in. Jayasuriya departed and Lanka were in further trouble at 23 for 2. Gurusinha (87 off 100 balls) and de Silva put together a match-winning 172 for the third-wicket.
He followed that up with a busy 25 in 27 balls against India in Delhi adding 76 for the second-wicket with Jayasuriya laying the foundation for a successful 272-run chase.
Walking in at 83 for 1 against Kenya in Kandy, Gurusinha accumulated 84 in 103 deliveries playing the sheet-anchor’s role to perfection. He joined hands with de Silva and the pair added 183 for the third-wicket as Sri Lanka went on to register 398 – the highest ODI total at that point.
Against England in the Quarter-Finals at Faisalabad, he again came to bat under pressure (12 for 1) and registered 45 in 63 balls, providing the ideal foil for a rampaging Jayasuriya. The pair put together 101 for the second-wicket as Sri Lanka chased down 236 with more than nine overs to spare.
Although he registered a negative
His ability to chase under pressure was second only to de Silva.
He was also brilliantly consistent failing in just one of the six innings in the tournament.
It is a pity, then, that Gurusinha had a reported falling out with Ranatunga – an old and close friend – which was a major reason for Gurusinha’s early ouster from the Sri Lankan squad just barely 8 months after the World Cup.
He was the third-highest impact batsman (after de Silva and Jayasuriya) for Sri Lanka in ODI cricket for the last year of his career (November 8th, 1995 to November 8th, 1996).
Overall, when he retired, he was Sri Lanka’s third highest impact ODI batsman ever, after de Silva and Ranatunga. His relatively high failure rate of 56% perhaps giving an indication as to why his batting average was just 28.
Gurusinha did not have the persona of Ranatunga or the flair of Aravinda or the destructiveness of Jayasuriya. But what he did have in abundance was grit and determination and a will to fight – qualities which were on display throughout that landmark World Cup.
But sadly in a world where style is valued over substance, the backbone of Sri Lanka’s most significant and successful campaign in their cricketing history has perhaps been pushed into oblivion.
NOTE: Impact Index has undergone an upgradation in November 2015, and though 95% of its findings remain the same, there have been some minor shifts. This piece was updated post that, and is up-to-date as of August 2016.