Every Sri Lankan you meet today will have only one topic to talk. The T20 World Cup finals. You will hear them saying how Malinga can silence Chris Gayle, what makes Mahela the best captain in the game, why Sri Lanka couldn't win the cup on last 3 occasions and of course, why 1996 world cup victory was so special. No matter how hard you try, 1996 world cup victory will keep popping up in any cricket related conversation with a Sri Lankan. Every one has their own story to share about the 1996 victory.
It was another eventful day in the new school year. We were sitting for the Grade 5 scholarship exam that year, everyone seemed to be more enthusiastic about the studies than before. Just after the interval, some were rushing around teacher's table to get their books corrected, some were fighting in the corner and some of us were just chatting. "BOOM!", suddenly a noise felt like a thunder heard from some distance. We event felt a tremor in our old classroom building. Crows flocked in the near-by banyan tree seemed to be frightened. There was a pin-drop silence in the class, which was nosier than a Sunday market moments ago.
"That's a bomb." someone murmured. We knew it was close, but had no idea where. Teacher tried to calm down the class and continue with the lesson.
About in a hour, someone came into our class room to meet the teacher. It was my dad. His shirt looked brownish. His otherwise perfectly combed hair, looked messy. I couldn't hear what he was talking with the teacher. After the conversation, teacher came to me and asked to get ready to go home. I had no idea what's happening. Then a huge feeling of fear entered my mind. My legs started to shiver. "Where's mother??" I asked dad hurriedly walking out of the class. "She's there." He said. For a moment, I thought he was lying, something terrible must have happened. Why he's taking out of the class early?
Dad wasn't lying. Mom was there down the stairs with my younger brother. She has gone to pick him from the class as well. Her face looked pale. There wasn't any expressions. I still had no idea what's happening. "Why your shirt looks dirty? Did you had an accident??" again I asked dad. "No, I'm alright."
Only when we returned home and switched on the TV, I realized what has happened. The LTTE have carried out a brutal attack in Fort, the commercial center of Colombo. A lorry filled with explosives was crashed into the Central Bank, leaving only debris of it. The Ceylinco Building, where my dad worked, was burning in flames after being fired with RPGs. Glasses were shattered in the WTC and Bank of Ceylon buildings. Latter is where my mom worked. It said forces were able to hunt down the carders before they launched attacks into those buildings.
The attack killed 91 people and left thousands permanently injured. It was a miracle that both of my parents survived from one of the most outrageous terrorist attacks in the world. But they seemed to be moving on with the daily chore. Maybe they were too shocked or were just trying to hide the gravity of the incident from us. Later, dad told those were blood stains on his shirt, from carrying the injured people out of the building.
The fear that entered my mind was still there. I couldn't sleep. I had nightmares. I couldn't erase those images of burnt bodies, people jumping out of flaming buildings and kids moaning over their parents' coffins. That could have been my parents. I feared there will be more attacks. I wanted my parents to stay at home without going to work.
Only solace for me was going to school. There I was able to be with friends, engage in different activities and forget these fearful thoughts. However, one morning the government announced the schools will be closed indefinitely considering the prevailing security condition in the country. It was rumored the terrorist leader Prabhakaran has proclaimed, he will make thousands of mothers weep in South.
Being able to stay at home without going to school would have made any 10-year old happy. But it actually made me sad and crazy. Without anything to occupy my mind, now I have to be at home all day with fear and suspense of another bomb and losing my parents.
Also, on the same day the schools were closed, the Cricket World Cup started. This time it was played in the sub-continent. Jointly hosted by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. All the matches were shown on TV. Bored without nothing to do at home, I decided to watch every single match.
As the tournament started, Australia announced they will not tour Sri Lanka considering the security risks. Soon West Indies followed the same path. It was a major blow for the tournament and more importantly it was a huge disappointment for the Sri Lankan fans, who waited for this historical occasion. At this time, cricketers from India and Pakistan stepped up to form a Friendship XI and play a match in Colombo to support Sri Lanka. Nobody would have believed these arch-rivals could share a one dressing room and hug each other after taking a wicket, until this match. I remember Wasim Akram saying he forgot his kit bag and was wearing one of Azharrudin's shirts for the match. I felt this was the real power and beauty of sports.
Non of the early setbacks, had any effect on Sri Lankan team's performances. Actually it appeared those incidents have made them stronger. They won all of their group matches comfortably and qualified for the knock outs. In the match against Kenya, Sri Lanka smashed 398 runs in the 50 overs, which was the world record at that time.
Meanwhile, I was getting fully immersed with the excitement of the world cup. I started writing down the scores of every single match in an exercise book. And even calculated the statistics for each cricketer. When a player's stats were shown on TV, I compare them with my records to see if those would tally. I remember reverse engineering how the batting average and strike rate were calculated. It took me some time to realize that I have to subtract the not outs from the innings batted before taking the average.
Instead of fearful nightmares of bombs, I was seeing dreams of Sanath playing his square cuts and Aravinda playing his pulls. My morning prayer changed from "God let there be no bombs today" to "God help us to win the match today".
We reached to the semi-finals of the World Cup. The match was played against India in Eden Gardens, Calcutta. Stadium looked packed. It felt like a battle between 11 Sri Lankans against 100,000 Indians. India won the toss and made Sri Lanka bat first. So far Sri Lanka have won all their matches chasing. They haven't batted first in any of the matches before. Then in the first over itself, Indians sent Sri Lankan openers Sanath and Kalu back to the pavilion. It was the explosives starts the duo produced, which helped Sri Lanka to win all their previous matches. That was a mighty blow. However, then came Aravinda to play one of the best knocks I have ever seen to this date. He scored a brisk 66 runs, but his stroke play was scintillating. Rest of the batsmen built on the foundation laid by Aravinda and took Sri Lanka to a respectable 250 runs.
Indians were going comfortably in their chase. But all changed when Kalu created a stumping opportunity out of nowhere to Sanath's bowling, which sent Sachin Tendulkar back to the pavilion. It was like a payback for what they missed with the bat. Fall of Sachin, made India crumble. The scoreboard which read 100 for 1 moments ago, now read as 120 for 8. There was no chance for India to win the match from that point.
Suddenly, the game was halted. It seemed some of the Sri Lankan players were hit with water bottles from the stands. Then we could see people trying to set fire to the stands. The fear started to creep into my mind again. Will they hurt our players?
As the riots in the stadium got stronger, they decided to end the match and award the victory to Sri Lanka. TV cameras were focused on a person who was holding a banner in the middle of flames, which read "Congratulations Sri Lanka! We are sorry". It was apparent the anger was not against the Sri Lankans, but against their own team. Azhar who was worshiped as an idol few weeks ago, had to have a sad and disgraceful ending to his career.
There was no better ending to Sri Lanka's fairy-tale journey in the World Cup, than meeting Australia in the finals. It was them who called Murali, a chucker during the boxing day test match. Sri Lankans believed Aussies knew Murali was going to be a threat to the world cricket in the year's to come and wanted to end his career early. Also, Murali was the only Tamil cricketer in the Sri Lankan team and everyone treated him as a national pride. The distaste of Aussies grew further when they forfeited the group matches in Sri Lanka.
So this looked as the perfect occasion to take the revenge from the Aussies. Unlike Aussies, Sri Lankans didn't chose any bastard tricks. Instead Sri Lankans replied by playing the gentleman's game and totally outclassing Aussies in all departments of the play. Whole city turned into a one big party when Sri Lankan skipper Arjuna scored the winning runs with a boundary.
We lit firecrackers. I ran around the house.
Few days after the World Cup, schools were started again. We carried bats and balls to the school and was allowed to play cricket during the P.E. period instead of those boring exercises. I tried to walk down the wicket and hit a six over long-on like Sanath, but only to get bowled by my friend, Prabhath who sent off-spinners like Murali.
Every one of us had a new dream!