'1996 WC win changed Sri Lankan cricket'

Shining Memories

'1996 WC win changed Sri Lankan cricket'

A clean-shaven look has replaced the thick stubble but the poise is still very much intact. Asanka Gurusinha, Sri Lanka’s forgotten World Cup he-ro, leads a comfortable life here as a Group Sales Manager for Bauer Trader Media that specialises in industry magazines but his heart still beats for his beloved country.

The gutsy left-hander was one of the key players in Lanka’s World Cup triumph in 1996 when he was the rock around which the Lankan batting prospered but the politics that has plagued the island’s cricket for years forced him to leave the country for good.

The 1996 victory altered the way rest of the cricketing world looked at Sri Lanka. “The 1996 World Cup changed Sri Lankan cricket and Sri Lanka in a big way,” Gurusinha says with a glint in his eyes. “A lot of people could not even find Sri Lanka on a map back then. For the cricketers, this is where sponsorships started coming through, because people will only back winners.

That’s where we benefited a lot. I’m pretty close to Mahela (Jayawardene) and he always tells me that it was only after our games, those wins, that things got better for those who followed,” he explains.

Gurusinha, however, couldn’t be part of this new era for too long. “I left about 6-7 months after the World Cup and then retired,” he recalls. “There was a temptation (to stay back) but it got to a stage where I wasn’t enjoying the game. There was a lot of politics and it reached a stage where Arjuna (Ranatunga) and I were not seeing eye to eye.

And it’s very difficult as a player when that happens with your captain. I’m someone who has never put up with politics. And that’s probably why I am not back in Sri Lanka working with the board, even though I’ve had a lot of offers,” he tells you.  

He has now patched up with Ranatunga though. “Arjuna and I have patched up since. We had so many good times. But there was about 12 months when Dav Whatmore had just become coach, which was not great. Why should you let one little period cloud a friendship?” he asks.

It’s been 18 years since Lanka won the World Cup beating Australia in the final, where Gurusinha scored a crucial half-century, but he says he can never get tired of talking about it.

“When we walked into the semifinal, we knew two things -- it was going to be the toughest game of the tournament for us and that if we beat India, we would go on to win the World Cup,” he says talking about the match marred by crowd unrest. “It’s sad the way it ended but it was one of the best games I have played, simply because there were at least 110,000 people watching us.

The memories are really good, but it was sad to see the crowd get involved the way they did. When we won that game, we knew we were good enough. When you beat India in India twice in a World Cup, you’re going to beat everyone else.

But, we felt sorry for people like Anil Kumble, who actually came back to the team hotel in our bus. You could see he was hurting. We felt sorry for these guys that it ended like it did, because we were quite close as teams,” he signs off.

When Kumble surprised Gurusinha

Anil Kumble caught Asanka Gurusinha by surprise when the former India captain paid a visit to his house here.

“Anil is a great guy,” says Gurusinha. “I bumped into him completely out of the blue. One evening, I was walking out of my house and this was in 2003-04. I came out of my house and there was this black Mercedes that pulled up and parked in my driveway.

I don’t have any friends with a black Merc, so when it took a U-turn and parked in my driveway, I was a bit confused. I couldn’t see through the tinted glass, and when the door opened, it’s Anil!

He had seen me on the side of the road and turned around and came into our house with Parthiv Patel, who looked like a kid. My wife and son and daughter were stunned to see Anil in our living room. That shows our friendship.”

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