Note: The aim of this article is not to insult or badmouth Romesh Kaluwitharana. This is just an attempt to present some facts and statistics that are generally overlooked when it comes to the 1996 World Cup
The 1996 World Cup turned out to be memorable because an underdog team like Sri Lanka not only emerged victorious but played like true champions throughout. Aravinda De Silva became the hero for them in the final against Sri Lanka at Lahore where he scored an unbeaten 107 and picked up 3 wickets.
But a large amount of credit has been given to Sri Lanka’s openers Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana. Both the batters were given the license to go after the bowling right from the word go and score as many runs as possible during the field restrictions (15 overs).
Both were known to revolutionize the role of opening batters. They started opening the batting in the series in Australia just before the 1996 World Cup and it worked during that tour.
Till today, Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana are known as the destructive opening pair of the 96 cup. I have read numerous articles saying the same and heard commentators over the years glorifying both of them as dangerous batters of that series.
However, that is far from true. There is no doubt that Jayasuriya had a great world cup both with the bat and the ball and was rightly adjudged the man of the series. But to say that Kaluwitharana was also a success story in that series doesn’t sound logical.
While this might sound harsh, that isn’t my intention here. Just have a look at his scores in the whole series:
v/s Zimbabwe: 0
v/s India: 26
v/s Kenya: 33
v/s England: 8
v/s India: 0
v/s Australia: 6
ESPNCricinfo in an article says “he [Kaluwitharana] was an integral figure in Sri Lanka’s astonishing World Cup victory that winter.” But his aforementioned performances tell a completely different story. He played 6 innings in that series and his total number of runs amount to just 73! His average comes down to just 12.16.
When you say that a batter had a good world cup, one would expect at least one score of 50 from him. If not this, there should be at least few scores in the 30s and 40s as that would have helped the team get a good opening partnership. But Kaluwitharana scored in double figures just twice.
He gave a good start to Sri Lanka in just two matches and one of them was against an associate team that was playing international cricket for the first time. On top of that, he had two golden ducks. He failed to score in all the three matches in the knockout stage where his total remained just 14 runs.
How can he be considered a ‘integral figure’ in Sri Lanka’s victory? You can’t be considered an important contributor to the team if you don’t contribute.
Kaluwitharana’s overall career was surely much better than this. He was a good partner for Jayasuriya before and after the 1996 World Cup. But to say he was a part of a destructive opening pair in the 96 cup would be more than an overstatement.