Dancing in Colombo and Dubai, expats remember 1996 World Cup win Filed on March 23, 2021
Sri Lankan supporters celebrate their team's first ever World Cup triumph on March 17, 1996, at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. (AFP file)

As Sri Lanka celebrates 25 years of their World Cup win, expats remembered how they celebrated the victory in Dubai and Colombo

Andrew Benjamin, the Dubai-based Sri Lankan expat, still remembers the day (March 17, 1996) when Sri Lanka famously beat bitter rivals Australia in Lahore for their first World Cup triumph.

“As a nation, we used to live in constant fear. People rarely went out in the night because of terror attacks. But that night when we beat Australia in the final, thousands of people thronged the streets of Colombo. That was one big party with people dancing and waving the national flags in the streets without any fear,” Benjamin recalled the special night 25 years after the famous win.

Benjamin, whose son, Aaron, has played for the UAE under 19 team, said Sri Lanka overcame the disappointment after Australia and West Indies refused to play their league matches in Colombo over security fears.

“That was a sad incident. But then our co-hosts, India and Pakistan, sent a joint team just before the start of the tournament for an exhibition game to show solidarity and that lifted the morale of our country,” Benjamin recalled.

Now as Sri Lanka celebrates 25 years of their World Cup win, Heshan de Silva, another Sri Lankan expat, remembered how they celebrated the victory in Dubai.

“I remember going out with friends to Novotel Hotel here where they had a Sri Lankan band. The hotel was full of flag-waving and dancing Sri Lankans,” said De Silva, who had played school level and club level cricket with players like Aravinda de Silva and Roshan Mahanama.

“They are my friends. Even after winning the World Cup, they have remained so humble. I still meet many of them when I visit Colombo,” said De Silva who enthralled UAE club cricket in the 1990s with his aggressive stroke-play.

Meanwhile, Presley Polonnowita, the founder and head coach of Desert Cubs Sports Academy in Dubai and a former Sri Lankan under 19 teammate of Marvan Atapattu, Muttiah Muralitharan and Sanath Jayasuriya, said cricket in the island country changed completely after that 1996 win.

“When I was playing club cricket with the big names of Sri Lankan cricket in Colombo, we used to get two bottles of soft drinks and a packet of rice for a game. It was the same for even those big players,” Polonnowita said.

“Cricket was not paying us. We had jobs. Even the Sri Lankan international players were not making much money. But after the World Cup, everything changed as sponsors started pouring in.”


Rituraj Borkakoty

A big fan of the Argentina national football team, Rituraj generally writes on sports. But he deeply cherishes the time he spent with his favourite musician from Assam, India, for an interview. And he loves to bring human interest stories to Khaleej Times readers.

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