On 9th of September 2019, a total of ten Sri Lankan players including current T20I captain Lasith Malinga along with former skippers Anjelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal opted to stay away from the national sides’ white-ball tour of Pakistan, scheduled later this month. Sri Lanka is slated to play three ODIs in Karachi and as many T20Is in Lahore in a tour spanning from September 27- October 09.
As I was reading articles regarding the same, the mind couldn’t help but go back to the time when two arch-rivals- India and Pakistan- united in solidarity with Sri Lanka ahead of the 1996 Wills World Cup.
In 1996, Sri Lanka was undeniably at the zenith of its ongoing Civil War between the government and the Tamilian Tigers. It was also the year where the island nation was co-hosting the Wills Cricket World Cup along with South Asian neighbors: India & Pakistan. The World Cup was scheduled to get underway from February 14.
But, just 15 days prior to the beginning of the marquee tournament- an event which Sri Lanka eventually won- the island nation was ravaged by one of the deadliest attacks carried out by the LTTE during the Civil War; a heartwrenching Central Bank bombing in Colombo that left 91 dead and over 1400 with brutal injuries.
The Aftermath and a once-in-a-lifetime union
The immediate aftermath of the Colombo Central bombings was that teams like West Indies and Australia refused to play their World Cup matches in Colombo. It is at this time that two arch-rivals, who had not played a bilateral series since 1989-90, in a bid to show solidarity with their co-hosts and in general send a global message to the cricketing fraternity agreed to come together to play a match in Sri Lanka prior to the start of the Wills World Cup.
It was such an occasion that as a cricket fan, even reading about it 23 years later, will send shivers down your spine. Right? I mean, who in their lifetime, wouldn’t want to see the likes of Sachin, Wasim, Waqar, Azhar, and Kumble playing for the same team? Who wouldn’t want to see or read; c Sachin b Wasim/ Waqar or vice-versa?
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event. Almost to the tune of wishful thinking. Yep, India and Pakistan did play together in the World XI teams of 1971-72 that toured to England and Australia respectively to replace the originally scheduled tours by South Africa before they were banned for their apartheid policy.
But, to think of a combined Indo-Pak XI playing in the subcontinent in an ODI? It was something unreal for even the likes of Intikhab Alam [manager of the side] someone who had himself played in those World XI sides’ of the early 1970s.
“This is the first time that India and Pakistan are playing as one team its history. I sincerely hope with this match India and Pakistan will resume cricket ties. I hope it is the turning point. It was a tremendous sight to have both Indian and Pakistan cricketers get together at the airport. I don t think you can achieve any better goals than that. We are happy to be here and it is the least we can do for our countries” Intikhab Alam commentated on the Combined Indo-Pak XI
Wills India and Pakistan XI vs Sri Lanka
So, the day every cricket fan from the sub-continent finally arrived. The generation of the 70s and 80s who had dreamt of watching the likes of Gavaskar, Imran, Kapil Dev, Mianadad play [for once] alongside each other were glued to their screens watching the heroes of the day Sachin Tendulkar, Wasim Akram, Anil Kumble, and many others take the field at Colombo.
And, it did not take long for that moment to arrive: Yeah c Sachin b Wasim, when Romesh Kalunwitharana perished while giving a simple catch at slips. It was the moment to capture, photo frame and savor as a souvenir of that grandiose occasion.
The Lankans lost two quick wickets before Gurusinha  and skipper Arjuna Ranatunga  added 7- for the third wicket. But just as the partnership was looking to take Sri Lanka towards a formidable position, Ashish Kapoor took out both Athapatthu and Arjuna, before Anil Kumble [8-1-12-4] polished off the lower middle-order to restrict the island nation to 9-168 after 40 overs.
In reply, Wills XI lost both Anwar  and Sohail  cheaply. The Master Blaster, during his innings of 36 played some sublime strokes and held the fort from one end before Muralitharan took him out. The Wills XI continued to lose wickets at regular interval and at one stage were reduced to 5-126; 43 runs behind the target. But a brilliantly calculated 38-run stand between Ajay Jadeja  and Rashid Latif [21*] turned the tide of the game completely enabling their side to coast past the target in 34.3 overs.
While the gesture could not budge Australia and West Indies from their stance of not playing their World Cup games in Colombo, it was a rare instance of two arch-rivals- despite their differences- coming together in a move which was symbolic of South Asian unity; one which led Arjuna Ranatunga to express his gratitude: The Indians and Pakistanis have shown the World that Sri Lanka is safe to play cricket. They have been very kind enough to come and play good cricket.
Sri Lanka [9-168, Gurusinha 34, Ranatunga 32, Kumble 4-12, Ashish Kapoor 2-34] lost to Wills India & Pakistan XI [6-171 in 34.3 overs, Sachin 36, Azharuddin 32, Chandana 2-35, Muralitharan 2-46] by four wickets
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