I have not been particularly fond of cricket – until the Sri Lankan team kept gaining the advantage over competition and eventually brought home the World Cup in a jubilant display of camaraderie and exceptional sportsmanship in 1996.
Watching Arjuna and his boys deliver what to us Lankans was a dream come true, I became a fan – overnight.
Who can forget the image of him receiving the Cup from the late Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto – his eyes shining with the spirit of victory, drenched with tears of joy shed by every Sri Lankan watching?
Who will forget the moment?
You will always remember where you were when Sri Lanka won the Cricket World Cup in 1996.
I was at home, watching the incredible final when Sri Lanka won and the entire country burst into celebrations.
It is etched into our collective Sri Lankan psyche – it will continue to inspire the future.
At the time, we had no social media – internet was just coming as this novelty on your computer.
Yet we took to the streets as celebrations poured over and ecstatic Sri Lankans found ways to tell the world it mattered to the very heart and soul of the country that we won cricket’s most coveted trophy.
That year, as Sri Lanka went on to hold sway over international cricket, we savored each victory as it united us across various divides.
Twenty five years later, the ring of its sweetness still echoes through the country’s villages, towns and communities.
We have not forgotten that there was a day when this nation could rise above party politics, communal divides, religious differences and other factors that sometimes can divide an island and its people.
That day, we came together as one – there was something powerful about the way Arjuna and his team went out there and won a cup which many would have doubted they ever could.
It still validates everything Sri Lanka stands for.
Above all, it sends out a powerful message to the young generation who were either not born or were babes in arms back in 1996.
It takes work to build a world class team – it takes work to build a common thread of identity and togetherness that can rise above pettiness – of communal, religious, political and class divides.
That day, the entire cricket playing world were Sri Lankan.
We had come to defy the odds, turn the Englishman’s game on its heels and give the world a taste of exceptional cricketing talent.
The Sri Lankan team tasted success because at the time, they had what it took to be one – one team, not individuals. Together, each member did what he could do best. And naturally, everyone thrived in such an environment of brotherhood.
As a result, what was delivered was a once-in-a-lifetime gesture of bringing home the most coveted award in cricketing history.
Will we see such a moment again?
It is no secret that cricket became a highly competitive sport following the Word Cup victory – which is a good thing.
Every cricket loving young boy dreamed of becoming the next Kalu or Sanath.
More importantly, the talented young men from the rural areas found the doors of stardom opened wide for them.
It changed the landscape and it changed us.
Trouble with victory is that it raises the bar so high that anything lower would be seen as a devastating disappointment.
And that’s what we have come to expect from our cricketers every time.
While there have been times when they delivered, there have been moments of despair, disappointment and downright anguish.
And so the conversations have flowed, tears shed and fists shaken in fury as cricketers have faced acid tests again and again.
But one thing emerges out of the victory a young team of an island nation registered twenty five years ago.
Victory is never about complaining or individual ambition. It is never about secret agendas and ulterior motives.
Victory comes to those who put the needs of others above theirs, who can think as one and work towards reaching goals of common good.
On that day, in the sweltering heat, a young Arjuna Ranatunga showed every Sri Lankan since then that victory on the world stage is only possible when a team can work together as one.
We can only hope that twenty five years later, we could find it in every one of us to send out a team that can think and work like one with one goal in mind.
May we be able to do that – that I’m sure is the prayer of every Sri Lankan.