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WHEN RELIABLE GURUSINHA WON THE TITLE

Asanka Gurusinha is one of the most reliable top order batsmen that Sri Lanka has ever produced. The Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title he won in 1985 as a star cricketer from Nalanda College, transformed his cricketing career to a new elevation, inspiring him to make his Sri Lanka debut a few months later. But the most memorable moment in Gurusinha's illustrious career was that marvelous half century he made in the 1996 World Cup final against Australia in Lahore, Pakistan. Chasing Australia's modest total of 241 for 7 in 50 overs, Sri Lanka had got off to an inauspicious start when Gurusinha walked in to the middle, losing in-form opener Sanath Jayasuriya run out for nine runs.

Things looked gloomy for Sri Lanka after the other opener Romesh Kaluwitharana was out for six runs as Sri Lanka were reeling at 23 for 2. Losing both the openers early, within the space of 11 runs was a crucial blow for Sri Lanka as the duo - Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana, had been in cracking form throughout the 1996 world cup tournament.

But Gurusinha was a tower of strength to the Sri Lanka team and played that much-needed anchor role to keep the innings together and lay the foundation for that memorable victory in Lahore on March 17, 1996 under Arjuna Ranatunga, who had twice won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award in 1980 and 1982 before him.


Gurusinha the 1985 winner

Joined by Aravinda de Silva, Gurusinha played a responsible innings as the pair raised 125 runs for the third wicket before the one drop batsman was bowled by Paul Reiffel with the Lankan total on 148.

But by then, Gurusinha had scored a priceless 65 runs with one six and six fours.

His presence inspired Aravinda de Silva, who went on to make an unbeaten century.

Only two Sri Lankan batsmen hit sixers against the disciplined Australian attack in the final and Gurusinha had been one of them while the other six was hit by skipper Ranatunga who made an explosive 47 not out off 37 balls.

Thanks to Gurusinha's responsible innings and two unbeaten innings by De Silva and Ranatunga, Sri Lanka emerged victorious for the loss of only three wickets with 22 balls to spare. Had Gurusinha too departed early after the dismissals of Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana, it would have been a different story.

That was one of the many classic innings Gurusinha had played for Sri Lanka as one of the most dependable top order batsmen who usually comes one down.

He was a tower of strength to the Sri Lanka team and had often played fighting innings when Lankan batting had collapsed. His rock solid defence had provided the backbone to the Sri Lanka team for over a decade. Gura, as he was affectionally known, was better known for his gutsy lone battles that earned the respect of his opponents around the world.

When Sri Lanka was shot out for 82 in Chandigarh in 1990-91, Gurusinha waged a lone battle to score a brave half century.

When Sri Lanka was bowled out for 287 in Melbourne in 1995-96, Gurusinha's contribution had been a lavish 143 while the rest of his teammates had totalled only 144. Those are just two of the many fighting innings Gurusinha had played, similar to the feats of his predecessors Ranjan Madugalle, Arjuna Ranatunga and Roshan Mahanama, Gurusinha too made his Sri Lanka debut shortly after winning the prestigious Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title in 1985. Months after winning the coveted title as a schoolboy cricketer from Nalanda, Gurusinha made his Sri Lanka ODI debut, against Pakistan in the fourth match of that series played in Hyderabad on November 3, 1985. Four days later, he made his Test debut, representing Sri Lanka in the third Test played in Karachi. He started Test cricket as a teenage wicketkeeper-batsman.

Since then, Gurusinha has often let his willow to do the talking to aggregate 2,452 runs in 41 Tests with seven centuries and eight fifties. He

was equally clever in ODIs, aggregating 3,902 runs in 147 matches with two centuries and 22 half 'tons' Even in his last Test for Sri Lanka - against Zimbabwe at SSC grounds in September 1996, Gurusinha made a superb knock of 88.

It was a pity that he was forced to make a premature retirement seven months after Sri Lanka's world cup triumph in 1996, having refused to return home for training from a season of club cricket in Melbourne - the city he eventually selected to settle down with his family.

"I came to a stage when I didn't enjoy playing. When I got the offer to play three seasons with North Melbourne, I took the offer and the rest is history," Gurusinha was quoted as saying about his bitter experience.

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