The semi final was over around ten pm at Eden Garden in Calcutta. Unruly crowd behaviour when all was lost for India ended in the Match Referee Clive Lloyd awarding the game to Sri Lanka on that Tuesday night, the 14 th of March.1996. I managed to get through to Cricket Board ‘s President Ana Punchihewa in the players dressing room, to convey congratulations and retired to bed truly happy !
We had qualified to play Australia in the Wills World Cup final, at Lahore on Friday 17 th. Just after midnight I had a knock on the door. Bernard Wijetunge and Channa Wijemanne, two of the Directors of our Travel subsidiary had woken me up for a reason. “Boss we must do a charter for the Final.”
CALCUTTA, INDIA – MARCH 13: Sri Lanka captain and batsman Arjuna Ranatunga picks up some runs during his innings of 35 runs during the 1996 ICC Cricket World Cup semi final against India at Eden Gardens, Kolkata on March 13, 1996. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Allsport/Getty Images)
I wiped my eyes to make sure I was not dreaming ! “Let’s call G.T Jeyaseelan,” who was Head of Commercial for Sri Lankan Airlines then. Thankfully he took my call at one a.m. I put it to him. His response was positive. “Let’s meet at my Office at 9 “;
The meeting was a success. A turn around charter leaving on Friday was confirmed. That left us with just a day and a half to secure the visas for those interested while UL [Air Lanka] sorted our the landing rights. The public response to the flight was amazing and the Pakistan High Commission bent over backwards to accommodate us with the requisite visas. I suspect that our beating India To make the final added to their enthusiasm !
Much as I would have liked some members of our Staff to make the trip for the amazing work put in to make the flight a reality, the demand was so heavy that we decided to make way for the public and the clients of another travel Agent Ceylon Carriers.
For the return flight nearly 20 Pakistanis were off loaded with generous incentives, to make way for the winning team and officials who in the elixir of a phenomenal achievement went from the ground to their hotel and direct to the parked plane.
Sunil Wettimuny as Captain in charge of the flight generously opened the bar . The traditional Bailas soon took sway as the merrymaking moved to the back of the plane . Inevitably the plane began to tilt,and Sunil had to appeal to the frolicking passengers to return to their seats to restore balance !
The rest is common knowledge and for George Steuarts it was another page in its rich history !
AN ADDENDUM: “NOT just a page, Skanda! Rather a cricketing cap in Sri Lankan colours and stars shining bright” …. Michael.
World Cup Final 1996 Australia v Sri Lanka at Lahore Aravinda de Silva reaches 100 66640-15A (Photo by Patrick Eagar/Patrick Eagar via Getty Images)
Arjuna Ranatunga lifts the Cricket World Cup trophy for Sri Lanka after beating Australia in the final, Lahore, 17th March 1996. (Photo by Graham Chadwick/Getty Images)