Sri Lankan cricketers inspired by 1996 champion squad

Sri Lanka surprised the cricket world by winning the World Cup 15 years ago and the generation of players that championship squad inspired hope to repeat that feat in Saturday's final.

India might consider it destiny that Sachin Tendulkar should lift the Cricket World Cup at his home ground, but Saturday's final holds special significance for Sri Lanka too.

It is 15 years since Sri Lanka surprised the cricketing world by winning its first World Cup, inspiring a generation of players to try to emulate the achievement.

The players led by Kumar Sangakkara are the latest in that line.

Only Muttiah Muralitharan remains from the 1996 winning squad and, fitness permitting, he will play his final game for his country at the Wankhede Stadium on Saturday.

Sangakkara wants his players to inspire a whole new generation.

"The inspiration [from 1996] has always been there," said Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara. "Everything that's come afterwards has been because of that positive factor.

"For us, 1996 belongs to that particular team. Since then there have been other teams trying to forge their own path and leave their own legacy for Sri Lanka cricket.

"I think Sri Lanka has kicked on from that, achieved great heights in cricket."

As in 1996, Sri Lanka is one of three co-hosts, and just like 15 years ago, the team will play the final on foreign soil. That isn't where the correlations end.

A bomb in the country's capital Colombo killed 90 people just a month before the 1996 tournament began. As a result, Australia and West Indies refused to play their matches there on safety grounds, leaving the Sri Lankans feeling betrayed.

That Sri Lanka defeated Australia in the final gave the victory added significance.

This time, Sri Lanka is only just getting back on its feet after the end in 2009 of a decades-long civil war, and the devastating tsunami of 2004.

"We've come through a very tough period," Sangakkara said. "A lot of people have laid down their lives for our country.

"In this new future, hopefully, we can take home a World Cup and that will be even more occasion for celebration."

Four years ago, Sri Lanka was beaten in the final by a dominant Australia side, led by a brutal batting display by Adam Gilchrist. Sangakkara said the current batch of players are determined to go one better.

"Everyone's excited," he said. "But it's nice to see that it's a kind of controlled excitement.

"Everyone's relaxed, having a laugh. But also you can see there's a kind of steely determination behind all of that, knowing what a big job comes our way tomorrow.

"World Cup finals are huge occasions. We just want to hold on to what we have and do what we know we can do."