Eden Gardens, 1996. A warm afternoon in Kolkata. India were favourites to go the distance in the World Cup, the second ever being played in the sub-continent. To spice things up further, India snuffed out to leave Sri Lanka reeling. The Kolkata crowd was in high spirits, celebrating with the players, cheering every dot ball. India was one: fan and player in unison as a historic spot in the final beckoned.Hours later, as India’s chase of 252 lay in tatters, Vinod Kambli walked out in tears. The same crowd which had reached a frenzied state of joy in the afternoon, ran riot at the iconic venue, throwing projectiles and creating mayhem. India were hurtling towards an embarrassing defeat in their own bastion. Sri Lanka were awarded the match and a few days later, stunned Australia in the final to lift the World Cup. India’s pain lingered for decades.Pallekele 2017. Another Indian middle-order jitters could not prevent Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni from essaying classy knocks as the tourists continued their domination over Sri Lanka . Three Test wins, three ODI victories. Sri Lanka’s mediocrity had upset the Kandy fans and they sprayed their players with bottles . On this occasion though, play was suspended for 35 minutes before the Indian duo got back to the field to complete the formalities.The two incidents occurred 21 years apart and plenty of water had flowed under the bridge in all that time. AP PhotoAfter the humiliation in the summer of 1996, India stuttered and struggled but they were up on their feet in a few years, building a formidable team. There were some more hiccups along the way. The 2007 World Cup was a nightmare but the triumph at home four years later against Sri Lanka eased the pain of ’96.advertisementSachin Tendulkar and Muttiah Muralitharan were the only common factors between 1996 and 2011 and it was ultimately the Little Master, who walked out the happier man. Murali would never play ODIs for Sri Lanka again.Sri Lanka, in the aftermath of their 1996 triumph, were world beaters. They showed everyone it was no fluke and they were a force to reckon with. With time, emerged the likes of Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Tillekaratne Dilshan and Lasith Malinga. The Sri Lankans were, in the course of time, one of the most feared teams in the world.Sri Lanka’s slide came with the imminent exodus of their new-age stars. In-fighting, corruption and a muddled up domestic system. As many as 24 teams play first-class cricket in Sri Lanka. Ten teams who played in the second division were accorded first-class status over the last one year alone. The standard of cricket was obviously compromised, possibly to appease the various factions of Sri Lankan cricket. Sri Lanka’s domestic players hardly play enough cricket and even when they do, the quality is nowhere close to the kind of domestic cricket their peers in India, England, Australia and South Africa are accustomed to.The response of the Kandy crowd to an abysmal Sri Lankan defeat was sad. It was appalling. But what was sadder was that it reminded observers of one of the darkest phases of cricket in the sub-continent. Will the response spur Sri Lankan cricket on from hereon?