Rex Clementine, in The Sunday Island, May 2014
Sri Lankans have not produced stellar performances in Test cricket away from home over the years and the team’s bowling deficiencies has been pointed out as the sole reason for that. However, the team has never been short of batting talent and the best thing is they come in pairs. In the last ten years, we have had Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara dominating having taken over the mantle from Marvan Atapattu and Sanath Jayasuriya. Previously the burden was shared by Aravinda de Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga who took over the reins from Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias. Dias was an accomplished batsman with style put ahead of efficiency. His technical brilliance was the reason for Sri Lanka Cricket to draft him as the Head Coach of the national cricket team in 1998. He had a remarkable time teaming up with Ranatunga the captain and Ranjit Fernando the Manager as Sri Lanka won their maiden Test Match in England in 1998.
Sunday Island: Sri Lanka’s maiden appearance at Lord’s was during the 1984 Test Match. There was quite a bit of pessimism ahead of the one off Test with some predicting that the game wouldn’t last five days. But in the end, the Sri Lankans walked away with their heads held high. Your thoughts on that Test Match?
Roy Dias: There was quite a bit of preparation ahead of the tour and we went about three weeks before the Test to acclimatize to conditions in England. We were told that the conditions will be seamer friendly and all that, but in our team, the talk was about it being an eleven versus eleven affair. The good thing was our batting clicked and everyone chipped in. We got a good first innings total and that encouraged the bowlers. After the first innings’ effort everyone was praising the team. But we didn’t get carried away. We remembered our inaugural Test Match in 1982 where in the first three days we did well and then went onto lose the Test Match. We didn’t let that happen in 1984. Everyone clicked luckily.
Sunday Island: Everyone clicked apart from country’s premier batsman.
Roy Dias: I remember getting two 30s. I was involved in a hundred partnership with Sidath in the first innings and another hundred or so partnership in the second innings with Amal Silva when he got a hundred. But it was a great pleasure to play at Lord’s.
Sunday Island: Although Sri Lanka had been involved in all three World Cups in England before that in 1975, 1979 and 1983, the team had never played at Lord’s. What was it like to play at Lord’s?
Roy Dias: Well, when we were schoolboys, it was great to come and play at the Colombo Oval. The Oval was the Lord’s of Sri Lankan cricket. When we went to England everyone was talking about Lord’s. We were lucky to get that Test. We didn’t have much Tests those days. I remember after that one off Test Match, we had to wait for one more year. We could have done much more with more opportunities.
Sunday Island: In that 1984 Test Match, Aravinda was making his Test debut. What sort of influence did you have on him?
Roy Dias: We had recognized the immense potential of Aravinda when he was playing under-15 level or so. He was raw. He was part of us. Although he was young we got him around and he mixed well. There was no seniority issue as such. We were all close. The same goes with Arjuna. We knew both of them were going to achieve great things and in fact we required their services at that time.
Sunday Island: Sadly that 1984 Test was the only one you played in England.
Roy Dias: Yah, but I played about seven years of club cricket in Manchester. The conditions are challenging and as a batsman you get tested. You can’t worry too much about it. Every time I played for the country I gave hundred percent and I have no regrets.
Sunday Island: What kind of influence Sir Gary Sobers, who was Sri Lanka’s coach before that tour had on the team?
Roy Dias: We were very lucky to have a person of the magnitude of Sir Gary. Mr. Raja Mahendran got him to Sri Lanka. He had a massive influence on us and we were proud to say that Sir Gary was our coach. Everywhere we went Sir Gary stood out. I remember there was a practice match for us. Duleep was the captain and I was his deputy. Before the match it had rained and prior to the game also there had been a hailstorm. Suddenly it dried up and the wicket was wet. We were determined to play the game. We were stretching and we decided that since the wicket was wet to put the other side in. Sir Gary called us and asked what have you decided? We said we wanted to put the opposition in. He said, ‘Can I give you some advice. I have played here for the last 25 years and if I were you all, I would bat first.’ I mean when Sir Gary says bat first, no one is going to question him. So we told the other players that this is what Sir Gary said. Everyone was saying that this was a wet wicket and it was impossible to bat on. Then we said, look Sir Gary has said to bat and we will bat. Pieces were coming off from the first ball when we batted. We got 140 only. Then we thought okay if something goes wrong we can put the blame on Sir Gary. But then, when the other side batted, the ball was jumping up and it was going along the ground and we got them bowled out for 60 odd. After that whatever Sir Gary said we would not ask any questions. Personally, I was very happy to have Sir Gary. I am not very fond of watching what’s happening in the middle before I go out to bat. Sir Gary used to come and tell me Roy, there’s a couch and go and rest there. When a wicket falls I will tell you. He was very easy going. He used to play cards with us and all that. He was also highly recognized all over England. We were very lucky to have him.
Sunday Island: What does it take to succeed in England?
Roy Dias: One thing is that you’ve got to be able to play the moving ball well. Those days they used to say that August and September wickets will be good, but at the start the ball will move around and you should be able to cope. That’s why the technique comes into the equation. Players with good technique tend to perform well in England.
Sunday Island: Obviously Sidath Wettimuny, Duleep Mendis and Amal Silva got centuries at Lord’s. Duleep in fact could have scored two hundreds in that Test. What was the mood in the dressing room when he fell six runs short in the second innings?
Roy Dias: It was really sad to see Duleep get out. I was in a corner praying he gets it. To get two hundreds at Lord’s is something amazing. Not many people have done it at the Home of Cricket. There was pin-drop silence in the dressing room when he got out. We couldn’t take it that our captain had fallen for 94. When he was coming up I saw him and Duleep being Duleep was cool as ever. Maybe he regretted it afterwards. Some of the great names of the game like Sachin and Lara haven’t got hundreds at Lord’s and Duleep missed out on a unique opportunity to make twin hundreds in the same Test.
Sunday Island: You were the coach in 1998 when Sri Lanka won their maiden Test Match in England. Talk us through that historic win.
I was glad to be offered the coaching job by Mr. Thilanga Sumathipala, who was the Board President at that time. It was a proud thing for me. To be the first Sri Lankan to be appointed on a professional level. I took over from Bruce Yardley. I wasn’t too worried about anything because of the towering figures we had in the team. First thing I said when I met the team was that they had to help me out as well. I didn’t have any problems whatsoever. When we played the Emirates Cup no one expected us to beat England and South Africa. In the final, we had got England bowled and I was having lunch and we lost Sanath and Kalu early. Then I rushed back and Marvan just took the game away from England. It was an amazing knock to come at that stage from Marvan. We have to give a lot of credit for Marvan. It was sad that he couldn’t play for many more years. That knock gave everyone the confidence that we were good enough.
Sunday Island: How much did that knock help Marvan to turn things around in his career?
Roy Dias: I think Marvan was losing his confidence. One of the key things was that we got him to open for his club and that helped him. I remember Anura Tennekoon always told me that when you are failing, don’t drop down, instead open batting or bat a bit higher. Because you don’t know the bowlers and you don’t know what to expect. I have learned a lot from Anura. We never wanted to leave someone like Marvan out because everyone knew he had the talent. But before he opened he was sort of confused about several things. In the end, he got six double hundreds as an opener. Amazing.
Sunday Island: The team management in that tour of 1998 worked quite well too.
Roy Dias: There was Ranjit, Trevor Chappell and myself and we did well. It was nice to work with Trevor and Ranjit and we used to consult each other. Ranjit never got involved with the cricket side because he knew that Arjuna and Aravinda had ample knowledge. He did his managerial part well and that combination worked well.
Sunday Island: There was obviously criticism when you put England in.
Roy Dias. We didn’t know how the wicket was going to play. We were undecided and it was a collective decision to put them in. When they had 300 runs at the end of day one, Simon Hughes, who played for Colts and then became a journalist, asked me why you put them in. I didn’t have an answer. Then I just said we will have a chat after the final day’s play. Then when we won, Arjuna and I came to a conclusion that we were going to say that we wanted to give Muralitharan, our main weapon, a break in between the innings. That was a lie, but Simon believed that.
Sunday Island: Talk us through the brilliant double hundred by Sanath Jayasuriya.
Roy Dias. One of the best shots I have seen played was Sanath airborne and square cutting Angus Fraser square over cover point for six. He was about two feet from the ground when he was playing that shot. I hope Sanath has that photograph. That was the shot of the match. But in the meantime Aravinda batted well too. So did Arjuna. Murali was outstanding and I believe the turning point was Upul Chandana running out Alec Stewart.
Sunday Island: Sadly, a year later you had a tough outing in the World Cup.
Roy Dias: We had a bad tour. I felt that no one contributed and all our batters failed. Sanath failed, Aravinda failed and everyone. That was a poor World Cup. Not that we didn’t try. We tried very hard. But nothing went our way. I honestly don’t know what really happened. We had an early exit and as soon as I came home I heard I was on the way out. Sadly, I only heard it from the papers. It should have been done in a better way as I had a couple of more months to go. But I enjoyed my stint. I just had one bad tour and that unfortunately happened to be the World Cup.
Sunday Island: How do you rate the team’s chances this time?
Roy Dias: England will be determined after the 5-0 [Ashes] drubbing, but I think we have a good side and a side that can adapt to all conditions and challenges. I am looking forward to see how the team is going to perform in England.