Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Roy Dias-One of Srilanka's finest
Srilanka is one of the youngest nations in test cricket, as it has been only twenty eight years since they were given test status, but in just those twenty eight years, they have enthralled the cricket fans all over the world with their flair. Most fans would remember Jayawerdena, Sangakkara, De Silva and Jayasuriya for their daring and eye catching stroke-play, but if we look back at the history of Srilankan cricket, there were a few more cricketers, who played at a time, when either Srilanka had just gained test status or even before they gained test status. One such player was the elegant stroke-player Roy Dias. When Dias would bat, it was said to be all about timing and grace. I don't remember anyone saying that he played a shot in anger.
Roy Dias's early career
Srilanka could gain test status only in 1982, but Dias had already played a few one-day matches and the Gopalan trophy (an annual contest between Srilanka or Ceylon against the Indian state team Tamil Nadu). From a few articles that I have read and from the accounts of few old-timers, I could make out that he mesmerized those who saw him play in that Gopalan trophy with his silken drives and square cuts.
Dias makes his test debut
In 1982, Srilanka finally got the chance to play test cricket and as expected on of their top batsman at that time Dias made his debut, though at the age of 30, he had already lost a few years of his prime. He immediately couldn't make an impact as Bob Wills sent him packing back to the pavilion for a zero in the first innings, but he came back strongly by scoring a half century in the second innings against an attack made up of both Botham and Wills. He continued to make his presence felt by aggregating almost 300 runs against Imran Khan at his peak. Those were the days, when Imran Khan could bowl as fast as anyone and made life very difficult for the batsmen by getting reverse swing. I do remember a famous story of the Indian batsman Vishwanath being bowled by a delivery that is said to have swung a mile and took Vishy's off stump with it on flat wickets of Pakistan. Vishy, one of India's finest against pace is said to have just shouldered his arms to that delivery. It just shows how tough it must have been to bat against Imran Khan, but Roy Dias only in his second series was able to counter Imran Khan at his ferocious best with his elegant stroke-play and that too with the top order consisting of batsmen, who were nothing more than walking wickets in that particular series.
Dias was said to be at his best when Srilanka toured India in 82/83. I can guarantee you ask anyone who has watched that series and they would talk about Dias's mesmerizing stroke-play. He had a great partner too in Mendis. Mendis, the former Lankan captain was known for his daring stroke-play against quick bowlers, but in contrast Dias's batting was all about touch play yet, they came good many times when Lanka would find themselves in trouble. In the test at Madras in 82/83, Mendis scored centuries in both innings, but from the accounts of few Indian fans, who saw that match I can say that it was Dias, who got the standing ovation from the crowd for his knock of 97. To get an standing ovation from the home crowd shows that the crowd must have thoroughly enjoyed this elegant batsman from the Emerald islands.
Dias continued to make his mark in international cricket and in 84/85 in Australia, Greg Chappell is said to have showered praises on Dias for his brilliant stroke-play and after watching him get few fifties against the mighty West Indian side in the tri-series in Australia, he even called him the best batsman at that time. Leave alone scoring a fifty, as many batsmen were frightened to even go out and bat against the likes of Marshall, Garner, Davies and Holding. During that time, Dias helped Lanka to register even their first test victory against their neighbours India by scoring twin fifties in both innings at PSS Colombo.
Dias and retirement
One has to remember that Dias made his debut at the age of 30, so it was a foregone conclusion that he won't have a long career. At the age of 35 he played his last test against New Zealand. It is always difficult for a player to do well at the age of 35 as his reflexes and eyes would start to diminish. Dias though, continued to play one-day cricket and in his last tournament, the World cup held in the subcontinent in 87, he made his presence felt by averaging over 40.
I would just say that when we think about players like Dias, one can't measure their ability by just averages. He played at a time, when the Lankan batting wasn't strong and as a result, he had to usually look at rebuilding the innings and more so, he made his test debut at the age of 30. I am sure those cricket fans, who saw him bat would remember him for his artistic stroke-play and the ability to come good in crisis against the likes of Imran Khan and the mighty West Indian fast bowlers.
It is sad but true that when Lanka got their test status a lot of their players were either past their best or were already aged around 30 like Dias. World cricket would surely liked to have seen more of Tennekoon, Hyne, Tissera or even Goonatilake(said to be the best wicketkeeper ever produced by Lanka but quit international cricket and joined the rebel series played in South Africa)