By Shehan Daniel
Considered one of the greatest batsmen produced by Sri Lanka, there are few better candidates to teach the next generation the techniques and intricacies of batsmanship than Roy Dias.
Now the coach of Sri Lanka’s under 19 team, Dias was celebrated for his style and panache with the bat over a short but successful career that saw him make over 1000 runs in both Tests and ODIs, and praised by fellow-greats including Sir Viv Richards and Sunil Gavaskar – the latter once considering Dias one of the best batsmen in the world. After a coaching stint with Sri Lanka in the late ‘90s, Dias moved to Nepal, initially for three months but he ended up staying for ten years. His work with the junior cricketers has seen the Nepalese team come up the ICC one-day divisional standings to division two – a tier below the ICC ODI Championship which features full members – and performing commendably in the 2014 World T20 in Bangladesh finishing second in their group.
In this interview, Dias talks of past and present – from being in the first Sri Lankan Test team to now moulding its next generation of cricketers,
Q: The Sri Lanka Under 19 team performed exceptionally well in England recently, sweeping the English in the Test and one-day series. What do you attribute this success to?
It was a team effort. We needed different methods to suit the conditions that we were going to play over in England. One such measure was, training with the Duke balls instead of the Kookaburra. We even made this change during the South African Tour. By the time we got to England the players had adjusted well to use Duke balls. There were so many little aspects we studying on and put into action during our
The good weather that prevailed throughout the tournament helped immensely. The wickets were well prepared, helping both bowlers and batsmen. As the tournament progressed the players gained more and more confidence, performances combined with discipline and dedication helped to end the tour on such a high note.
Q: When you took over in July you had mentioned that part of the plan was to produce a team for the 2018 Under 19 World Cup. I’m sure you’d agree then, that identifying talent at younger age groups is important. Have you given Sri Lanka Cricket any proposals or plans in general about how you would go about it?
All preparations are aimed at the Under 19 World Cup 2018. We have a couple of Tournaments lined up, locally and overseas, which will give me time to assess and groom players accordingly.
Q: Earlier this week it was announced that Sri Lanka Cricket was organising an Under 19 Asia Cup, to be played in December. How useful are tournaments like this considering that there is a World Cup coming up?
An under 19 Asia Tournament has been organised to be played in December. This will give the players much needed experience and confidence to take on the South Africans and the Australians in the Tours to come next year.
Q: Anura Tennekoon recently made an interesting point, that in other countries they don’t have this inter-school tournaments, and that young players are incorporated into the club cricket system, so that young players are playing against experienced players from a younger age. Do you think that is something worth considering for Sri Lanka?
Anura is a very experienced person and I respect his views. In my opinion, our school cricket system is very advanced compared to most other countries. Then we have the under 23 Tournament. It would be ideal if we could have yet another tournament between school and under 23, for example, may be an under 21. However, from even during our time we have nurtured our schoolboys to step into international level using the current system and it has brought results.
Q: In the past we have had schoolboys, like in the case of Mahela Jayawardene and Arjuna Ranatunga, who had an easy progression to the national team. We don’t see that being the case anymore. Any reason for that?
True there was a lean period over the past few years, of cricketers getting into the main stream soon after school cricket, but once again there seems to be a growth in this area and the future looks brighter once again.
Q: You had a short stint coaching Sri Lanka in the late ‘90s and you’ve seen how the game has changed, especially with T20 cricket, there are new skills which come into play. Do you have to change how you coach, or do you think it’s essentially still the same?
There are changes that take place from time to time in any field. We as coaches concentrate on the basics, especially at under 19 level, to upgrade ourselves to keep up with the changes. If the basics are right, be it Test Cricket, One Day Cricket or T20, the players will be able to adjust.
Q: You had a relatively short but successful international cricket career, more so in the context of the phase Sri Lankan cricket was going through. How satisfied are you with what you achieved as a player? Anything in particular you look back and wish panned out differently?
I enjoyed my cricket performing at the highest level, but we cannot compare, then and now. I wish we were playing in this era with many more tournaments and latest technology.
Q: You also played in the pre-Test era, when cricket was not as popular and lucrative as it is today. How did your introduction to cricket come about, and how was your life as cricketer back then?
We were not professional cricketers like they are now. Cricket was as popular even then and we were happy with the remunerations at the time because they were in keeping with the period of time.
I had a very lucrative school career and similar club seasons which highlighted me as an international potential. I was one of the most popular cricketers back then. People still remember me for what I have done for Sri Lanka cricket and I am proud of it. I was proud to represent my country at the highest level.
Q: You were a part of, and made contributions to, two significant moments of Sri Lankan cricket – the country’s first ever Test in ‘82 and the first Test win in ‘85. What did it mean for you, being a pioneer of Sri Lankan cricket, and also to be a part of an incredible moment winning that Test? What do you remember from those games?
The first ever Test Sri Lanka played against England was disappointing because I got out for zero in the first innings. But the second innings I got 77. The Test we won, the first Test Sri Lanka ever won, at the Oval where I got 95 and 60 not out, I did something for the team to win that, and it was always a team effort. I remember we had to declare so that we can give the Indians a target, I had no problems at all, even before I scored 50 in the second innings, I said ‘let see if we can declare and set them a target,’ because we all knew that we had a good bowling attack. We didn’t put pressure on ourselves.
Q: You also played against some of the greats of international cricket in that span of time. Any particular opponents you cherished playing against, and any special battles that stuck in your mind?
I used to enjoy playing the Indians, because I remember the great Sunil Gavaskar telling me, ‘Always when you play India Roy you’re scoring runs’. But the most important thing I cherish was playing against the West Indies, because of the great master Viv Richards. When he picked me in his world XI to bat at number three, and then when I asked him, he said for him I’m the best.
They used to help us a lot, especially the West Indians and even Indians. We used to enjoy our cricket and learn a lot, and we always keep communicating with each other. I really enjoyed fielding when Sir Viv Richards was batting, because he used to enjoy batting and he used to be a proud person when he played his shots. And I used to just practise the way he plays. Then I started what I liked, coaching, and I did a stint with Nepal for ten years, and it’s nice to see them coming right to the top.
Q: How do you see the progression Sri Lanka has made since then, and how do you think Sri Lanka can achieve the kind of consistency you need to be among the best in the world?
Every team goes through their ups-and-downs. We have a young team and they will in time to come achieve at the highest level taking into consideration the talent available amongst them. We cannot rush these things.