Nation Special

Dimitri Mascarenhas and the Negombo connection

By Sa’adi Thawfeeq
When England commences its five-match one-day series against India at the Rose Bowl in Southampton on August 21, the match will be of special significance to two Sri Lankan parents who would have flown all the way from Australia to witness their son play.

The name of Dimitri Mascarenhas will not strike a bell for any Sri Lankan following the English team because looking at his profile, there is nothing to associate him with the Emerald Isle. He was born in Chiswick, Middlesex, grew up in Perth and returned to England to play for Hampshire, from where he worked himself up to become a member of the England one-day squad.
His progress for Hampshire has been so much outstanding that he has won acclaim from none other than Shane Warne, the former Australian spin ‘great’ who now captains the county. Warne has been very vocal in his support of Dimitri for the past four or five seasons and thinks highly of him.

This is what Dimitri had to say of Warne: “Shane is a good mate of mine and it is nice to have someone of that calibre think you are pretty good. He wouldn’t say it if he didn’t think it was true.”
“I think I have become a better player since he has been at Hampshire and his guidance has helped me immeasurably in both my attitude and my approach to the game. He has helped develop my cricketing brain, my skills, plans – the sort of stuff I had not done a lot of previously. He has brought me a long way in the last few years.”
Where Dimitri’s Sri Lankan connection originates is from his parents, Malik and Pauline Mascarenhas, who are life members of the Baratha community of Negombo. Predominantly Roman Catholics, the community has drawn their lineage to the southeastern coast of the Indian peninsula, Coromandel Coast.

The ancestors of the Baratha are supposed to have come as pearl divers to Mannar during the era of the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British and settled down in the country. They were originally Tamil-speaking. Barathas (or Paravars in Sinhala) are recognised as a separate race and registered with the Sri Lankan government.
Pauline’s father Richard de Croos was a well-known figure in Negombo and he was fondly referred to by the young and old as ‘Ritchie Uncle.’ Pauline was educated at Ave Maria Convent, Negombo and at Good Shepherd Convent, Kandy.
Malik played cricket for St. Mary’s College, Negombo. He was also a champion table tennis player – his house was situated in the St. Mary’s Church compound and the table tennis table was virtually ‘at home.’

He also played football for his alma mater and later for Premier League club, Jupiter SC of Negombo. His brother Chandra also excelled in both sports but according to Malik, he was the better cricketer in the family and went onto captain his school and also represented Negombo CC. The Sri Lankan influence was the reason for Dimitri’s foray into cricket.
When Dimitri was picked to represent England for the first time in the Twenty20 one-day matches against West Indies early this season, it was one of the happiest moments of their lives for his parents.

“We were immensely proud as parents and so happy for Dimitri. It was the happiest day of Dimitri’s life as he lives and breathes cricket. Finally all the work we put into him since he was about seven years old had paid off,” Mali k told The Nation.
“Dimitri himself has worked so hard on his cricket for the past 11 years, spending six months of every year in the UK on his own. He played county cricket with Hampshire from the age of 18 and there were many times he was talked about playing for England. He was always good enough to play and his performances in the county games were good. We thought he would be selected a few years ago,” Malik continued.
“The call did not come until the former Coach, Duncan Fletcher was dismissed. He was the problem. The new management that took over thinks Dimitri has something to offer the new look team,” he said.
Now Dimitri has been named in the England squad for the series against India in his benefit year with Hampshire, which is another step forward for him in his career.
“It would have been nice for him to play for Sri Lanka. But as a naturalised Aussie and having been born in England, it would not have been possible,” said Malik.
Dimitri’s early years were spent in Melbourne and his cricket loving parents encouraged him to play the game from a very early age. He played for Ringwood Cricket Club in Melbourne and Melville Cricket Club in Perth, where Malik has been president for the past 10 years and played a big role in the development of cricket in Western Australia.
The Mascarenhas have three sons – all born in different countries. Malintha, the eldest, was born in Sri Lanka, Dimitri in England and Shannon in Australia. While Dimitri chose cricket as his profession, his brothers have chosen to pursue careers in business and computer science.
“We have a multicultural family and have quite a few arguments at the dinner table,” said Malik, who owns a few restaurants in Western Australia where he is presently residing with his wife.
The momentous occasion will arrive if the 29-year-old all-rounder gets selected to tour Sri Lanka with the England team for the five-match one-day series in September-October. He has been to Sri Lanka twice before first as a baby and then as a 13-year-old to see his grandparents and aunts.
“I was very happy when I heard that he was selected to play for England. Ever since then I have been longing to see him,” said his 84-year-old grandmother Magdalene de Croos from her Negombo home.
“I have been to England on six occasions and seen him grow up from childhood. I have even taken care of him. It would be nice if I could see him again, especially in Sri Lanka.” Malik’s sister, who also resides in Negombo, was not available for comments.