Cricket’s gentle giant
Ay, sir, to be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked
out of ten thousand.Shakespeare- Hamlet
Honesty, humility and empathy are the cornerstones which
constitute his mettle. Living up to the ideals of the ‘gentleman’s
game’, Roshan Mahanama emerges an idol of Sri Lankan Cricket, even
today, despite having retired early in his career. The Nation brings the
cricketer and the person close to the hearts of many cricket lovers this
Q: When you reflect upon all your accolades to date, what
sort of a feeling do they give you?
A: My cricket career had always been a chequered one, ever since I
started playing the game at the age of nine, at Nalanda College. I had
many obstacles to overcome, both as a school player and as a test player
later on. Starting at the age of nine, I had a good run till I was 33.
Therefore, I must say, it was an eventful and a fairly successful
career. In life, one has to make sacrifices to clear the hurdles. I had
to sacrifice my studies, to excel in Cricket. Our climate is such that
we play cricket throughout the year. Therefore, at a certain juncture,
one has to choose between studies and cricket. There were few fortunate
ones, of course, who could combine both. However, I came to a particular
stage at which I had to make choices. When I was about to sit for my
A/L’s, I was offered a scholarship by the Cricket Board, which I
accepted, and subsequently, made it to the national team at the age of
19. I was part of the World Cup winning team, which I believe is the
greatest achievement, and I’m still a part of a world record (the
longest partnership in Test cricket). After I retired from the game in
1999, I obtained Australian Level 1 and 2 Coaching Certificates. After
that, I coached the Sri Lanka A- team for a short while, with the
intention of passing on my knowledge. Although I was on a three-year
contract, I was compelled to quit in six months, due to internal
politics. Around this time, the ICC wanted another name nominated by the
Sri Lanka Cricket Board for an International Match Referee and I was
nominated, the post I’m holding to date. When I look back at all these,
I don’t think I could have any regrets.
Q: What do you identify as the milestones in your School and Test
A: First, when I broke the schoolboy record, which was the highest
score at a big match, set up by an Anandian. In the same year, we
emerged the Best School Team as well and I ended up being the Best
Batsman. I was also chosen Best Schoolboy Cricketer in 1983 and 1984.
Subsequently, I was picked for the Sri Lanka U-19 team and moved on to
the national team, where I had a good run, playing for 13 years. Winning
the World Cup in 1996, no doubt, was the most significant milestone in
my life, like in the lives of the other members of the winning team.
Q: In retrospect, how would you like to look at our victory in 1996?
A: I personally feel that winning the World Cup was the greatest
national achievement we have experienced to date. This was achieved at a
time the country was undergoing much turmoil and the only satisfaction
for the civilians was watching the game. Whether we won or lost, they
had something to talk about. It was more or less an antidote. Until we
won the World Cup, many in the world community did not where we were on
the map! The respect we earned in 1996, as a nation, which could be a
threat to other Test-playing countries, was enormous. However, we must
not forget the competitiveness and corruption which soared in Cricket
administration, especially in the aftermath of this victory. I do not
believe in the common dictum that the administrators ‘come for the love
of the game’. There cannot be anyone who comes back to contribute to the
game out of love, more than a cricketer himself.
Q: Who inspired you, both on and off the field, along this eventful
journey of yours?
A: Ever since I was 14, there had been many issues concerning my
career. Even within the school fraternity, there were some who thought
that I should not be playing in the U-19 team as a 14-year-old. There
had always been pressure, not only on me but, on my parents as well.
Therefore, much of the credit should go to them, for what I am today.
One great lesson my father taught me was to focus on the positives,
rather than the negatives. To take on challenges and return a stronger
man. I owe a lot to my first coach, Nelson Mendis. He was responsible in
drilling the importance of discipline into us. Both my father and Mr.
Mendis strongly believed in being ‘level headed’. The greatest lesson I
learned from them is that when you achieve something, it stays there and
you’ve got to move on, rather than dwell upon your success. I am a very
warm and a friendly person, capable of mingling with people from all
walks of life, because of the values that were instilled in me as a
child. When it comes to Cricket personalities, I’ve had my idols such as
Bandula Warnapura, Wettimuny brothers, Greg Chappell and Sunil Gavaskar.
Q: How would you like to look at your era of Sri Lankan Cricket?
A: I must say it was a unique and a transitional era. Physical
fitness of a player was not in the mandate of local cricket, during the
early days of my career. During the 1992 World Cup, Sri Lanka was the
only team which did not have a physio, and when we brought this up, it
fell upon the deaf ears of the administrators. Several players,
including myself, were prone to injuries during this time. People even
started harbouring pre-conceived notions that I would collapse by the
time I reach 50! It was in a background like this, Dav Whatmore made his
entry. He worked on several ‘backward’ areas and brought persons such as
Alec Kountouri. Together, they made a world of a difference. Not only
our fitness improved but, their presence also boosted our confidence.
This was also a time where we started performing well and ‘gelling’ as a
team. There was more emphasis on our fielding during this period and
eventually, we were recognised as the ‘best fielders’ in the region,
which was justified by the World Cup victory.
Q: In your view, to what extent is sportsmanship lacking in
A: There is a lot at stake in this game and it is only fair that
players are benefited by prize money and other incentives offered. Yet,
one must not forget that this is a game based on traditions. The game
has become too commercialized. So much so, there is a necessity to
monitor several aspects of the game. The concept of a Match Referee also
came into existence in such a context. Something that we have noticed
collectively, is the tendency for ‘physical contact’ creeping in, which
is unheard of in this game. This is a game coming down generations,
known as the ‘gentleman’s game’ rich with values. Therefore, players
must remember that there are millions watching them, millions looking up
to them as idols. Players, referees, umpires may come and go, but the
traditions of the game should be sustained and it’s our responsibility
to see to it that these traditions are maintained.
Q: How does the title of your biography Retired Hurt reflect in your
A: People see us only living in big houses and driving flashy cars
but, they don’t see the endurance, pain and sacrifices which come along
with them. So, one reason why I decided to tell my story, was to enable
people, especially, budding players to see the bigger picture. As I said
before, I have always taken a thorny path. When I was selected to play
for the Nalanda XI, I was alleged to have been selected because my
father, an old Nalandian himself, had a background in cricket, which was
very irrational. After being selected to the national team as an opening
batsman, it was no easy task, facing big names such as Imran Khan and
Wasim Akram for the first time in my life. I think I am one of the few
players who had exhausted almost all positions from no. 1 to 9. Without
understanding what numbers I batted, I was judged purely by my average,
by the people concerned. I have always been a team-man, so, I always did
what the team demanded, in that sense, I’m glad that I contributed to a
team cause. Nevertheless, I regret that my contribution was never
appreciated by the people concerned.
Q: If you can turn back the clock, what would you wish for?
A: (Smiling) Without any hesitation, I would say a permanent slot to
bat! Making a few changes in the batting order, is understood but, not
drastic changes to which I had to adapt. Even I myself cannot be too
happy about my career averages owing to this, as people judge players
purely by their average.
Q: Being a public figure, how do you handle publicity?
A: One important lesson my parents taught me is that when you become
a public figure, you become an ‘entertainer’ as well. We do need the
support of our fans and must have time for them. There were a number of
occasions when I was dropped and going through tough times, and I got
back on my feet because of my fans. I have always been there for the
masses, sometimes ignored by society. When you are a public figure, all
eyes are upon you, thus it is important that you maintain an untarnished
image, both in your private life and your professional life, which I
have always done.
Q: Other than cricket, what else keeps you occupied?
A: I have set up a pharmaceuticals distribution and trading
business. Whenever I’m in the country, I balance my time between my
family and my enterprise. I always make it a point to be at home, when
my children return from school, so that we can share whatever activities
planned for the evening. Family plays a big role in my life. I also
follow other games such as rugby, soccer, tennis and squash, closely.