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 week…..

By Randima Attygalle
Q: When you reflect upon all your accolades to date, what sort of a feeling do they give you?
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 career?
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?
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?
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?
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 present-day Cricket?
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 life?
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?
(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?
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?
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.










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