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(Written by M. A. Cyril, this article on Nepal’s national coach Roy Dias’ career appeared in THE ISLAND of Sri Lanka in three parts on August 23, 24, and 25.)

The mere mention of his name conjures up visions of a magician with the willow. He was the artist who touched your heart. The game was supreme and in that game he was the artist of artists. No figures can tell the story of his artistry. Words fail to picture him. But then the maestro was never the one to bat for records. His batsmanship was not a thought, but a feeling.

Roy Luke Dias was born on October 18, 1952, in Colombo and was educated at St. Peter’s College. He started playing cricket at the age of 10. He was in the college First XI team at the age of 14. Dias admits that he was not an outstanding batsman in his schooldays. It was only when he started playing in domestic cricket that Dias really blossomed. He first played for Colts Cricket Club and later joined the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC).

Playing for Freudenburg & Co SC in 1974, Dias made 228 which remains the highest score in a limited overs match. In 1977/78 Dias scored 245 for Colts CC against University of Ceylon (Colombo) which is a record in the P. Saravanamuttu trophy tournament.

Dias toured India with the Sri Lanka team in November, 1975, to play three unofficial ‘Tests’. In the third ‘Test’ at Nagpur, Dias made 81 against the full India team which included Bedi and Venkatraghavan. He also played three seasons for Droysden in the Saddleworth league in England.

Dias was in the Sri Lanka team which toured England for the 1979 World Cup. On this tour, Dias became the second Sri Lankan player to score 1000 runs on an overseas tour. (24M – 1051R – 65.14Av.). In the World Cup, Sri Lanka beat India to become the first Associate Member to beat a Full Member. Dias contributed with a well made 50 in this match.

Roy Dias was almost 30 when he played in Sri Lanka’s inaugural Test in 1982. Had Sri Lanka been a full member of the ICC about 10 years earlier and had Dias played for Sri Lanka, his name would have been a household name in the cricket world.

Dias had an inauspicious debut for Sri Lanka at Test level when he was dismissed for no score by Bob Willis in the first innings of Sri Lanka’s inaugural Test against England, played at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium. However, Dias played a gem of an innings in the second innings as he proceeded to unfold the most dazzling batting of the mach. The Englishmen soon realised they were playing against a batsman of uncommon gifts.

Dias smashed 11 fours as he went on to score 77 dazzling runs and would have become the country’s first Test centurion had he been a little more careful. I would like to quote from a report written by T. M. K. Samat.

“While our three spinners look heroes in prospect, Roy Dias, an executive in a shipping firm, yesterday wore the purple cloak of royalty. He played an innings of sheer majesty and bowlers and fielders became mere subjects at his command. There was nothing brutal in the way he ruled. Rather, he played with dignity born from cultured batsmanship. He need not have bludgeoned, but the certainty of timing and the power of wrists had just about the same devastating effect. Neither the pace of Botham nor the cunning of Underwood disturbed his world of clam confidence.

“Botham was the worst scarred. And Dias’ insolent attack on the great all-rounder in the over which provoked his disappearance from the firing line for the rest of the game yesterday, was unquestionably the memory of the day.

“He bundled the whole Sara Stadium into a transport of delight as he pummelled Botham for three successive boundaries, which brought up his own half century and the team’s 100. He glided the first past gully, scorched the next through the covers and drove again through the covers with greater intensity that the ball might have singed every blade of grass it traversed over. And to show he played with his head as well, Dias patted the next three balls down and still raised applause. But poor Botham, from that point of time was banished into the outer regions for duty less active.

“His innings had reached a time when his name was being linked with the title of the country’s first centurion. But his first act of indiscretion cruelly killed that prospect. He went far too down to meet Underwood on the full, missed and didn’t even bother to recover ground. Behind him he heard Taylor’s gloves crash on to wood.

“And when he walked back, under the fluttering shade of the Lion flag held above him by Percy, it seemed the very foundation of the Sara Stadium stood up some inches. This has been the day of Dias.”

Immediately after the inaugural Test, Sri Lanka set forth on her first overseas tour after the granting of Test status. This was to Pakistan. For Roy Dias, it was a tour to remember. In the first Test played at Karachi, he made 53 in the first innings and 19 in the second innings. In the second Test at Faisalabad, he was most unfortunate to miss his maiden Test century by a mere two runs. It was in this match that Sidat Wettimuny made 157 to become Sri Lanka’s first Test centurion.

In the third and final Test played at Lahore Roy Dias scored his maiden Test century – 109 in a total of 240. What is more creditable was that his century came against a full Pakistan side which included the great Imran Khan who did not play in the first two Tests. Imran Khan was at his fiery best as he returned career-best figures of 8 for 58. Dias was an instant hit in the One-Day series with scores of 57, 81 and 49 in the three match series which Pakistan won 2-1. Dias was adjudged the Man of the Series. In the Test series, Dias had an aggregate of 295 for an average of 49.16 and in the ODI series he had an aggregate of 187 for an average of 62.33.

Dias was again the star performer when Sri Lanka made its first official tour of India in September, 1982. The tour included three ODI matches and a one-off Test match at Chepauk.

Dias was the star of the ODI series, making 39 in the first game and then scoring two successive hundreds in the next two games. Despite Dias’s valiant efforts, Sri Lanka lost all three matches.

In the Test match, Dias made 60 in the first innings and 97 in the second. The highlight of the Test was the feat of Duleep Mendis who scored twin centuries. But connoisseurs of the game were more concerned with the batting of Dias. Many critics were of the view that Dias would soon be one of the world’s best batsmen. They considered his innings of 97 in the second innings as one of the best innings played at Chepauk.

K. N. Prabhu wrote:

“It is said that when Victor Trumper made only four runs in a game, it was enough to reveal his class. And so it is with Roy Dias, even if he had not made the tall scores that he ran up against India. His technique is refined by a grace and elegance which one associates with great stroke players. In Dias’s long innings at Madras and Bangalore, I cannot recall a single streaky stroke. His batting was without blemish and this is no mean achievement considering the fact that on both the occasions he came in at the fall of an early wicket. Dias’s innings will rank among the great performances recorded at Chepauk.”

Rajan Bala wrote:

“Only a heart of stone would feel no sorrow for Roy Dias, tragically cut down three runs from his second Test hundred. But honestly, there were more than a few unshed tears around the 15,000 at Chepauk as the sad and lonely figure left the green with life long regret.

“His century had become as obvious as any of nature’s things. But the sun set suddenly at his approaching moment of glory and though the immediate reaction from the stands was one of joy, quickly a hush fell. Moments later they stood and applauded, but that was empty consolation to a batsman who for a second time in three Tests came to grief in the 90s. The previous was in the second Test against Pakistan when he made 98.

“But there were no gestures, like thumping of bat on the ground, from a man subjected to extreme frustration. He is too much of a man to react that way. He took sad disappointment like a man and like a man, he set about rescuing Sri Lanka from another troubled start. He came in with Sri Lanka at 6 for Warnapura’s wicket and quickly took a manly course of action. Where other number three batsmen would have opted for caution, Dias launched a bitter counter-offensive to blaze to 25 with six boundaries; three of them coming successively from Kapil Dev. But then he had faced only nine deliveries. Such instant command even frightened Sunil Gavaskar, who promptly loosened his tight attacking field and flung the cordon of close-in-fieldsmen to the outer regions. Also Gavaskkar abandoned the new ball attack after only five overs, replacing Madan Lal, whose two overs cost 17 runs, with Doshi.

“But at most, Dias’s untamed fury could only be checked, but never captured. He reached his 50 in only 39 deliveries, but more importantly, he had still managed to pack another six boundaries into his second 25, just as he had done in his first 25. Inevitably, however, Dias’s flow became less thick and fast…

“But if there was a feeling of tiredness, Dias wouldn’t allow a lapse of concentration and therein was the reason why his century had become obvious. He took his singles and in the 90s, showed he would rather prefer to reach the century that way. At 97, the crowds were cheering for the coming 100, but alas, the ball from Shukla pitched short as he went out to drive. He adjusted his stroke into something like a stab and the ball took the top edge and ballooned to Gavaskar, the only slip fielder who took the catch one handed at forward gully. A miscarriage of justice had been enacted.”

The following excerpts are from another article by Rajan Bala:

“I have no hesitation in saying that Roy Dias is easily the best one-drop (number three) batsman in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.”

Indian legend, Sunil Gavaskar, who played in this match wrote:

“I have not seen many better knocks than the one Roy Dias played in the second innings when he missed his hundred by three runs. But that knock was worth many, many more.”

When New Zealand toured Sri Lanka in January, 1984, Dias could not play in the first Test played at Asgiriya due to an injury. Sri Lanka lost the match and when the home team collapsed for 97 in the second innings, the wrath of the crowd was directed at the Sri Lanka team.

However, Dias was able to play in the second Test played in Colombo. Asked to bat first, Sri Lanka collapsed for 174. Dias was unfortunate to be run out for 16. In the second innings, Dias hit a magnificent century (108) as he guided Sri Lanka to 289 for 9. He had 18 sweetly timed fours, against an attack spearheaded by the best fast bowler in the world – Richard Hadlee. Dias became the first Sri Lankan to score a Test century at home. New Zealand managed to hold on to force a draw. In the third Test, Dias was unable to bat as a result of an injury and Sri Lanka lost the match by an innings.

Sri Lanka participated in the Benson & Hedges World Series Cup and the World Championship of Cricket held in Australia. Sri Lanka could not make much of an impression, but Roy Dias came in for high praise from several past cricketers.

Sir Garfield Sobers, who once coached the Sri Lankan team, wrote:

“Certainly, Roy Dias is a world class player. Courageous, with a very sound technique and a sensible array of shots, the little right-hander is an excellent model for Sri Lankans to mould their game.”

Frank Tyson wrote:

“Roy Dias established himself in many eyes as a text-book striker of the ball and one of the most consistent performers in the World Series Cup and the World Championship. Scores of 60 and 48 against Australia and 80, 65 and 66 against the West Indies brought no argument.”

Tony Greig wrote:

“Roy Dias was certainly the star Sri Lankan batsman. In the classical mould and attractive to watch, Dias was never afraid to attack when the occasion demanded it.”

Roy Dias got the opportunity of displaying his extraordinary batting talents once again when India toured Sri Lanka in September, 1985, for a three match Test series and One-Day series. Sri Lanka’s long and cherished dream of winning a Test match became a reality in the second Test played at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium.

Sri Lanka, batting first, made 385 with wicket-keeper batsman Amal Silva getting his second Test century. However, the best batting of the match once again came from that master batsman Roy Dias. For the third time in his short Test career, Dias was tragically dismissed in the nineties. He made 95 in the first innings and remained unbeaten on 60 in the second.

The highlight of the drawn third Test at Asgiriya was the record-breaking double-century partnership for the fourth wicket, between Duleep Mendis (124) and Roy Dias (106).

This partnership is best described by Rajan Bala:

“Those who saw the spectacle should not forget it. If they do, they have no blood in their veins; no hearts within their bodies, and no minds within their heads. One of cricket’s greatest glory acts unfolded itself at Asgiriya, and one suspects, even the mythical Sri Lankan lion (the Kandyan lion, I am told) would have been tempted to roar.

“Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias, the two senior Sri Lankan batsmen produced an exhibition which must go into cricket history as stuff that makes legends. The Fraces and the Trumpers, wherever they are, should have been watching from perches above the clouds. This cricket, lovely cricket.

“I have always been a fan of Roy Dias. Today, my respect for the stocky Duleep Mendis grew by leaps and bounds. If he fell short in elegance in comparison to Roy, he made up in extreme intelligence and unstoppable power.

“The cover driving of Dias was exquisite and there cannot be a better player of this shot in the whole wide world today. The masters of old, like Hammond, Hutton, Graveney and India’s own Vjiay Hazare would have, had they been around, doffed their hats in salute.”

Dias passed the 1000-run mark in Test cricket in the course of this innings.

It is strange that from around this time, the Sri Lankan selectors began to develop a strange attitude towards Sri Lanka’s best batsman. He was overlooked for the Champions Trophy in Sharjah in November/December, 1986. However, he was included in the tour to India soon after the Sharjah tournament.

Dias made a majestic 81 in a match against the Indian Board President’s XI and followed it up with another half century against the Indian Under-25 team. But he could not maintain his form in the Tests and One-day series. However, in the first Test he made an attractive half century. Dias was not fully fit during the entire tour. It was not only Dias who failed in this series and there was not a single Sri Lankan batsman who was able to play an innings of substance. Referring to Dias’s innings in the first Test, the ‘Sportsweek’ stated “There can be no more attractive batsman than Dias in the subcontinent.”

This strange attitude of the selectors continued for sometime and Dias, always the gentleman, kept silent.

Then he was included in the team for the 1987 World Cup played in India. Sri Lanka were expected to do well as the tournament was played in the subcontinent, but for the first time Sri Lanka failed to win a single match. What is most shocking was that despite the repeated batting failures of the Sri Lankan batsmen, Dias was not picked to play in any match until the last match against England after his failure in the opening match against Pakistan.

Everyone who saw his dazzling 80 in that match against England were shocked and bewildered that he did not play in the other matches. His magnificent knock contained six fours and three sixes. The saddest part of the story is yet to come.

That scintillating innings of 80 against England was the last innings played by this great batsman in international cricket.

Never again was he picked to play for Sri Lanka in any form of cricket.

That was how Sri Lanka’s best batsman disappeared from the international scene which he so charmingly adorned.

That was how the Sri Lankan authorities rewarded this great batsman. This sad and untimely ending of the career of a truly great sportsman would remain one of the saddest chapters in the history of sports in this country. Disgusted at the manner in which he was treated by the administrators, Dias retired from the game he loved so much, in 1991.

Roy Dias played in 20 Tests and scored 1285 runs at an average of 36.71. He made three centuries with 109 against Pakistan as his top score. He also played in 58 ODIs scoring 1573 runs at an average of 31.46. He made two centuries in successive matches against India.

Sir Garfield Sobers once wrote that Aravinda de Silva would be the logical successor to Roy Dias. It would therefore be interesting to know what Aravinda de Silva wrote of Roy Dias in his book ‘Aravinda – My Autobiography’:

“He was a beautiful batsman, the best Sri Lankan batsman I have ever seen. He had so much grace, so much style, he was so economical of effort. I can remember very clearly the first time I saw Roy bat. I was 12 years old. Seeing him that day put all the bowlers to the sword, I realised just what a great player looks like. It was the first time I’d been anywhere near to stylistic perfection and I was dumbstruck with admiration.

“Roy had so very many opportunities to be pleased with himself. The whipped on-drive, the caress through the covers, the finest of glides behind either side of the wicket, the dancer’s shimmy down the wicket to meet a ball. The most resonant and impervious of forward defensives. All his strokes brought pleasure to the onlookers and himself. Front-foot cricket as it would be played in heaven was on display.

“His feet were always in the right place, his body always perfectly balanced, his hands were always in the right position. It was so inspiring to be in the presence of a batsman who was so good and who also took so much pleasure from what he did.”

After his retirement, Dias would have willingly contributed to the development of cricket in this country in any capacity if only he was wanted. No one cared. In 1994 he was appointed a member of the National Selection Committee. He was later appointed coach of the Sri Lankan team and it was during his tenure as coach that Sri Lanka beat England by 10 wickets in the one-off Test played at the Oval in 1998.

The great Viv Richards once stated that if he was asked to name a World XI, he would have no hesitation in picking Roy Dias for the most important No. 3 spot.

In 2001, the Asian Cricket Council suggested that Roy Dias might be the ideal person to coach Nepal. The Nepal board gave him a two year contract. Dias had offers to coach Bangladesh as well, but after weighing up his options he decided to stick with what he had got. “I feel I have more to give a country like Nepal” explained Dias “It is a poor nation, and needs all the assistance required to reach the required standard in international cricket.”.

Roy Dias made such an impact in Nepal that he was awarded the highest award in the country which was presented to him by the King of Nepal. There is a saying that ‘A prophet is not honoured in his own country.’

Roy Dais was indeed a national treasure. It is a tragedy that our cricket administrators thought otherwise.