“All cricketers should play rugby-football, at least tap rugby. This will make them agile, acquire sharp reflexes and be able to think fast on their feet”. This bit of advice comes from former Sri Lanka cricketer, coach, manager and one of the most respected personalities in cricket - Roy Dias.
It is difficult to think of an era without Roy Dias in our cricketing history. His stylish batting, alert and agile fielding and most of all his excellent manners on and off the field are things that cannot be forgotten. Though Roy excelled as a cricketer, he has also played rugby for his alma mater -- St. Peter’s for two years, before a bone-jarring fall ended his rugby career and was in plaster for the rest of the season.
But his love for rugby has not diminished. His eyes sparkled when he talked of rugby. “Some of my contemporaries at St. Peter’s were Jeff De Jong, the Weeratunga brothers Roshan and Nalin, and Hamish Patternott.”
What made you give up rugby?
“In 1971, St. Peter’s were pitted against Royal in a key rugby game. Royal bristled with players in the caliber of skipper Fred Pereira, Maiya Gunasekera, CPP Abeygunewardena and Ray de Silva. Royal led 18-16 in the dying moments of the game. Then came a five-yard scrum and the ball bounced into the Royal goal area. I bounded after the ball and, before anyone could get to it, I touched down and scored. It was on the nick of time and St. Peter’s scraped through to a fantastic 19-18 victory.
The sports pages next day screamed: ‘Roy Dias scores match-winning try against Royal’. My parents were dead against me playing rugby. They thought it was a dangerous game. My father, a banker, saw the headlines the next day and asked me, “Are you the Roy Dias who scored the winning try against Royal yesterday”. I meekly said, “Yes”. Then my Dad told me, “You better not tell your Mum”. That was that!
“We were to meet Trinity in the next game, and Coach Archibald Perera, an Old Trinitian, was dead keen to see Trinity bite the dust against St. Peter’s. Our coaching was strenuous. I fell awkwardly at practices and broke by collar bone, and was rushed to hospital, where I ended up in plaster, with only dreams of rugby. Later, Archibald Perera told me, “Son, you better forget about rugby and concentrate on cricket.”
Recounting his early days as a schoolboy cricketer, Roy said, “I was not an outstanding cricketer at school. I never shone at big matches against rivals St. Joseph’s. The most I got was three fifties during a season. I was 14 years when I first played cricket for St. Peter’s. Rodney Patternott was my first skipper and some of my cricket contemporaries were Chryshantha de Alwis, Edgar Thevarayan, Bernard Wijetunga, Raj and Lalith Obeysekera.
“In 1972, I was picked for the Sri Lanka School Cricket team for the series against the visiting Australian schoolboys led by Graham Yallop. After that, I shifted to Club cricket and played for the Colts, SSC, coached and played for the CCC and was picked to play for Sri Lanka in 1979. I was vice captain to Duleep Mendis for nearly five years.
“My score of 81 against England in 1972 was one of my highlights. Then I had a four-year coaching stint in Holland. In 1989, I started my Coaching School in Sri Lanka, which I still continue. I also coach the Tamil Union side,” said Roy.
After Sri Lanka won the World Cup in 1996, a lot was expected at the next World Cup in 1999 in England. Unfortunately, we could not make it to the last eight. I was the coach of that team until Dav Whatmore took over.
“I have great respect for Arjuna Ranatunga. The way he defended Muttiah Muralitharan against allegations of chucking by Umpire Darrel Hair during that tour to Australia showed tremendous guts and leadership qualities.”
Roy was also coach of the Nepal cricket team for nearly ten years and is back in the country now. He is ready to give back to the game which has given him such a great deal. “I had good rapport with the Nepalese cricket authorities as well as the press. I know they appreciated what I did for them,” said Roy.
According to Roy, he loves and enjoys coaching, and his Cricket School is forging ahead at rapid speed.