invincibles of roy
Success finally arrived at the Tamil Union Cricket and Athletic Club last week. It took 12 years, with a couple of near misses, but the spoils of their victory – a division one under-23 title – were well-deserved. Having won all six matches (four outright and two on first innings) in their preliminary round Group B against Moors SC, Ragama CC, Bloomfield CC, Nondescripts CC, Air Force SC, Moratuwa SC and Sebastinites CC, Tamil Union C and AC trod on familiar grounds, the semi-finals – the stage at which they had lost in the previous two years.
Facing Colts CC, centuries from Ashan Priyanjan and Levan Helambage saw the team score 360 in the first innings, before pace-bowlers Hasitha Ilangaratne and Chamod Pathirana took nine wickets between them as they won on first innings. With one challenge complete, the next was possibly harder. A final against the high-riding and more fancied Chilaw Marians.
After a poor first innings that saw them concede a lead, the Tamil Union team fought back as an oscillating match was closely contested till almost the very end, to win by 4 wickets and end a 12-year title drought. The ‘nearly men’ had completed the job. The man behind the team is a man often regarded as one of the best of batsmen Sri Lanka ever produced – Roy Dias. The former Sri Lankan batsmen and coach took over the Tamil Union only 9 months ago, and yielded a title in his maiden season.
Where does he attribute this success? “(To) everyone. Not just the cricketers but the club as a whole, especially President Prakash Shaffter, Dinal Phillips the Chairman of cricket and the team manager Mahesh Dilantha Bopage who have supported the team’s cause.”
“The team played as a unit and everyone gave 100 per cent, believing they could do well. They were committed and determined and were always willing to learn. Even players who were left out, were not remorseful, but supportive of their team-mates. Such was the team spirit. We had a pool of 18 players, and each player wanted the other players to do well. There were no individuals,” a proud Mr. Dias said.
“I told them to take it one game at a time. Even the final – it was just another game. And we didn’t know how it will end till around the last 15 minutes, and that showed that commitment from both teams to win.” At the core of every successful team is a strong leader, and they had that in the form of Ashan Priyanjan – a point Mr. Dias and Dinal Phillips, the Chairman of cricket emphasize.
"Ashan was coming off a bad domestic season but he led by example, scoring 725 runs in 8 matches", Mr. Dias says, which is truly extraordinary form. "I am surprised he hasn't been called up to any of the national pools, because he really is too good for this under-23 tournament."
Sadly that is the fate that befalls most of these promising youngsters, as he adds "I've seen youngsters, and not just from Tamil Union, who are talented but never get the opportunity to go further. That is why it is important to watch matches like this, because you see the talent, and it must be appreciated. Tournaments of this nature around the world are essential because it should be the last step before making considerations for the national team."
“I spent 10 years with the Nepal team, and coaching this under-23 team was a lot like that (because players had the time to focus on cricket). They were almost always punctual, which is important because I believe that practices should have quality rather than quantity. I must also add that, the club has given me a free hand with the team, which is important for a coach to be successful. ”
Mr. Dias was critical on one thing, which was the mentality of local clubs. “Some clubs start a three-day game with a spinner. What’s the point of playing two fast-bowlers if you are not going to allow them to use the new ball?”
“I believe in structured practices, players need to practice with a ‘match-situation’ mentality. At practices you see batsmen attempt to hit out at every delivery, which you obviously can’t do in a match. This is why we struggle outside of Sri Lanka because teams practice the wrong way. So, I encourage my boys to spend time at practices just getting bat to ball (rather than being aggressive), and practise like they are playing a match, even the bowlers.”
It is obvious their strength is their unity. "After the first match, a player who performed well gave his place in the next game to a younger player so he could have a chance at proving himself for the national under-19 squad. Another player quit his job so he could play in the final," Mr. Phillips says, with Mr. Dias adding, "The team played as a unit, and when the chips were down, put their heads up and performed. Even the finals, it must be one of the few instances where a team had come from behind to win the title match after having conceding the first innings."
The pride in that performance in the finals is also visible and Mr. Phillips summed it up by saying, "That was the greatest comeback since Lazurus, which left the mourners dancing in the aisle. The players gave 200 per cent right through the tournament and I would say were in the calibre of an Australian team in terms of their approach. Some of the players had little niggles but were determined to play through the pain."
Asked about the impact that the coach, Roy Dias, had on the side he said, "Roy to me is the greatest batsman Sri Lanka has produced. He is legend in his own right and yet simple in his approach. Even the youngest member in the team is comfortable with him. He takes the practices very seriously and always emphasizes on getting the basics right."
And it was getting those basics right which helped the team remain undefeated right through the tournament captain Ashan Priyanjan said, lauding the impact that the coach had on the team. "Mr. Dias' coaching went a long way in helping us win, especially the batting. He encouraged us to get the basics right and that showed in the performances with 6 batsmen scoring over 400 runs in the series," he said.
"We listened to his advice, and took it match by match. A lot of the senior players, like Suranga Lakmal, shared their expertise with us and that too proved important. We played well and stuck together and that’s why we were able to win this tournament. We were like a family" the captain said.
Another important individual at any club is the team manager who is the essential link between the players and the management. If there was one thing the coach, the Chairman of Cricket and the captain were unanimous about, it was the excellent service rendered by their team manager, Mahesh Dilantha Bopage.
Speaking about his satisfaction with the team Mr. Bopage said, “It was the team work that won us this tournament. And that is something that the coach emphasized on.”
“I am glad that I was able to look into the needs of the team and help sort out any shortcomings. This is the fifth year I have worked in this capacity for the club, and I am glad we were able to win the tournament.” “I have worked with other coaches, and I must say Mr. Dias has been one of the best. I am also greatful that the senior players stepped in and advised these youngsters.”
Regarding the upcoming domestic tournament he said, “We are confident that we will win the domestic title (fter 60 years) this year, under the leadership of Sachithra Serasinghe. I must mention the support the management has given, the expertise of Mr. Dinal Phillips and President Prakash Schaffter which have helped develop this successful team, and looking after the players.” Special mention was also made of Vimukthi Chathuranga, the Trainer and Gamini Rathnayake the Physio, who were readily willing to help the team.
By Shehan Daniel