When a country is first admitted into the family of test cricketing nations, they usually have a number of competent players without possessing the one or two truly great individuals who can lift the team from the bottom of the table. There are obviously exceptions to this rule, and Sri Lanka were fortunate to commence test cricket in the early 1980’s with a number of very experienced and successful batsmen. Whilst Sri Lanka did not have the bowling strikepower to win many games in their early years, the presence of Roy Dias in their top order ensured that their batting had a stability that most new teams take years to develop.
Roy Dias was born on the 18th of October, 1952 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Richard Dias used to take all four of his sons, Roy, Phillip, George and Marshall along to watch local soccer and cricket games. Roy watched the inter-bank cricket matches with great interest, however Richard was more enthusiastic about soccer and pushed his sons in this direction. All his brothers pursued this sport later in life, however Sri Lankan cricket was fortunate that Roy went to St Peter’s College Bambalapitiya. He attended this very strong cricketing school from 1959 to 1972, and as soccer was not offered as a sporting option, Roy was able to concentrate upon developing his obvious batting skills.
Roy’s ball skills were apparent very early on, and he was very lucky to have the assistance of a number of Sri Lankan’s best coaches assist him through his schooling. Carl Obeysekera, a former All-Ceylon cricketer, was one of Roy’s major influences during his formative years. He provided Roy with his first coaching lessons, a happy coincidence due to the fact that he lived next to the Dias family in Colombo. Roy played for the St Peter’s school junior teams in his early years, and captained the First XI in his final two years at the school. He was rapidly gaining a reputation for his classic technique and his capacity to adapt to changing pitch conditions.
Roy left school in 1972 and was quickly picked up by the Colts Cricket Club in Colombo. He played for them for the next eight seasons, before moving to the Singhalese Sports Club in 1980, and finally finishing his career with the Colombo Cricket Club in 1988. In 1972 Sri Lanka had not yet been granted test match status. They did however play games against other nations to gain experience, and Roy’s performances for the Colts Cricket Club gained him selection for his country for the first time in 1974 in a game against the West Indies. Opening the batting, Roy made the worst possible start to his international career, being run out without scoring. Sri Lanka was not admitted to test match status until 1982, which meant that Roy spend many of his most productive batting years in the local Colombo competitions on very bowler friendly pitches. Sri Lanka did have one saving grace on the national front, in that they were invited to join the first ever one day World Cup in England in 1975. Roy was only twenty three at this time and just missed out on selection for the squad, however it did open the door for Sri Lanka to at last play recognized international games.
Roy was selected to make his international debut for Sri Lanka in the 1979 World Cup, again to be held in England. On the back of strong batting performances by Roy, Duleep Mendis and Anura Tennekoon, Sri Lanka had established themselves as the dominant side among the Associate Cricket nations. Whilst Roy had not played any officially sanctioned international games prior to this tournament, his performances for Sri Lanka in minor matches had established himself as the best player in the team and one of the finest batsmen in the world. He was now twenty seven years old, and batting at the peak of his powers. Roy played his first official game for Sri Lanka against New Zealand at Trent Bridge in the opening match of the tournament. Whilst he only scored 25, it was Sri Lanka’s second top score and the commentators all noticed the ability and style of Roy in his fifty run partnership with the captain Tennekoon. The highlight of Sri Lanka’s short international career came in their third and final match against India, following a wash out in game two against the West Indies. Sri Lanka won their first ever game, putting together a score of 5 for 238 on the back of half-centuries from Roy, Mendis and S.R. Wettimuny. In reply, India slumped to all out for 191 and the Sri Lanka team celebrated.
This victory against India was a pivotal moment in the push for Sri Lanka to become a fully fledged member of test playing nations. Following the intense lobbying of Australia’s delegates amongst others, Sri Lanka was finally admitted as a test playing nation in 1981. They played their first series of international games outside of the World Cups against England at home in 1982. Whilst the teams played two one day games on the 13th and 14th of February, the real match all Sri Lankan’s were looking forward to was their inaugural test match which commenced on the 17th of February at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium in Colombo. In a horrible reminder of his initial game against the West Indies almost a decade earlier, batting at no. 3 Roy was dismissed for a duck, caught by Geoff Cook off Bob Willis. Sri Lanka were dismissed for 218, England replied with only 223, however Sri Lanka could only manage 175 in their second innings. This was predominantly due to Roy’s magnificent 77, as only two other players managed to get into double figures. Sadly, this was not to be enough, and England won by seven wickets. Roy was quite old to make his debut at almost thirty, however his experience and skills were of inestimable value to his nation.
Sri Lanka quickly followed this one-off test against England with a three match tour of Pakistan. Roy scored a good double of 53 and 19 in the first game at the National Stadium in Karachi which Pakistan went on to win, before showing his real value to the team in the next two tests. Roy just missed his first test century in the second game at Faisalabad, scoring 98 before being caught off left arm spinner Iqbal Qasim, with the game ending up a high scoring draw. In the third test he managed to get into triple figures, with 109 at the Gaddafi Stadium at Lahore. Roy finished the series with 295 runs at an average of 49.16, reinforcing his rating as the best batsmen in the team. He followed this in the one off test against India that started on the 17th of September 1982 with scores of 60 and 97 at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai. At the conclusion of his career, Roy was to rate this 97 as the best innings he ever played. One of his opponents, Sunil Gavaskar, also considered the performance, on a wearing pitch against India’s spinners, to be one of the best batting displays he ever saw.
Roy had a disappointing game against Australia in the one-off test on the 22nd of April, 1983, scoring only 14 runs in his two innings. This was an exciting time for Sri Lankan cricket, but it was also a steep learning curve for everyone in the team. Each team they played was new, and it took time to adapt to different conditions and opponents. Another factor that affected the consistency of their performances was the few matches in each series. At this time, Sri Lanka was getting predominantly one or two test series, and this limited the amount of exposure that the players could get to the opposition.
Sri Lanka went to the 1983 World Cup in England feeling confident about their chances of pulling off an upset win or two. They had managed one day wins against Australia, India, Pakistan and England, however the team was still lacking great depth. This was further challenged by the loss of regulars such as Tony Opatha and Bandula Warnapura following their decision to tour South Africa with a rebel team. West Indian great Garry Sobers and former Australia leg-spinner Peter Philpott both worked with the side leading into the tournament, however the concern remained that Roy Dias and Duleep Mendis were still their only class batsmen. This proved to be the case, as Sri Lanka lost their first four games with neither Roy or Mendis scoring the necessary runs to give their bowlers anything to work with. In their fifth match, New Zealand were bowled out for only 181. In spite of only four batsmen reaching double figures, Roy scored a match high 64 not out and guided the Sri Lankan team home to victory with only three wickets in hand. This was sadly Sri Lanka’s only success in the tournament, and they finished bottom of their pool.
Roy was quickly back into test match form, scoring 134 runs in the two test series against New Zealand in March 1984, with his 108 being his second hundred at this level. He scored a solid double of 38 and 32 against England in the one off test in 1984, before Roy had his best ever series against India in 1985. He started very disappointingly with scores of 4 and a duck in the first test, however Sri Lanka recorded their first ever test match victory when they beat India at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium in the second match. This test saw Roy record 95 out of Sri Lanka’s first innings 385, and followed it with 60 not out in the second innings, allowing Sri Lanka to declare at 3 for 206. India were bowled out for only 198 and the victory for the home team was secured by 149 runs. Roy scored his third test century in the final game of the series, and finished with 273 runs at an average of 54.60.
Roy then experienced the first significant run of outs at the international level leading into the 1987 World Cup in India. He had disappointing series against Pakistan both at home and away, however he was still seen as a key member of the World Cup and test squad. Sri Lanka played Pakistan in the opening match of the 1987 World Cup, and Roy was bowled by Abdul Qadir for only 5 in Sri Lanka’s loss. It was felt by the selectors that Roy’s scoring rate was too slow for one day games, and he was surprisingly dropped for the second game against the West Indies. Sri Lanka were annihilated, replying to the Windies 4 for 360 with a snail-paced 4 for 169 off their full fifty overs. Following further losses to England, the West Indies again and Pakistan, Roy was brought back into the team against England. He responded by top scoring with a classy 80, however apart from Asanka Gurusinha’s 34, no other batsman supported him and Sri Lanka were thrashed again and thus ended up losing every game of the tournament.
Roy was one of a number of players discarded by the selectors following Sri Lanka’s disappointing World Cup performances, for both test and one day matches. Whilst they claimed they were looking for new talent to take them through to the next World Cup in 1992, it was a sad end for a man who had done so much to make Sri Lanka competitive over the years since their admittance to international competition. He was admittedly over thirty five by this time, but he still appeared to have much to offer in the five day game if not one day internationals. His test match batting average of 36.71 is not overly impressive when viewed in isolation, but it fails to capture his immense contribution to the team. His peers all rated him very highly. A measure of his standing in the game can be seen when the West Indian captain Viv Richards was asked to name his world XI. He overlooked many of his teammates such as Richie Richardson and Larry Gomes to name Roy Dias as his no. 3 for this side.
Following his early enforced retirement, Roy has maintained very close linkages with cricket. Roy set up an academy for talented players in Colombo that he still is involved with. He was one of the selectors that picked the 1996 World Cup winning squad, and elected as the coach of the Sri Lanka team following the sacking of Australian Bruce Yardley in 1998. Sri Lanka had a very successful fifteen month period, beating England comprehensively in a one off test at Lords and also winning a series against New Zealand, however he was sacked after Sri Lanka’s poor performances in the 1999 World Cup. From there, he was offered a position as the coach of the national Nepal cricket team, and his role there has assisted them to make great strides forward. The junior Nepalese team managed to beat Bangladesh, Kenya and Pakistan in the Youth World Cup, and Roy’s efforts were recently recognized by King Gyanendra, who awarded him the Prabal Gorkha Dakshin Bahu (IV Class), an honour which Roy described as being equivalent to a knighthood or OBE. Roy has also been an ICC Match Referee and is married to Tharnga. The couple have two children, a son and a daughter. Roy still lives in Colombo, depending upon his varying cricketing commitments.
From 1982 until 1987 Roy played in 20 test matches, scoring 1285 runs at an average of 36.71. He scored three centuries and eight fifties, and he also took six catches.
One Day Internationals
Roy played 58 one day internationals for Sri Lanka, scoring 1573 runs at an average of 31.46 with a strike-rate of 67.94. He had a highest score of 121, with 16 catches. Roy also took 3 wickets at an average of 23.33, with best bowling figures of 3 for 25.
First Class Games
In his 93 first class games, Roy scored 4296 runs at an average of 32.05. He took 1 wicket with his very occasional off spin, at an average of 118, and also took 39 catches.