Viv shook my hands and said, ‘Maan, that was fantastic’ –- Sidat

Part 37

by Rex Clementine

(Continued from yesterday)

Sri Lanka made their maiden Test tour to England in the year 1984 and played their first ever Test there two weeks after West Indies had whitewashed England 5-0. David Gower, the England captain would have thought that after such a rout by Clive Lloyd’s touring side, Sri Lanka should be easy picking and in Lord’s on the 23rd of August he won the toss and put the Sri Lankans in.

Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes had proved to be difficult to dislodge earlier in the summer and Sidat Wettimuny continued the openers’ menace against the English bowlers that season by stroking a career best 190.

After he was dismissed, Wettimuny received possibly the best complement of his career when Sir Viv Richards, who was terrorizing the Englishmen that summer, came all the way to shake his hands.

In today’s ‘Memorable World Cup Moments’, Wettimuny talks a bit about the 1984 Test, the Tamil protest at Lord’s, encouragement from Mohsin Khan, missing out on the captaincy and the 1987 World Cup and lots more.

Here are the excerpts.

Question: You spoke of the fond memories of the Lord’s Test. What about the Tamil protest?

Wettimuny: It was very scary. It just completely took your mind off the game for five minutes. All that pressure that was built up coming into bat suddenly disappeared. I was thinking that I would be killed or stabbed or something. Cricket is a funny mind game. You are close to the slip cordon and they are asking you why this is so and that kind of chat went on for about five minutes. Then you know I was explaining what the demonstration was about and you find all of a sudden that the tension that was there when you went out to the middle is no more. Normally when you go out to bat, that tension is there, but here you are talking to them and you get really chatty and that pressure fizzled out and suddenly you are relaxed. It’s all in the mind.

Question: What was your first reaction when the protesters came onto the pitch?

Wettimuny: Out of the blues, 20 or 30 guys came charging onto the ground and I was taken by surprise. They laid flat on the ground and I was thinking someone will assault me or something. So I moved to the slip cordon. They were flat on the wicket, right across the wicket till the police came and removed them. But the focus from the game of cricket, that was built up for a month, all that pressure, the adrenalin rush you get when you walk in disappeared you know. Those five minutes made me relax.

Question: Moving on, the end result of that Test match must have sent a clear message to the British?

Wettimuny: Well, if you read the papers, they said we had outshone England by miles. And we really did. We played a lot more exciting cricket. Arjuna batted beautifully. Again he was unfortunate to miss out on a hundred. He got a fabulous 86 in that game. That was one of his early tours, but he showed his class even then. He and I batted for a long time. Again, Arjuna was one of those guys born with confidence. He and Aravinda had that. They never showed the opposition that they were inferior. Actually, those guys showed superiority. I tell you there were some very special moments in that game.

Question: What are they?

Wettimuny: Well, Mohsin Khan (former Pakistan opener) had got a double hundred at Lord’s previously (in the summer of 1982) and he spoke to me at every interval egging me on saying, hey, you got to bat till the next break. He spoke to me during every session. He was in Manchester and from Manchester he was calling me in the dressing room. He was a lovely guy. We are good friends to date. He came to Sri Lanka as a selector recently and he called me.

Question: Is that the only special memory?

Wettimuny: Well, after the match, I was thrilled even more because Viv Richards came looking for me. He came up to me, shook hands and said, ‘Maan, that was fantastic.’ This was after the second day’s play and we were just about to leave and I was downstairs signing a few autographs. I saw him going to the main entrance and someone must have told him that I was down. Then he walked right up to me and said, "Maan, I have just come to shake hands with you maan. Great stuff maan, great stuff. Great cover drives maan. Just keep going." He had watched the game and I tell you those West Indians were really nice people. They were always supportive and appreciated good cricket even when we played against them. Those were great moments you see, I was young and had just started playing in the big league and it was sensational to hear that from Viv.

Question: Coming back to World Cups, how did you miss out on the 1987 campaign in the sub-continent?

Wettimuny: I retired just before the World Cup. I was 31 at that time. I wanted to get married and that was a spell where they were playing me in Test matches and and leaving me out of a couple of ODIs. I was wondering why should I play cricket at that age to play just two Test matches a year. I looked at the calendar and realized that we had two Test matches that year and two Test matches the next year. I wanted to get married as well and unlike today we weren’t getting money for playing cricket. So I had to figure out whether I should continue to play cricket or do I retire and concentrate on the future and stuff. Even my brothers told me to quit. They said you have played enough cricket and you have to get on with something else. That’s the best thing I have done. I got married and went into business and I got involved in the clothing industry and that’s been good. I have no regrets. I played from 1977 to 1987 and had some good times. I always consider myself lucky to have had a few milestones in my life. I still enjoy the company of some of the guys I played with. That’s something I really enjoy you know. I wish the guys today also take some good friends with them.

Question: Did thoughts of captaining Sri Lanka ever cross your mind?

Wettimuny: I think I missed out. I was unlucky again. I was appointed to captain against Pakistan in a three day game ahead of the 1985 Test series at home. Then I busted my finger in the last ball of the SSC-Colts game. I held a catch off the last ball of the day and my nail jumped out and I had to stay away. Who knows? Maybe had I stayed on…But captaincy was not something that I focused on at all. I just wanted to go out and bat. I always believed that the best time to go was when you had something still left in you.

Even my brothers used to tell me that. Because of that, I can look back and say I had my moments you know.

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