Beware of Dulla-by Rex Clementine
Amal Silva spoke little English those days. During the Lord’s Test in 1984, when Ian Botham said not so complementary things about Amal’s mother, the opening bat was asking the non-striker and captain Duleep Mendis what’s going on. Both Moratuwa boys, they were playing contrasting knocks. Amal took 255 balls for his hundred while Duleep raced to 94 in 97 balls. The latter was dealing in boundaries particularly targeting Mr. Botham. That the golden boy of English cricket ended up bowling off-spin in that game is a little known fact. That’s Duleep. Never cross his path.
Well, the Sri Lankan cricket team will be crossing his path in a fortnight’s time. They take on Oman in two T-20 Internationals, a side coached by Duleep. One thing is absolutely certain, Duleep will be prepared for this challenge. He would have studied every Sri Lankan player; their strengths and weaknesses and what’s the best way to get the better of an emerging and unsettled team.
Mind you Sri Lanka will be without three of their leading players. Kusal Perera is recovering from a hamstring injury while Dushmantha Chameera and Wanindu Hasaranga are on IPL leave. On paper, Sri Lanka are still the stronger team. But cricket is a funny game and Duleep is a different beast.
In this series, even if Oman do not pose a challenge at all to Sri Lanka who have been well grilled after a hard fought series against South Africa, the bigger picture for Duleep is the World Cup qualifiers.
Make no mistake, Duleep has completely turned around Oman’s cricket. That’s a fact. All that in such a short time too.
With sheer hard work and guidance, Duleep enabled the Omanis to achieve T-20 status. Then a few years later they ended up gaining ODI status. Now they will be playing in a World Cup. His expertise has been on not just how to develop Oman’s senior side. But to put a cricket structure in place and build the proper infrastructure. Isn’t it remarkable that in such a short span of time Oman will be conducting a World Cup! It’s proof that ICC has recognized the remarkable progress they have made over the years.
Duleep’s half a century of association with Sri Lankan cricket has helped him to turn things around for Oman. He has done it all as a player, coach, chairman of selectors, manager, director cricket operations and eventually CEO. A golden half a century in which Sri Lankan cricket reached new heights until all of a sudden on flimsy grounds they forced him to retire. Duleep by no means is someone to harbour grudges. Like all sportsmen he has seen good and bad days and knows how to take them on the chin.
Once Duleep reached the age of 60, those who removed him thought he will quietly go into retirement. But cricketing gods had other plans. He was sent to Oman to help a budding cricket nation. Here at the age of 69, you see him still doing throw downs at 20-year-old’s. Older the bull, harder the ….
Oman’s progress has been so rapid. Interestingly, it has coincided with that of Sri Lanka’s decline.
In 2017, Sri Lanka rang up Duleep asking him to return home to take up some key responsibilities. He turned down the offer politely saying that he has been well looked after by the Omanis.
It’s a dangerous thing to quote the scriptures. Your friends make fun at you saying, ‘it’s like devil quoting the scriptures.’ Nevertheless, stories like these need to end with the words that ‘a prophet is not welcomed in his own country.’