Roy Dias smiles when asked about Sri Lanka’s win over India in the 1979 World Cup.
Sri Lanka, at the time an associate member of the International Cricket Council, stunned a strong Indian team which included the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Viswanath, Kapil Dev, Mohinder Amarnath, Bishan Singh Bedi and skipper S. Venkatraghavan.
Dias, a stylish middle-order batsman, played his part in the Manchester win with a 50. “Many of the Sri Lankan players were playing in Manchester clubs at the time, so we had good support at the ground.
“After the game, we had dinner with Gavaskar and other members of the Indian team. The friendships that we built is going strong to this day,” Dias, the Sri Lanka-A coach, tells The Hindu here on Sunday.
Sri Lanka’s sole success at that World Cup helped chart the future of cricket in the country.
“Our performance against India gave us the belief that we belonged on the world stage, and it also gave credence to Sri Lanka’s push for ICC full membership,” Dias says.
Sri Lanka did gain full membership in 1981, becoming the eighth Test-playing nation.
“When we received the news, we had a big celebratory dinner. Being recognised as a Test nation was a big deal," Dias recalls.
Dias, who played 20 Tests and 58 ODIs, went on to establish himself among the great batsmen of his generation. Nearly a decade after he hung up his boots, Dias donned the role of selector in Sri Lanka’s famous 1996 World Cup triumph.
“Before the 1996 World Cup, not many people could even spot Sri Lanka on the world map. Everything changed after we lifted the trophy.
“The people of Sri Lanka gained a sense of national pride, much like what happened in India after the 1983 World Cup. Cricket became our main sport, and there was no looking back,” Dias states.
Minnows no longer
“I can never forget the reception the team got when they returned home. I met the players at the airport, and we were taken on a lovely parade to the President’s house in Colombo. People lined the streets; there were celebrations everywhere. Sri Lankan cricket had arrived; we were no longer the minnows.”