When Mahanama needed police protection to play in Sharjah
Mahanama defied iconic players Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva to lead a depleted Sri Lanka team in the 1994 Austral-Asia Cup in Sharjah
Cricket fans will always remember Roshan Mahanama as the classically correct batsman who shared a then world record second wicket partnership of 576 runs with the mercurial Sanath Jayasuriya in the 1997 Colombo Test match against India.
But not many would know that three years before that 1997 Colombo Test in which Sri Lanka had made a staggering 952/6, the soft-spoken Mahanama defied the iconic players Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva to lead a depleted team in the 1994 Austral-Asia Cup in Sharjah.
During a webinar with the students of Dubai's Tellicherry Cricket Academy last month, Mahanama revealed that several senior Sri Lankan players, including then captain Ranatunga and De Silva, decided to pull out of the tournament in Sharjah.
Mahanama, though, didn't specify the reason behind the senior players' decision to withdraw from the tournament, leaving the Lankan cricket board in a difficult situation to send a team to Sharjah.
"When we left the Taj Hotel in Colombo, we needed police protection. I had police protection at my home. My colleague Asanka Gurusinghe was also threatened for various reasons," said Mahanama before recalling how the drama unfolded.
"We were at training one day and like I mentioned earlier, I was always a team man. And my captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, walks up to me and tells me, 'Roshan, I am not going on the tour and I don't want you to go as well'.
"I am generally a calm, cool customer. But I asked him, 'skipper, is it your personal decision or are we taking a decision as a team?'
"He said, 'no I am telling you, you are not going'. I said, 'sorry, if it's your personal decision, I can't be party to it. But whether we like it or not, if we are taking a collective decision, count me in'.
"He was so mad, he left that day, obviously our relationship was not the best for a few years, and some people even threatened me."
Mahanama used the incident as an example for the students of the Tellicherry Cricket Academy to learn about discipline and team spirit,
"You know, my parents, my first coach always told me about values and team disciplines. So my focus was on that, and this is what I did," he said.
"So we had to practice with police protection, we embarked on the tour. We gelled on the tour, we couldn't obviously do well (Lanka lost both their Group B games against Australia and New Zealand in Sharjah, despite a brilliant century from Gurusinghe against the Kiwis) because we had lost so many experienced players and with the mental condition that we were in, it was very hard, but we were competitive. And we came back home so that Sri Lanka board didn't have to go through the embarrassment of pulling out of a tournament," said Mahanama who played 52 Test matches and 213 one-day internationals for Sri Lanka.
"Yes, I captained Sri Lanka, may be by default, but it's an achievement. I was called upon to do something for the team and for the country, but at the same time, I would have sacrificed everything if we had taken the decision collectively.
"I knew the decision was taken for various other reasons, but I didn't want to be part of that. Yes, I may look very soft, but I am actually very strong. Not many people could stand up to a strong captain like Arjuna Ranataunga!"
Sri Lankan players put their differences aside and won the 1996 World Cup. (AFP)
But Mahanama admitted without the captaincy of Ranatunga, Sri Lanka perhaps would not have won the World Cup two years after that Sharjah incident.
"I give him a lot of credit. We would not have won the World Cup (in 1996) if not for someone line Arjuna Ranatunga. He was a strong leader. We needed a strong leader like him," he said.
"But at the same time you should be bold enough to take your own decision with a clear conscience. And that was a memorable tour for us. Yes for a year and a half, the relationship wasn't the best. My childhood friend, Aravinda de Silva was not even looking at me, but he later on realised what went on. This happened in 1994.
"And two years later, we got together and won the World Cup. So, yes, sometimes you need to have minor hiccups like that, but I think we were mature enough to put our differences aside and once we crossed the boundary line, we focused on what we had to do as a team," said Mahanama, referring to Sri Lanka glorious World Cup triumph in 1996 when they beat the star-studded Australian team in the final in Lahore.
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