By UJJWAL ACHARYA,
“We nearly beat Sri Lanka,” Roy Dias, Nepal’s long-time cricket coach told his wife Tharanga over the phone after the completion of the Asian Games 2010 match.
Tharanga was probably surprised, not only by the ability of Nepal’s team to put her country on the tight rope, but rather by the way her husband referred to Nepal as “we.” “We’re Sri Lankans!” she remarked.
Oh, yes! Dias is a Sri Lankan – he had represented the tiny nation during its early days of international cricket as a class batsman. He has batted for Sri Lanka with such elegance that those who saw him playing still consider him one of the all-time best batsmen.
But his nine-year association with Nepali cricket made him consider the tiny Himalayan nation his second home. His commitment to the game, relationship with his players and people, and connection with places made “each moment of his nine years memorable” for him.
“It’ll take me a few weeks to realize that I’m in Sri Lanka, that I’ve come back and missing this life,” Dias told me a few days before his scheduled return flight. The 59-year-old inspirational coach concluded his career as Nepal’s coach and is returning to his homeland on Sunday, and it is his retirement from jobs abroad.
A family man
Every time I visited Dias in his hotel room, I noticed a photo-collage at his bedside table that consisted of a picture of Jesus Christ and photos of his family – wife, a son and a daughter. He would always talk about his family. So much so that I feel like I know each of them personally, though I have never met them.
A few years ago, I was tempted to ask him, “Don’t you feel lonely?” He was quiet, probably had never expected the question. The answer was “Yes, I do miss them a lot” but after looking at his eyes, I never dared ask the question again – well, until his return was confirmed.
“In a way, I’m glad that I’m going back to be with my family,” Dias said with a note that “it feels sad to leave.”
“You know, my daughter was nine when I left, now she’s 18,” he said. With his son settled abroad after completing his education, Dias feels it is high time for him to be with his daughter and his wife. “I don’t want to miss them anymore.”
Dias also feels lucky that his family supported and understood him. “My wife has been very supportive and she understood it was a job for me. She also kept all of us very close,” he confided.
Tied by team
When Dias arrived in Kathmandu in September 2001, only knowing that he would be flying to an unknown airport to be met by the cricket board president, he “never expected to stay for nine years.”
“After I came, I realized the passion that you all have for cricket, and then it was an upward climb,” he said. “Every year, the team was doing well, and I had to stay. Then I became a part of Nepali cricket.”
During his stay, he groomed many players from their early age. “Except for a couple of players in the national side now, I’m with all other players from their early age,” he said. “So, in a way, they are like my children.”
Although many consider Dias as the man behind the country’s cricket team’s success, Dias himself considers it a team work. “I’m a coach, a teacher who can only teach,” he said. “It’s the students who have to sit in the exams and do well. So it’s the team that did well.”
Cricket’s long way
“Tundikhel was all football when I came, now it’s more cricket there,” he said. “The passion for cricket here is extraordinary.”
Dias had his share of contributions to the popularity. Under him, cricket teams of Nepal – seniors, age-groups and women – won 11 tournaments, reached finals of four others and semifinals of seven others.
The most fancied victories however are not those statistics. The Youth World Cups (YWCs), though, is one special instance. In 2002, Nepal reached the finals of the YWC Plate Championship, defeating Bangladesh and Pakistan; and in 2006, Nepal won the plate championship, defeating South Africa and New Zealand en route.
However, a couple of losses in crunch matches by the senior teams remain painful aberrations of his successful career.
“The losses against Qatar in 2003 in the ACC Trophy quarterfinals, and Tanzania in the WCL Division 4 in Italy this year weren’t good for us,” he said.
“I can be proud that I’m one of the persons from the 1970s in Sri Lanka whom, when people see me on the road, they still recognize and respect,” he told me when I asked about what he valued most in his life.
“I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to take benefits in a wrong way,” he said. “For me, human relationship is important.” He recalled his four years as a professional player in Canada, where he played his final three years without a contract paper.
“It’s faith,” he remembered. When the new chairman of the club sought his contract paper with three games remaining in the season, his teammates were enraged, and asked him to return. He did, and half of the club’s team did not play the rest of the season in silent protest.
“Even now, after three decades, whenever my teammates visit Sri Lanka, they remember to visit me,” he said. “It’s human relationship.”
He believes he succeeded mostly during his stay in Nepal. “It’s been my second home. I love this country and I respect the people here for all the support, love and respect they have given to me,” he said. “I could just say two words to them all – Thank you!”