Sidath Wettimuny

'Our early 80s line-up was better than today's'

The former Sri Lanka opener on playing in the pre-commercialisation era, making a hundred at Lord's, the 1996 World Cup, Ranatunga, and more

Interview by Sidharth Monga

"Most of our tours were one-off Tests. We could never capitalise on form, or when we got going we could hardly convert it into a big series" Adrian Murrell / © Getty Images

Opening in a Test with my brother was fun. I couldn't open with my eldest brother [Sunil], although our careers overlapped. When he toured I didn't, and when I toured he didn't. We always felt that they wouldn't take two brothers at that time. Mithra was actually in Hong Kong, and he had lost out on a year or two. He was an accountant there. He came back and he got into the side briefly. Then I opened with him in a Test series in New Zealand.

Winning the World Cup made cricket a lot more popular in Sri Lanka, but by 1996 we had a damn good team. Had we not won, it wouldn't have been the end of the world.

Our fitness levels were a joke. We just had fun. When I look back, we did all the wrong things. We used to burn out so much before we went on tour that the tour seemed like a break.

Roy Dias was one of the most stylish batsmen. My brother Sunil was an absolutely stylish player. Michael Tissera was a beautiful batsman to watch. I thoroughly enjoyed Anura Tennekoon. Never played in Tests. He scored a hundred against every country that toured here. He would have been a run machine.

We were very unfortunate, in that most of our tours were one-off Tests - one-off or two. We could never capitalise on form, or when we got going we could hardly convert it into a big series.

The England tour of 1984 was also one such. We toured for a month or so playing counties, and then one Test. If you failed in that Test, whatever the result of the rest of the tour, you felt you had a bad tour. I remember the match before the Test, against Sussex, I got 70-odd. John Snow wrote, "Watch out for Sid." [Wettimuny batted for close to 11 hours, scoring 190 at Lord's]

Cricket in our day wasn't exactly an elitist sport, but 90% of cricketers in Sri Lanka came from Colombo schools.

My father was extremely keen that we learn to bat properly, technically. He appreciated the art more than anything else. He actually built the first indoor school in this country for us to learn cricket, so that we could go and learn from the man I thought was the best coach, Bertie Wijesinghe.

I have always looked for and appreciated the little friendships you build along the line with players from other countries.

In the early eighties the batting line-up we had - believe it or not - was better than what we have today. But we played cricket for fun. If I look at pure batting skills - you ask Arjuna Ranatunga, he will tell you the same thing - our line-up was much better. The skills were better. They viewed us with respect.

I always liked playing on English wickets. If you played straight, you could score there.

A guy came and made us run 19 rounds around a ground, saying "This is how you keep fit." By the time the tour started we were exhausted. We never did weight training. We didn't have those facilities. It was pure skill that kept us going.

"I don't know if we were too nice. We were amateurs; even when we retired we were semi-professional. The hard-nosed cricket style came with the commercialisation of the game"

If you take the period we were in, it was very formative in Test cricket exposure. Lord's was a big step. We were beginning to tell ourselves that we could perform on the big stage. That we could battle with the big boys and still do well. We were playing at Lord's, the home of cricket. Everybody was keen to do well. It contributed in that sense; it told the coming teams that it could be done.

Arjuna was very confident from day one. He had that aggressive approach even then.

We have to give a lot of credit to Dav Whatmore for 1996. Until then we did our own thing basically. Even in 1994, that was how we played. It was not a unit playing cricket, it was cricketers doing their own thing and coming together on tour.

We have got so much of natural talent, which needs - I must qualify - to be converted into skill and performance. The natural talent, good coordination is there, you know. Our guys are well coordinated; you go to the villages and see.

I don't know whether we were too nice. Let's face it, we were amateurs; even when we retired we were semi-professional. So I think the hard-nosed cricket style came with the commercialisation of the game.

Arjuna was definitely one of the guys who went out of the way to show the opposition, "Look we can beat you." Maybe he did convey that to them better than some of the guys earlier.

Around age 30-31, I seriously thought I had come to a crossroads. For a long time we didn't get enough Test tours. Then there was trouble in the country. It was the middle of the southern uprising and we were going to have only two Tests in the next two years. That's when I retired. Unlike now, where when you retire you have made enough money to sit back and relax, we had to seriously think, "Hey what the hell do I do now?"

I believe even today you can play the game as cleanly as ever and still perform at the highest level.

When we played in India, we did well there. The three one-dayers we lost because of one man and one man only, Kris Srikkanth. In the Test, we did well too. Roy batted beautifully, Duleep got twin hundreds. I don't think our opponents thought we were bad, but we lacked five-day exposure and fitness.

When I saw the 1996 team, I thought, "What the hell were we doing?" We used to get 30 runs and get cramps.

The greatest thing Dav did was to bring organisation. Not technical skills, he brought organised thinking. He brought Alex Kountouris with him. What that did was, batsmen who would score 70 and throw their wickets away due to lack of fitness and application would go on to convert it to 140. The guy who took two wickets went on to get six because he had strength, stamina and focus. It upped our cricket by 40% just through dedicated and disciplined thinking, and the incredible increase in fitness.

In Sialkot I got 45 on a crazy green top against Imran and Wasim. Battled and battled and got 45, and in the second innings I was given lbw in the first over. That was disappointing.

"Those days we were a lot more relaxed about how we played the game than today" © Getty Images

There was bad umpiring, no doubt, when Pakistan toured in 1986. Even in Pakistan we had some terrible umpiring. I don't know if it was tit-for-tat. In Kandy I disappointed some of our management by walking, but all my life I have played my game that way. I felt it beneath my dignity to be out and then not walk. How can you look those guys in the eye after that?

Sadly I learned to stay fit only after I retired. I work hard now to stay fit, but never during our playing days.

At Lord's, when I went out to play, I still remember Mohsin Khan called me on the dressing-room phone at every break. He was playing in the leagues then. First before the match, saying, "Look, I got a double-hundred there, you can also do it". Lunch, tea, close of play, till I got out, he called me every break. Those are the sort of things you remember. Kapil and I are very good friends. Sunny. The Crowe brothers in New Zealand.

It has been a very slow turn from the mid-eighties, nineties, but today 80% of our national cricketers are from outstation. That's where we need to focus. We aren't developing enough bases. The same bases we have in Colombo, we should be having in Galle, in Kandy. We should be now having them in Jaffna.

Roy is a very mild guy - in fact, too mild. He was very sensitive, to the point of nearly being insecure. But he was different when he batted. All his confidence showed when he batted. People forget he was not only a brilliant batsman but a brilliant fielder too, possibly at one time the best cover fielder in this country.

My father used to always say, "It's a game that builds character." If you can play the game in a certain way, you will take it outside the game too. I see a lot of truth in that.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo





  • POSTED BY Chandani on | August 16, 2010, 3:17 GMT

    Hey U guys are missing the point here !! You can never compare two generations of cricketers. The conditions, thinking and everything is quite different. Averages are things that are misleading. You can not compare 2 averages and say one is better than the other. Things like the bowlers of the other team, the state of the team, nature of the wicket and all other things should be taken into consideration.

    I have seen all these players like Sidath, Sunil, Roy, Duleep,Arjuna,Aravinda, Mahela and Sanga play. They are all gerat players in their own way. No one can say one is better than the other. In the 80's we had great batsman, technically correct players. But here again technique helps you to score runs. But sometimes technique alone can not make you score runs. If that is the case a guy like Sanath would never score runs !!! My final point is that 2 generations of cricketers can never be compared !!!

  • POSTED BY GS on | August 14, 2010, 9:01 GMT

    Some comments are made without understanding the difficulties of playing in the days 30+ years back.Most Cricketers bought their own kit.After Packer, Cricketers spend zwro money of their own. Everything is on the house,gifted, bribed etc. Sidath had said a good word on Bertie Wijesinghe.I saw Wijesinghe(ca1955) bat as a 16 year old leading Lankan schools to play Madras School's at Chepauk,(Chennai).A marvellous display of batting. He and his Partner Rajah De Silva delighted us all spectators.Perfect technique No slog sweep, no Cross bat shot, no gimmicks. If those days Cricketers had 10% of today's money paid to them,no one can say immature things about them.Well done Sidath,Your views are excellent and credits given where due.

  • POSTED BY Pradeep on | August 14, 2010, 8:10 GMT

    @ Buddhi Wickramaarachchi ...are you saying just because Samaraweera averages 50+, runs on flat pitches in Pakistan and at the SSC, he's anything close to the legend Aravinda is?...ur kidding...he's talented Samaraweera, but not a class batsman. This also shows how good SL when they got test status, compare that to Bangladesh now, even after a decade of tests they are useless.

  • POSTED BY nishantha on | August 14, 2010, 5:22 GMT

    I suppose what Sidath means when he says the 80's side was better is technique wise and he is probably right as aside from Sangakkara and Jayawardane , perhaps Samaraweera , the rest are not as technically up there as previous teams . However by the same token , the likes of Sidath himself and Madugalle under achieved for all their technical prowess . Roy Dias was the best batsman of that era until Aravinda came along while Mendis was a swashbuckler . Some one mentioned David Heyn and he was a very gifted player who slipped under the international radar as most of Sri Lanka's players in the sixties and 70's for want of proper exposure . David is now domiciled in England , married to a British lady and has 2 adult daughters .

  • POSTED BY Michael on | August 14, 2010, 2:10 GMT

    I remember that 1984 Test and Wettimuny's marathon quite well. I also remember Mendis' innings. The West Indians had dismantled England quite effectively all summer, but Mendis' destructive genius registered not one whit less than Richards', Greenidge's or anyone else's in his innings of 111 and 94. Welcome to the real Sri Lanka I remember thinking. That tradition was later taken up by de Silva then Jayasuriya most effectively. Long may it continue!!

  • POSTED BY Srinivas on | August 14, 2010, 1:35 GMT

    I remember Roy Dias, Duleep Mendis, Sidath, Rumesh, Asantha and every one of those (though I can't name all of them now). What expectations we had about SL then!!! And they showed up!!! Even before the tests, they used to play leagues in Chennai (and/or used to come down to Chennai to play). But Duleep's twin tons were a memory, I so dearly cherish. Roy was in a class of his own. Awesome stylist. I still remember his backfoot drives...wow!!! Rumesh became a folk hero for us youngsters what with his wrist bands, head band and flowing hair. I wish I can see the video of that test and/or some games that team played.

    I so hated India touring SL and getting slaughtered by.................SL umpires though. Ever so grateful to my hero Imran for initiating and bringing in neutral umpires. The comment about SL umpiring back then, comes from personal experience.

  • POSTED BY J Ranjith on | August 14, 2010, 1:17 GMT

    @Lancan: I do not understand why you get angry for Wettimuny saying that old people had good talent than present lot. Lets check it out. Wettimuny's away record in Tests was (Matches, Average): (12,39.95). Lets check your list of current players: Sana (48,36), Kalu (24,24), Aravinda (48,36), Sanga (39,50), arjuna (45,31), roshan (28,24), Marvan (39.6), Gura (35.6), Mahela (48,43), Arnold (18,33). Only Sanga was runaway winner and Mahela was little better. Now Wettimuny says that if these people were trained to be fit, they might have got an average of 50, which is true. Comparing that to your present generation guys, it is very evident that he is correct. If old people, unfit as you say, can get 40 average, they are definitely better than current players. We need to respect them when they make such a statement. Current SL players should first win matches abroad and prove that they are better, otherwise future gens. will ask the same question you ask about Wettimuny's generation.

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | August 14, 2010, 0:53 GMT

    Mahela, Sanga & Samare av 50+ in test. This is the best middle order Sri Lanka ever had. Roy & Aravinda were class acts. However, in general, with batting ave less than 40, the early 80's line up were too inconsistent compared to the current crop.

  • POSTED BY Dimuthu on | August 13, 2010, 18:30 GMT

    Lancan is spot on :) am sure players from almost all eras would like to think theirs was the best! the same way past pupils from schools always say how 'kids these days' aren't like how they were. i remember even Mahanama in the 90s used to get cramps after about 30-40 runs every single time! Alex Kontouris was the man who brought in an ethos of professionalism in fitness levels for the Lankan cricketers. Appreciate the current crop of Lankan cricketers who are world class but the players from the past who had limited opportunities to showcase their talents will still have a special place in our history and our hearts!

  • POSTED BY Chandimal on | August 13, 2010, 12:41 GMT

    @ fromtheslips you are contradicting Sidath, by saying that "Plod on for hours together....without showing any signs of tiredness and lethagry" when Sidath says "We used to get 30 runs and get cramps" which was true. The players in those era were very unfit, period! As for Sidath it's an exaggeration for him to say they had a better line up in the 80s. If he was talking of 94,96 & 98 era I would definitely agree! Sana, Kalu, Ara, Gura, Arjuna, Mahanama, Atapattu, Dharmasena, Arnold & Vass with Mahela just joining them in 97... Now that's a line up! I mean they could all bat! No doubt Dias, Wettemuni bros, Mendis, Ranasinghe & early stalwarts like Stanley J, C.I. Gunasekera & Sathasivam were legends. But no disrespect to any of them, but they didn't have the complete line up of the 94-98 teams! Most past SL cricketers always think they had the best teams in their era. It's partly due to their pride & partly envy, which shows in the interview. Still I agree Sidath was a classy player!!

  • POSTED BY Bis on | August 13, 2010, 12:07 GMT

    Saw Sid score that 190 in Lords - he batted beautifully - his backfoot driving through the covers was a joy to behold.

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | August 13, 2010, 11:56 GMT

    He was a good player. Very correct technically. I also saw Anura Tennekoon play in Nagpur against India Under 25 (Kapil was a standbye in that team). He scored 40 odd and looked very good. There was a guy called David Heyn as well - where is he now? Roy Dias was so stylish and so classy- just loved to watch him bat.

    Those guys were good but Aravinda who came a bit later was sheer class - despite what the records might say he in my book is the best SL bat of all.

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | August 13, 2010, 11:46 GMT

    My memory goes back to Lords in 1986 I reckon. Diamond syd rocked London. What a classical inning it was. Love to see him play again on a green top.SSC team then where Syd opened was stronger than SL team right now. Games againnst Bloomfield was like Ashes.

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | August 13, 2010, 11:33 GMT

    Not right.how come lanka did not win too matches then. Cant be dilshan, Sanga, mahela are less better cricketers than those times.

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | August 13, 2010, 11:16 GMT

    Sidath Wettimuny was a true gentleman of his time and still everyone respects him very much.

  • POSTED BY K.N on | August 13, 2010, 10:51 GMT

    Sri Lanka had much better team than they have these days...Players like Wettimuny,De silva,Ratnyake,Brendon Kuruppu,Anura Tenekoon,Gurusinghe...are hard to come by....Yes they do have good bats like ...Sangakara,Jayasurya,Dilshan,and Mahela...But the old ones were far better....They could stand rock solid in a test match...Plod on for hours together....without showing any signs of tiredness and lethagry ...

  • POSTED BY Mirza on | August 13, 2010, 10:36 GMT

    Its a real shame that Sri Lanka got Test status too late although they had the power to compete at the Test level with dignity against other Test playing nations. Sorry to see that most deserving players like Tennekoon, Tisserra and others never had a chance to play Test cricket. Team of 1975 and onwards was a hundred times better than the Bnagladeh but don't know why Test status was given so late.

  • POSTED BY Omar on | August 13, 2010, 7:55 GMT

    How true!

    "I thoroughly enjoyed Anura Tennekoon. Never played in Tests. He scored a hundred against every country that toured here. He would have been a run machine."

    Having been a school mate of Tennekoon and seen him play from his young days he was destined for greatness - never seen someone with his temperament added to a great technique.

  • POSTED BY Arosha on | August 13, 2010, 7:36 GMT

    Among the batsmen in 80's, Roy Dias & Duleep Mendis were very gifted ones, may be on the verge of greatness by Sri Lanka's standard at that time. Sidath Wettimuny, though he had two monumental knocks (Sri Lanka's first test hundred, 157 against pretty much a second string Pakistani attack in Faisalabad in '82, & 190 against England, which was almost a two days affair) & Ranjan Madugalle, though he showed some skills especially against NZ attack led by great Richard Hadley, may not be classified as 2 great players by any standards, both of them were good players, nothing more. Saying 80's line up was better than today's line up skill-wise, may be exaggeration. The fact of the matter is SL had only 2-3 naturally gifted stoke makers at any time in each lineup from 1940's to 2000s. The numbers may be handful if you consider the sheer tallent. Players like F.C. De Seram, M. Sathasivam, C.I. Gunasekara, Roy Dias, D. Mendis, A. Ranatunga, Aravinda De Silva, S.Jayasuriya, to name a few.

  • POSTED BY venkatbabu on | August 13, 2010, 7:34 GMT

    Nice interview...i didn't remember watching him play, although i am watching cricket from 1984. Candid interviews reflects his personality....

  • POSTED BY Ali on | August 13, 2010, 6:57 GMT

    A very nice interview. Takes one into an era when sri lankan cricket was not too well known. These were the guys who were the predecessors to the current lot. Umpiring in Sri Lanka a tit for tat??? Interesting question.

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | August 13, 2010, 6:44 GMT

    It is for articles like this that I keep coming back to Cricinfo. Though I have hardly watched Sidath play , reading this gave me a clear insight of thr type of person while also magically transporting me to an era before crass commercialization, where players from different countries call up each other for no specail reason...

    Thanks Sidarth and Sidath.

  • POSTED BY jamshed on | August 13, 2010, 5:26 GMT

    I remember watching the Sri Lankan tourists to Pakistan in 1982.They were not a very strong side,as they got beaten easily by a second string Pakistan side.But I do remember Roy Dias and he looked like a good batsman.

  • POSTED BY rohit on | August 13, 2010, 5:23 GMT

    Ver Good articale. I never saw him play however, heard from Kapli & Sunil ininterviews about Sid, Roy & Duleep' skill & talent.

  • POSTED BY Kasun on | August 13, 2010, 4:48 GMT

    Wonderful interview.I have never seen him play (except for a few videos of the Lord's innings), but from what I hear about him from my father, he is said to be one of the technically correct batsmen.A true purist.Its great to see his honest thoughts on the good old days.I think may be he is right about the 80's. Everyone believes that SL got the test status really late and their side that played in the 75 world cup were a great lineup.Any way its so glad to hear about the days we were not so fortunate to see.I might be proud when my grand kids say the same thing about the era of 'Murali'.

  • POSTED BY Nandi on | August 13, 2010, 4:12 GMT

    Sidath, Very well said. I think I have to agree with almost of all of what you say. Of course happened to be the generation of Tissera & Co, I still think SL has the goods to do well in the World Cup particularly because SL is loaded with all rounders (Mathew, Thissera, Maharoof) & I will find a way to play all three and change bowlers every so often so no batsman can settle, rather than play a half baked batsman like Kapugedara/Kandamby/Chamara. All tthre and evenmubarak are great bats but no consistancy! Nandi.J.