|Sunday, 29 February 2004|
Sri Lanka got to recycle and get in new players to carry on good work - David Heyn
by SRIAN OBEYESEKERE
Remember that fair, stocky, red-headed stylish left-hander for his glorious cover drive, and safe hands at cover point in years gone by ?
Now some 39 years hence, the wrinkles showing and tufts of grey hairs to go with a slight pot in his 58th year, a nostalgic touch rang in the voice as it measured the world stage from a 'not to be outdone Sri Lanka' to a dominant but eroding Australia for want of replacements for McGrath and Warne which was a like reminder here of who would step into the shoes of Vaas and Murali, to what he saw India as the next force.
Yes, David Heyn, the former Sri Lankan cricketer, who was in town for two weeks before flying out yesterday, was all cricket as he discussed the game from his playing days to date in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Observer.
The regrets were there. That he was not around when his motherland did finally achieve Test status in 1981, but which had eluded Sri Lanka for sometime which took him to Britain some 5 years before that in the belief it was worthless waiting. "All the others except for me played for Sri Lanka on obtaining Test status", recalled the former star.
Yet the glow of joy was unmistakable that Sri Lanka had at last done it and held its own today on the big stage as David, the second son of the late General Russel Heyn, a pillar of the country's cricket during his time as a player and at administrative level, harked that 'in Sanath, Marvan, Hashan, Mahela, Sangakkara, Murali and Vaas, Sri Lanka has seven players of great calibre who could fit into any world team.'
But David delighted in the fact that it was particularly the seeds sown in 1974 of playing extensive cricket during his time in India and Pakistan that had reaped the fruits of Test status.
David, the former Peterite, who made England his home over 3 decades ago in search of 'greener pastures' marrying Sue, a Britisher, is the father of two daughters - Alexandra (21) a law student and Georgina (19), a student at Bath University who is a father's dream of excelling in the world of sports, having taken to swimming where she represented Britain in a junior international meet and is hoping to further go up the ladder of success.
It was his 11th visit from Twickenham which David said is the home of rugby, as he reflected a longing for rekindling old ties.
Excerpts of the interview:
(Q): How would you reflect on your cricket career?
(A): "I represented Sri Lanka from 1964 to '76 in 18 Test matches missing out on two through injury. I would say the tour to India in 1975 was the most successful tour because it was one of the two proper tours where we had a good selection of matches. The other such one was the tour to Pakistan in 1974. Both were well organised and extensive tours at a time when tours were far and few".
(Q): What were your best innings that come to mind?
(A): "The Hyderabad Test match against India in 1975 where I scored 104 and 84 where we managed to save the match."
(Q): You were decked as one of Sri Lanka's best cover fielders during your time?
(A): "It is not for me to judge what I was. I fielded all over the place."
(Q): In your time you would have measured to a Colin Bland or Jonty Rhodes?
(A): "Not for me to say, but I get amused when they make such a fuss of Rhodes and Ponting. We didn't get that exposure when we were playing. You get television now which we didn't get in the past. When you see guys shouting over Rhodes, you think 'bloody heck', they might have said the same of us. Yes, there were different generations. Here, they speak of Sathasivam and C. I. Gunasekera in their time. One generation would say they were better. For instance, take David Beckham in football who is talked of so much. But in the '70s as well there were big names as well. It is difficult to compare."
(Q): After you left Sri Lanka did you continue your cricket career?
(A): "I went in 1976 from which period to 1983 I played in the Middlesex League. In the Amateur League there was former Thomian, Mano Ponniah (brother of David Ponniah) and former Royalist, Indir Perayerawar. There was a high standard at that level than in the leagues up North. The Middlesex League was very strong. There were a lot of expatriate cricketers like Dav Whatmore, David Hookes, both of whom were in the Surrey League. I went on to play 1 year for Benshire County in the minor counties league in 4 matches before giving up after our first daughter was born in 1982. But having given up cricket, I have continued to be a keen follower because everything comes on the internet and I make it a point to catch up with things in Lanka courtesy the Ceylon Daily News and Sunday Observer.
(Q): How would you evaluate our standard as of today?
(A): Pretty good. You can't say anyone who won the World Cup is not good. England haven't done that. Neither have South Africa. But they've (Sri Lanka) got to recycle and get in new players. You would see the Australians are struggling without their two top bowlers McGrath and Warne. Guys like Mahela, Sangakkara and Dilshan have been around for a few years. They have established themselves. But the Lankan authorities need to look for people to takeover from the more experienced players. We have been able to do that up to now. For example, young players have slotted into the side and taken over from others at the top. I'm sure that the structure is in place to continue it. Of course, I'm not quite sure who else are there from the 'A' team and under-19 team to step in when Sanath (Jayasuriya) and so many others retire.
Also, in the bowling department, there is a question as to who is going to succeed Chaminda (Vaas) and Murali some day. What I wish to stress here is that as long as we have got a proper structure the replacements should come through. I must say that I don't know indepth the structure here as to the new regional system and whether the club system is alright.
If it produces players, then it is working. I must say then and now it has been good. As to the distribution of matches then from 1967 to '73 we played only 6 matches one at a time except for the tour of India in 1964 which I didn't make, and in 1966 to Pakistan. We did not make use of the opportunities that came our way. There was an aborted tour of 1968 where the selectors selected themselves. (chuckle) There were just 12 matches in a 6-year period."
(Q): Although you were not around when we were finally accepted to the ICC fold, how would you evaluate the cricket during your time?
(A): "It is particularly the 1974 rewards in striving to get Test status where we had an extensive program of matches touring India and Pakistan that we had a lot of cricket.
That I would say in my opinion, was the start Sri Lanka cricket proper. There were players like Warnapura, Duleep, Roy, Ajith de Silva, Anura Ranasinghe, Kaluperuma and D. S. de Silva. If we had not played so much in that period I don't think we would have got test status. From there we went on to win the ICC Trophy in 1979 and beat India before that in the 1975 World Cup."
(Q): How would you view the world stage as of now?
(A): "If you look at recent results, without McGrath and Warne, Australia struggled in the recent home series against the Indians who were dominant and they could be the next force. If you look at their batting, they went 1-up and their bowling has been on a high. India has a sound structure where you can see there is emerging talent which has harnessed well.
South Africa could come up, but they are struggling against New Zealand away. The West Indies are good in batting but lack in bowling and fielding. New Zealand has limited resources within which they are doing well with a lesser built player base than the other countries. I don't know where Pakistan will get. They end up shooting themselves in the foot. They pick so many captains."
(Q): Would you say that Australia are declining?
(A): "Not necessarily. They are producing cricketers, but they have struggled taking wickets without Warne and McGrath. They are producing good batsmen, but I'm not quite sure whether they can produce good bowlers. They got Macgill but he is not of the class of Shane Warne. Take Vaas and Murali. Without one of the two we have struggled. They supplement each other."
(Q): What about Bret Lee?
(A): "Lee has to prove it over a period of time. With any sort of sport it is a fluid situation. Of retiring players to be replaced, out of form players from whom readymade talent is at hand to take over. You would see the Indians can get together a team that can turn it around . They proved it against Australia.
England haven't produced a bowling side which can bowl out a side twice away from home. On their own wickets they have prospered. We lost to them there. There batting is strong. But they needed to find an adequate replacement for Stewart. They need to look for who would replace Thorpe and how their replacements fare. How I see it Flintoff is their key element. Trescothick and Vaughan form the backbone.
What the England cricketers lack is the killer instinct like the Australians. They are not always confident.
They beat Sri Lanka 1-0 in the tour here before the last one in 2003 which we won. England need to put together consistency to come to top class. They've got some good cricketers coming through, but got to come through as a team. Of the young lot, there is Collingwood. There is an up and coming batsman in Kevin Peterson in the 'A' XI. The question is can they come to the mainstream and put form and bed in."
(Q): You think Sri Lanka can reach the top of the mountain?
(A): Its difficult. To get to the top of the mountain we need to win the World Cup. We made it to the semi-finals of the last World Cup. It is left to be seen whether we can make a winning team for the next World Cup.
In test matches, I wonder whether standards could be evaluated by tables and the like. I don't know. Test cricket is all about having top bowlers, batsmen and fielders as shown by top sides like Australia.
We have done well. We haven't been outclassed. In that light the current home series against the Aussies should be interesting. We beat them years ago to annex the World Cup. But now they have evolved something different. Their style of batting especially. It will be interesting whether we can put forward a beatable side.
Man to man, we've got 7 top players in Sanath, Marvan, Mahela, Sangakkara, Tillekeratne, Murali and Vaas. Man to man they are good as any other player in any other team. It all depends on what the other four do. We need 1 or 2 bowlers to help out the big two. In comparison to our top 7, Zimbabwe and England cannot get as good 7 players of that calibre. When you compare their performances and statistics with other world players we won't be disgraced. When you have such a nucleus of players you should be able to compete against anybody in world cricket."
(Q): Was it the cricket that brought you here?
(A): "You could call it a 2 in 1 trip. Partly to watch the one-dayers, then there was the old boys dinner dance, the stag nite and to watch Friday's morning session of the Josephian-Peterite before I leave on Saturday (28th) afternoon."
(Q): Other than cricket, what is your livelihood?
(A): "I'm a manager in the logistics business and shipping of buying here and abroad one at a time or both for an European arm of companies based in Canada. Before that I used to travel with a construction company."
(Q): Your second daughter, Georgina is a swimmer?
(A): "Yes, she represented Great Britain in the European Junior Championships which was an achievement in so much as reaching that level."
(Q): Is she going further?
(A): "Yes, she is hoping to make it to the big stage for which I think she has the scope."
(Q): Something about your wife?
(A): "She is Sue, a Britisher whom I met quite by accident when I was a member of a club run by Shell which had sports for its employees and had outsiders like me to boost the team."
(Q): You played hockey at national level here?
(A): "I was in the pool for the Asian Games in 1966, but fell ill and opted out. Subash took my place."
(Q): Your elder brother Richard represented Sri Lanka in hockey?
(A): "Yes, but having played hockey myself I must say that we have declined from a fine era when we had some top talent when teams like Old Bens, BRC, and teams from Matale flourished."
(Q): To what would you attribute the decline to?
(A): "Partly administration. In hockey and rugby I would say we have failed to produce players to keep the game in that standard.
Produced by Lake House