Roshan Mahanama: The man who shared a 576-run partnership for the second wicket with Sanath Jayasuriya

Roshan Mahanama © Getty Images

Roshan Mahanama, born May 31, 1966, was a vital cog in the Sri Lankan team that blossomed during the 1990s. After retirement, he has moved on to become one of the most respected match-referees on the international circuit. Nishad Pai Vaidya profiles the Sri Lankan’s career.

The Sri Lankans have always played an unique brand of cricket. There is a typical touch to their batting and an unorthodox element to their bowling. In the early 1990s, they were yet to stamp their authority at the highest level until Arjuna Ranatunga and Dav Whatmore started building a side. Roshan Mahanama, an aggressive opener and an agile fielder, was crucial to their plans as that side went on to lift the 1996 World Cup against all odds.

Mahanama was born in Colombo on May 31, 1966 and progressed through the age groups. At the age of 16, he was picked for Sri Lanka under-19s in early 1983. He continued to play for them till 1985, where he moved on to the under-23 category. His numbers weren’t very impressive, but the selectors kept faith in him. The turning point of his fledgling career came in 1986 as he was summoned to play for Sri Lanka against England B. He put in impressive performances, which included a hundred and two fifties. The selectors decided it was time to hand him an international cap.

When Pakistan visited in March 1986, Mahanama had his first taste of international cricket when he made his One-Day International (ODI) debut. A few days down the line, he made his Test debut against the same opposition. Used as an opener on his Test debut, he failed in both innings.

It took him time to find his feet at the highest level and his big breakthrough came against India, when he scored 98 while opening the batting in early 1987. He followed it up with an innings of 89 against Pakistan to establish himself at the top. In Test cricket, his first fifty came against Australia at Hobart.

Though he has a highest of 225 in Tests, his overall record is, however, modest —an average of just over 29 in both formats.

  M Runs Ave 100s 50s HS
Tests 52 2576 29.27 4 11 225
ODIs 213 5162 29.49 4 35 119*

Mahanama is remembered for two innings. His monumental 225 against India during the famous Colombo Test of 1997. In a run-fest, Sanath Jayasuriya and Mahanama blazed their way to glory and added a mammoth 576 run partnership for the second wicket, batting little over two days. Mahanama was the more subdued of the two partners. He motored along slowly as Jayasuriya blazed to his triple hundred. Their partnership came to an end when Mahanama was trapped leg-before by Anil Kumble with Sri Lanka on 615.
Mahanama also played an important role in taking Sri Lanka into the final of the 1996 World Cup. In the semis against India at the Eden Gardens, the dangerous opening firm of Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwithrana were sent packing in the first over.

But Aravinda de Silva then scripted a magical knock which made batting in those conditions look a cinch. The track was difficult and he fearlessly played through the line to resurrect Sri Lanka. Even as de Silva blazed away, Mahanama held firm and guided the innings. Wickets were falling, but he held one end to ensure there was stability. Cramps forced him to retire on 58, but he had done his job by then and Sri Lanka were well placed on the dodgy surface. What happened later is history!

The 1996 World Cup firmly placed Sri Lanka in international cricket and Mahanama was a part of a side that looked to build on it. When they travelled to England for the 1999 World Cup, a lot of hopes rested on the defending champions. But, they crashed out in the first round. Mahanama’s own form with the bat wasn’t too bad, but the selectors opted to axe him after the disastrous campaign.

Roshan Mahanama: The man who shared a 576-run partnership for the second wicket with Sanath Jayasuriya

Roshan Mahanama was axed after Sri Lanka’s disastrous campaign in the ICC World Cup 1999 © Getty Images

The reasoning presented by the selectors was that they wanted to hand youngsters a chance with an eye on the future.Yet, there were a few players older than him who were persisted with and that hurt Mahanama. He decided to call it a day to bring down the curtains on an eventful if not spectacular career.

Mahanama helped pen his thoughts in his biography ‘Retired Hurt’. It was an apt title as he felt the same when he was finally axed. That book also caused quite a stir as he alleged that Glenn McGrath had once called Jayasuriya a “black monkey”. The Australian fast-bowler denied that claim.

In an interview with Rediff 2001, Mahanama said, “`Retired Hurt’ is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But for me to be on the safe side, when I heard that Glenn was seeking legal advice, I had to be ready as well. I have spoken to few important members and management on that tour. I am keeping them informed. When I told them about Glenn’s denial they said how can he say that he never said it.”

When asked about the title of the book, Mahanama said, “When I retired, I said goodbye to cricket as I had had a tough time with all the politics in cricket. My father came up with the title. But now I think my past was cricket and my future will be cricket.”

True to his word, his future was with cricket as he was appointed a Match Referee by the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 2004. He carries out his duty with utmost dignity and tolerates no nonsense on the field. His long association with the game continues and he isn’t done with his contributions. There is a lot more to come from Mahanama.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)