Dear Diana Ma’am,
It is an absolute honour for you, but also a very proud moment for women’s cricket in our country and a proud moment for India as a whole, that you are being inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame. It is so well-deserved, you have been a pioneer for women’s cricket in our country.
Your contributions over the years have been immense. It is not too much to say that the game would not be where it is in India without all your efforts.
From a personal perspective, one of the biggest regrets of my career was that I never got to play against you. Like many young cricketers in India, I had grown up reading about you in the record books. Women’s cricket in India started in Mumbai in 1971 and you were there from the start.
We would read about your exploits, how you led the team and were so important to that side. As a player, your performances for the Indian cricket team in the 1970s and 1980s were legendary.
By 1997, you had retired from international cricket, but were still playing domestically. I remember playing in a tournament against Railways, but you did not play that game. I was just so excited to get the opportunity to meet you. After the game, I asked you what you thought of my bowling and you told me about the hard work it would take to make it as an international.
Five years later, I made my debut for India, and it was fitting that you were one of the national selectors. From there, our relationship often involved you giving me advice when I was struggling, picking out what I needed to work on. Every time you made a point, it would turn out to be valid.
We did not always agree on everything but by the end, we always ended up on the same page. And I always knew that you had the same goal in mind, even if we sometimes had different ways of getting there.
You are a born leader who has always taken the responsibility on your shoulders and led from the front. Winning and losing is a part of life, but you take the initiative and always try to contribute to society, that is the biggest achievement of all.
I am pleased that your contributions to the game have been acknowledged. It was well-deserved when you became the first women’s cricketer to be awarded the Padma Shri in 2002, the civilian honour from the Indian government. In 1983, you were awarded the Arjuna Award to recognise your sporting achievements, again it was only right.
It was during my playing career that I also started to understand your impact on the game in India – how you had helped the development of the Indian Railway women’s teams in 1984 that allowed women’s cricketers to play sport and work at the same time. Those administrative changes were transformational for cricket in our country. They are testament to how hard you have always fought for the game.
Later, when you were present on the BCCI board, you made further huge contributions. You had played at the highest level and stayed involved in women’s cricket so you understood exactly what we needed. We had a voice to give our game the support it needed and we knew that we could turn to you for anything.
That really was one of the biggest things that has happened to women’s cricket in our country. Everything you have done has been to help women’s cricketers. As a player you did so much, and since then, you have worked tirelessly to help the generations that have followed.
From the youngster reading about your performances when I dreamed of playing for India, to the experienced international who had come to understand everything you had achieved, you have been an ever-present in my cricketing life.
Diana, I am thrilled that you are being inducted into the Hall of Fame, and I just want to say thank you for everything you have done for cricket in our country.
All the best,
To Aravinda Aiya (big brother),
It is an honour to welcome you as the fourth Sri Lankan to be inducted to the ICC Hall of Fame. Though I can’t help thinking that if you asked any of the three of us already there – myself, Sanga [Kumar Sangakkara] or Murali [Muttiah Muralitharan] – we would all agree that it should have been you first.
We all grew up watching you and were part of a generation inspired by what you achieved. I remember the first time I met you, collecting your autograph when I was nine or 10. You were the new kid in the Sri Lankan team then but before long, you were our best batter. As young kids, we all looked at how you went about playing and tried to model our games on it.
I had coaches who told me to play a certain way but you showed the importance of adapting. Whether it was your stance or your backlift, it felt like you were consistently changing – it made it difficult to keep up! But it was a sign of your cricketing intelligence, something I would later be fortunate to tap into.
Of course, you will always be remembered for ‘that’ World Cup final in 1996, when you took three wickets and scored the amazing unbeaten century against Australia. Aged 18, I had a big final of my own that weekend, the last inter-school “big match” of my time at Nalanda College. Those two-day occasions were big deals and, on the Saturday, we must have had four or five thousand people in. On Sunday, it was down to just our parents and the prefects! Everyone else in Sri Lanka, it seemed, was watching the final you were involved in.
We finished our game early to watch the run chase and we were glued to our TVs. When you walked in, we were struggling on 23 for two, but you could see the determination in your eyes. You had shown that in the semi-finals as well, when were in trouble against India before you took the attack apart.
I will always remember how you took control in the final. The drives, the flicks, the pulls, and how you handled Shane Warne especially during that game-changing partnership for the third wicket, it was incredible. We partied in the streets long into the night and I treasure those memories.
You were a player who was a generation ahead of your time. Very aggressive and playing fast bowling better than anyone in that Sri Lankan line-up. In Australia, they would always try to intimidate the Sri Lankans but they never could with you. You would always take them down. Seeing that innings in the final against a quality Australian attack gave my generation the belief that this is the brand of cricket we need to play and that we are capable of. You gave us belief we could beat anyone in the world.
The fact that within a year I was sharing a dressing room with you and the rest of the World Cup winners was overwhelming. I was completely awestruck and on the first day of my Test debut, I walked into the dressing room, where everyone had their own places.
I had to wait around to see where a spot came up and I was lucky – there was a chair two spots down from you. From that point onwards, I realised this is a guy I wanted to talk to about cricket. I had to ask you questions and pick your brains and from that point onwards, that’s what I did, hopefully without you feeling badgered all the time! To bat with you in in my first Test, when we made the world record score of 952 for six against India, was an honour.
I have so much gratitude for the way you took me under your wing, having idolised you growing up. Sanga may have the numbers but if you ask either of us, you are the best batter Sri Lanka has ever produced. Your impact on Sri Lankan cricket cannot be matched and you showed us the way.
Being in the slip cordon alongside you was also an education. You would usually stand at first slip and we would talk about how the batter was shaping up. I remember how you would describe a weakness and outline how one of our bowlers could get him out. Vaasy [Chaminda Vaas] would bring the ball back in and it would happen, just as you said. It was fascinating.
I’m not sure your club teammates always had as enjoyable a time fielding with you, though. I still remember how much I laughed when Sanga told me the stories from your time at Nondescripts together. Whether it was taking off your shoes at first slip to ensure someone else would chase down anything that went through the cordon or scoffing tea buns out of your pocket, it sounds like there was never a dull moment. That’s something I can vouch for from our time in the dressing room together, though I soon learned I would not be able to keep up with you when it came to partying!
When it came to national team duty on the field, though, there was never any doubting how serious you were. We were the first generation to really grow up with that fitness culture and I remember you stressing its importance to us, with the game constantly evolving.
You fully deserve your place in the ICC Hall of Fame and I am very proud there are now four of us flying the Sri Lankan flag in there. Your place in Sri Lankan cricketing folklore is assured and I cannot thank you enough for the impact you have had on my career on and off the field.
Congratulations my friend.