Dimi's Sri Lanka connection
The second game of the England-India one-day series was of special significance to a certain middle-aged Sri Lankan couple, who had flown in from Australia to watch.
The name Dimitri Mascarenhas may not ring a bell for any Sri Lankans following the English team. With good reason, for Mascarenhas - who lashed five sixes in his fifty from No. 8 in that game, keeping England in the hunt till late - was born in Middlesex, grew up in Perth, and returned to England to play for Hampshire, from where he worked his way up into the England one-day squad.
There is a Sri Lanka connection, though, and it comes via Mascarenhas' parents, Malik and Pauline, who hail from the Baratha community of Negombo, just north of Colombo. Predominantly Roman Catholics, the Barathas (Paravars in Sinhala) trace their lineage to India's Coromandel Coast, from where their Tamil-speaking ancestors are supposed to have come as pearl divers to Mannar in Sri Lanka during colonial times.
Pauline's father, Richard de Croos, was a well known figure in Negombo, fondly referred to by young and old alike as "Richie Uncle". Pauline studied in Negombo and Kandy, and Malik played cricket and football for St Mary's College, and later football for the Jupiter club, both in Negombo. He was also a champion table tennis player. His brother Chandra, who captained his school and also represented Negombo CC, was the better cricketer of the two, according to Malik.
When Mascarenhas was picked to represent England for the first time in the Twenty20 one-day matches against West Indies early this season, his parents were ecstatic. "We were immensely proud and so happy for Dimitri," Malik says. "It was the happiest day of Dimitri's life as he lives and breathes cricket. Finally all the work we put into him since he was about seven years old had paid off.
"Dimitri himself has worked so hard on his cricket for the past 11 years, spending six months of every year in the UK on his own. He played county cricket with Hampshire from the age of 18, and there were many times he was talked about as playing for England. He was always good enough to play and his performances in the county games were good. We thought he would be selected a few years ago."
Indeed Mascarenhas' progress for Hampshire has been outstanding these last few years. This season so far, he has 489 first-class runs at 34.92 and 15 wickets at 32.06. Shane Warne has been vocal in his support and thinks highly of Mascarenhas.
For Mascarenhas it will be a homecoming of sorts if he is selected to tour Sri Lanka with the England team for the five-match one-day series in September-October. He has been to Sri Lanka twice before, first as an infant and then as a 13-year-old
The admiration is mutual. "Shane is a good mate of mine and it is nice to have someone of that calibre think you are pretty good," Mascarenhas said. "I think I have become a better player since he has been at Hampshire, and his guidance has helped me immeasurably in both my attitude and my approach to the game. He has helped develop my cricketing brain, my skills, plans - the sort of stuff I had not done a lot of previously. He has brought me a long way in the last few years."
Malik for his part thinks the call-up was overdue: "It did not come until the former coach, Duncan Fletcher was dismissed. He was the problem. The new management that took over thinks Dimitri has something to offer the new-look team.
"It would have been nice for him to play for Sri Lanka. But as a naturalised Aussie and having been born in England, it would not have been possible."
Mascarenhas' early years were spent in Melbourne and his parents encouraged him to play the game from an early age. He played for Ringwood Cricket Club in Melbourne and Melville Cricket Club in Perth, where his father, who has played an active role in the development of cricket in Western Australia, has been president for the past 10 years.
Mascarenhas has two brothers, both born in different countries - Malintha in Sri Lanka, and Shannon in Australia. The two have chosen to pursue careers in business and computer science. "We have a multicultural family and have quite a few arguments at the dinner table," says Malik, who owns a few restaurants in Western Australia.
For Mascarenhas it will be a homecoming of sorts if he is selected to tour Sri Lanka with the England team for the five-match one-day series in September-October. He has been to Sri Lanka twice before, first as an infant and then as a 13-year-old to see his grandparents and aunts.
"I was very happy when I heard that he was selected to play for England," said his 84-year-old grandmother Magdalene de Croos from her Negombo home. "I have been to England on six occasions and seen him grow up from childhood. I have even taken care of him. It would be nice if I could see him again, especially in Sri Lanka."