Sri Lanka can win the World Cup - Dharmasena
Kumar Dharmasena, who has decided to end his 17-year first-class career at the age of 35 to become a full-time umpire, is of the opinion that the present Sri Lankan side under Mahela Jayawardene has all the ingredients to emerge victorious in the World Cup in the West Indies next year. He was a key member of Sri Lanka's 1996 World Cup winning team.
"You cannot compare the two sides. We had the best side at that time to win the World Cup ten years ago," said Dharmasena. "The game has changed a lot since then but the present side has players who can win the World Cup. The wickets in the Caribbean will suit our style of batting and bowling and the weather conditions are similar to Sri Lanka."
Sri Lanka stunned the world when they overcame all odds to lift the World Cup under the leadership of Arjuna Ranatunga, beating Australia in the final by seven wickets at Lahore. But for Dharmasena, the most important moment of the tournament was capturing the wicket of Mohammed Azharuddin for a duck in the semi-finals at Eden Gardens, Kolkata. The match was eventually awarded to Sri Lanka on default after spectators began pelting objects onto the field, forcing the match to be stopped as India slid towards an inevitable defeat.
"That was the most memorable moment of my career. Aravinda [de Silva] aiyya (brother) told me to keep Azharuddin quiet and I did so. In desperation to retain the strike, Azharuddin tried to force a ball for a single and ended up giving me a return catch," he recalled. "That wicket I treasure most because I think that turned the game in our favour."
The decision to become an umpire was not something that Dharmasena decided overnight. He was already a qualified cricket coach having got through Levels I and II in England. Two Sri Lankan Test umpires, KT Francis and Peter Manuel gave him a lot of encouragement and providing a lot of cassettes on umpiring.
"Nobody encouraged me to take to umpiring. It was my own decision. After my cricket career was over I thought of taking to umpiring. It had been weighing in my mind for the past few years. Because I loved it so much I sat for the exams and got through them easily. Whatever you do you must enjoy it. I have umpired in 11 matches so far and enjoyed every bit of it. I find it very easy to handle the players because I have played so much of cricket at international level. As a player I was cunning."
As a spinner bowling fast off-breaks and a reliable late-order batsman, Dharmasena had a good stint with Sri Lanka during his time in the national team from 1993 to 2004. Batting in crucial positions, he made valuable runs and he came onto bowl as the first change bowler in the one-dayers, sometimes before the first 15 overs, before returning to bowl at the death. Dharmasena marked the baptism of Galle International Stadium as a Test venue by taking a career-best six for 72 against New Zealand in 1998 and saved two Test matches for Sri Lanka with his stout-hearted batting. However, his career was not without controversies.
"The biggest disappointment of my career was when I was reported for having a suspect bowling action during the Oval Test against England in 1998. This, mind you after I had been in the international circuit for five years. For 18 months I was out of international cricket and it was the most frustrating period of my career. I corrected my action working with Lalith Kaluperuma and Somachandra de Silva [both former Sri Lanka spinners]. I was sent to England and received guidance from Fred Titmus, the former England offspinner."
Blessed with an understanding housewife and three children, Dharmasena is one of the few individuals who has stuck dutifully to one employer throughout his career. He is the public relations manager at Hatton National Bank, whom he has served for 16 years.