Thilan Walallawita Middlesex’s Sri Lankan-born dreaming of debut in first-class cricket
He survived the nightmare that was the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 – now Thilan Walallawita is dreaming of his debut in first-class cricket.
Middlesex’s Sri Lankan-born left-arm spinner may be the unfamiliar name in the Seaxes’ squad for their opening Bob Willis Trophy encounter with Surrey at the Oval starting on Saturday, after being granted ‘un-qualified’ status by the ECB.
The move means Walallawita can contest the highest level of the domestic game without being classed as an overseas player, which would mean qualifying as English all over again.
It’s another huge step on his eventful journey, which but for his father Ajith’s instinct and fleetness of foot would have ended, aged just six, that fateful Boxing Day 16 years ago when more than 30,000 Sri Lankan lives were lost.
The family were enjoying a meal in a beach-side restaurant when the disaster struck.
“Dad heard a noise and went outside to check,” said Walallawita.
“He saw the waves going back and building up. He said it was like the end of the world was coming. He was shouting ‘Get out, get out, a tsunami is happening'.
“The bridge we needed to get across was gone by the time we reached it, so we had to park our car in front of a house and run.
“There was a church on top of a hill we had to reach to escape the second more deadly wave, so my dad had to carry me and run.
“I could see the wave coming behind us. If he hadn’t carried me I wouldn’t be here now.”
Life spared, Walallawita soon inherited his father’s love of cricket, Ajith having the foresight to encourage him to switch from right to left-handed to make himself more distinctive, not to say marketable, as a bowler.
Arriving in England aged 12, he joined Potters Bar CC and was soon sent for Middlesex trials.
Walallawita progressed through the county’s age-groups and academy, becoming their leading wicket taker in Second XI cricket last season and earning his first professional contract in January.
“This is a dream, there are no words to describe how grateful I am to the Middlesex staff for having my back and showing faith in me,” Walallawita said.
“I’m known for my consistency as I can get onto a line and length very quickly. I didn’t used to turn the ball as much, but now I get turn, bounce, everything.
“I now have to work on my tactical side, such as getting all the fielders in the right place for every ball.
“Batting-wise it’s about being patient. The coaches call me Jayasuriya as I’ve got some lovely cover drives, but in four-day stuff you have to be patient and put some shots away in the locker.”
Should Walallawita get the call-up for the Oval, he’s already had a dress-rehearsal thanks to the friendly between the two sides earlier this week – a game where the 22-year-old picked up a couple of good scalps.
And with Radlett, Middlesex’s second XI base, hosting their home matches, Walallawita is itching to get in on the action.
“The practice match was lovely, and it was great to be out there in front of 1000 people,” he added.
“Even though it was a friendly, getting my first two wickets was memorable and I dedicate them to my family and all those who’ve helped me out on this journey so far.
“The wicket we’re going to play on this Saturday is apparently spin friendly and there was a lot of bounce on the practice match pitch too. Turn and bounce is perfect – a dream for a spinner. I only need to get one ball to turn and I’m in the batsman’s head.
“Radlett is good for me too because it turns late in the game. So, if the batsmen can put runs on the board the spin twins, Nathan (Sowter) and I could get the job done.”
©Cricket World 2020