Following the ICC Hall of Fame announcement on 13 November 2023, open letters have been written to the inductees by those close to them, with their reactions to the news. Here, Mahela Jayawardena writes to inductee #110, Aravinda de Silva.
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.