Thilan Walallawita interview: ‘This feels like day one of my career - there is more purpose to everything’

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Last month, Thilan Walallawita was arriving at Middlesex training when his phone buzzed with the news he had been waiting years to receive.

It was from his lawyer. “No young cricketer should be spending as much time on the phone to their lawyer as I have,” the left-arm spinner jokes. The message confirmed that the Home Office had finally granted the 23-year-old British citizenship.

“I didn’t know what to do,” he tells Standard Sport. “I was sat there, screaming in the car! I called my family, who were over the moon. It was a huge weight off their shoulders, as well as mine. Then I saw the boys, and it was honestly one of the best feelings you could imagine. I was very emotional, and felt like I wanted to cry, but held it together. They would have been happy tears.”

Walallawita moved to the UK from Sri Lanka on December 1, 2010, when he was 12.

By then, he had already seen plenty. Six years earlier, he and his family were in Galle (they lived in Colombo) when the devastating Boxing Day tsunami struck in “terrifying” fashion. Dining at a beachside cafe, he was carried by his father as they fled for higher ground, where they waited until his grandfather arrived to rescue them. Fortunately they survived, but so many others did not.

In England, his father played club cricket as a professional for Potters Bar, and Thilan soon found himself in the Middlesex system. When, as a teenager, he reached the Second Team, it became clear that his eligibility would become an issue. In time, he would become a British citizen, but no-one knew when; until then, he could only play in the first team as an overseas.

It was expected that his passport would arrive in time for last summer, but delays due to Covid meant the wait went on. The ECB chose not to give him discretionary status to play as a local. He was in limbo, and the strange position of being able to be employed to in cricket, but not play professionally.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

In 2020, with the pandemic preventing many overseas players making it to England, Walallawita got an opportunity in the Bob Willis Trophy and last summer, he played in the Championship, but only when Middlesex did not have a full complement of overseas players. His first-class record is currently modest – nine wickets in as many matches – but he is considered one of the most promising spinners in the country, and could play his first match of the season against Glamorgan today.

He admits that the whole process, and watching other players his age get opportunities he did not have, got him “down”, but thanks Middlesex and his team-mates for their support, and vowed to use the time treading water as an ineligible player to “keep my head down and work, work, work”.

“Everything happens for a reason,” he says. “Having to wait four or five years allowed me to learn from the senior guys, to get ready for the opportunities I now have.

“This feels like day one of my career. I made my debut a couple of years ago, but this is a new start. This is fresh, I am happier, more energetic, I have more people behind me and I feel like I belong. There is more purpose to everything in this new chapter.”

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