Thilan Walallawita made his first-class debut for MIddlesex last summer
The promising career of a childhood survivor of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami is in limbo due to strict registration rules laid down by the England & Wales Cricket Board.
Left-arm spin bowler Thilan Walallawita played a handful of games for Middlesex last season in the Bob Willis Trophy and Vitality Blast as an overseas player.
But the 23-year-old, who has lived in this country since moving here from Sri Lanka aged 12, was hoping that having indefinite leave to remain in this country would convince the ECB to give him discretionary status as a qualified English player while he waits for his British passport.
His application, however, was turned down this week and he faces a lost summer at a crucial point in his career while he waits for his British passport to be approved, a process held up for months by the Covid pandemic.
Walallawita is in the frustrating situation of being eligible to work for the ECB or Middlesex but not play professional cricket. His only hope would be for Middlesex to register him as an overseas player, which they did last year when the pandemic prevented season foreign professionals from playing county cricket. But with overseas players back in county cricket that route is closed off to him and after the ECBs ruling he can only play second XI cricket.
Walallawita has been used in Middlesex’s diversity campaigns and at a time when the English county game is under fire for its lack of representation from minority communities, his case makes rules brought in to prevent people gaming the system look rigid and unsympathetic.
“We are extremely disappointed with the ECBs latest verdict regarding Thilan Walallawita’s eligibility. Naturally Thilan is absolutely devastated with the latest news, all he has wanted to do since he became a professional cricketer is represent Middlesex as a domestic player – unfortunately with the latest verdict he is still being prevented from doing this,” said his representative Jonny Hughes.
“This isn’t a player looking to take advantage of a system and this is why we asked for the ECB to consider discretionary circumstances, to allow him to play as a domestic player for the remainder of the 2021 season, until he receives his official citizenship, due December 2021. Diversity and inclusion has been high on the cricket agenda in recent times and the word ‘belonging’ has been used to describe how people should feel – unfortunately this isn’t how Thilan and his family feel after this latest rejection.”
Walallawita relived last year in an interview with Telegraph Sport how he escaped the tsunami in his father’s arms when it hit the coast near Galle.
“My dad saw a massive wave building up. I had never seen him so scared before. He shouted, ‘Everyone get out’. There was a bridge we had to get across but it had been washed away. We had to leave our car on the side of the road. He had to carry me.
“We had to run. I could see the second and third waves coming behind us. We had to get up to high ground. We literally ran up the hill as fast as we could. The first wave was okay. The second got worse and then the third one was worse again. It steadily got worse and worse.
“I could see my mum dragging my sister along and I could see the water coming. It was terrifying. You could hear people screaming. The waves were very noisy. The water was dirty, churning up all the stuff on the land. We waded through water to reach the higher ground before the second wave could come.”
Seven years later Walallawita moved to England and joined Potters Bar Cricket Club and from there graduated into Middlesex age groups, the second XI and a first-class debut last July against Surrey.
The ECB granted discretionary status for Kent’s Zimbabwe-born batsman Tawanda Muyeye to play county cricket this season but says it examines each case on its merits.
An ECB spokesperson said: “According to the information provided to us by Middlesex, Thilan does not meet the criteria to be classed as a Qualified Cricketer. Each team is entitled to register three Unqualified Cricketers and field a maximum of two in a match. It is Middlesex’s decision as to whether they wish to include Thilan in their group of Unqualified Cricketers.”