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Bertie Wijesinha – the cricketer for all seasons!

Celebrates 90th birthday:

Many are the occasions in first class cricket when the game reaches a crisis – there is the batsman who without compunction is ripping the side and there’s no


Bertie Wijesinha

 bowler to get him out; conversely, there is the bowler who is striking terror by wrecking the batting side and there’s no batsman who would be equal to the task; and then, there is the fielding side on its off-day where catches are being grassed with gay abandon and there’s no fielder in the side who, by example, would stem the rot!

If one were to pick a cricketer from Sri Lankan cricketing annals who would meet the demands of all these situations it would naturally have to be an all-rounder of the highest caliber. Bertie Wijesinha will be the choice. Bertie celebrates his 90th birthday today and we doff our cap to this illustrious cricketer and gentleman of class.

Over 50 years ago when he was playing for Sri Lanka, he was just the man any captain would have liked to have in the side. “Bertie” said a Ceylon cap who had played with him “was the captain’s darling. With his disciplined and quiet approach he was the man for all seasons! As a batsman he had few equals. So too with his bowling and fielding. At any stage of the game Bertie could come in and wrap it up”!

The fielder

He was a magnificent fielder – especially in the covers. Many were the batsmen who had only got a start for a run when a throw from Bertie would have the wicket shattered!

Quite a few stories are often recounted of Bertie Wijesinghe, the fielder.

One incident was when Sri Lanka – then Ceylon – met the Pakistanis, Imtiaz Ahamed with the reputation of a centurion was at the wicket. At mid-on was Sri-Lanka’s Makkin Salih who on that day was a little slow. Imtiaz found it convenient to hit to mid-on and steal a few runs.

Bertie Wijesinha was fielding in the covers and having noticed this waited for drinks to arrive to put to effect a plan he had in mind. After drinks, Bertie quietly switched places with Makkin Salih but wore Makkin Salih’s cap. The unsuspecting Imtiaz Ahmed’s next shot was again to mid-on and Bertie had Imtiaz run out in a flash! It was only as Imtiaz walked back to the pavilion did he realize the new fielder at mid-on who was doffing the borrowed cap!

Hat-trick

As a bowler there is the memorable hat-trick that Bertie Wijesinha performed when the SSC many years back toured Bombay. But as a batsman what old Thomians would always like to recall is when Bertie as a fresher in the coveted Royal – Thomian threw caution to the winds and boosted the low morale of the Thomians as he sent three consecutive crack hits to the boundary. In complete form in his first Royal – Thomian, he notched absolutely dazzling twin half centuries.

Bertie Wijesinha’s name has also gone down in the record book for the long partnership he maintained with Lucien de Zoysa as cricket commentators. It was a magnificent partnership which cricket fans relished as they listened to Radio Ceylon!

Bertie was also a super coach and many a successful cricketer including several Sri Lankan caps owed their credentials to his mentorship. Elmo Rodrigopulle, the Bens Captain in the sixties recalls, that Bertie, who coached the Bens, had the God given gift to get the best out of every player. And he did this without pressure, and in such a classy manner that players would feel deeply pained if they let him down.

I had the privilege of befriending Bertie when he joined Trinity’s staff and coached the team in the early sixties.

If Bertie was renowned for his cricketing prowess, those who associated with him on the larger aspects of life, as I did, would add that he was truly the personification of the word ‘Gentleman’: A man who treated everyone who came his way with deep respect, showed great humility and exuded warmth, class and refinement in relationships. And that was truly Bertie —- a Man for Every Season.

Many Happy Returns!

 

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