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Thursday, 24 May 2012

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Bertie Wijesinha:

Many happy returns of the day!

This fine gentleman is a man for all seasons. More than five or six and half decades ago, he represented Sri Lanka as a brilliant allrounder. His entire life is woven round cricketer. He is a disciplined, polished, complete cricketer, a teacher, philosopher and guide to many cricketers, superb coach and radio commentator and a fine sports journalist. Today he turns 92. Probably, he is the oldest Sri Lankan cricketer. He is the one and only R B Wijesinha - Bertie Wijesinha.

Bertie Wijesinha was born on May 24, 1920. He joined S Thomas College, Mount Lavinia, in 1926. Let's begin his fascinating story, from his school days and discuss about his outstanding achievements in the Royal-Thomian series, and his brilliant career.

The 57th Royal-Thomian Big Match, played at the NCC grounds, on March 18 and 19, 1936, was a memorable one for Thomian fresher R B Wijesinha. As a batsman number 8, he scored a debut half a century and was associated with a fine partnership with Norman Siebel, who remained unbeaten with 151. In 1937, R B Wijesinha, as batsman number 4, scored 55 runs and as the opening bowler had a match bag of 38-4-100-7.

Captaining, S Thomas in the year 1938, he scored 22 in the second innings captured 2 for 83. Royal won this game by innings and 87 runs under the captaincy of P C D McCarthy.

The following year 1939, he captained STC for the second consecutive year, beat Royalists by 5 wickets. He scored 63 and 70 respectively and had a match bag of 4 for 66. Royal was skippered by E F E de Krester.

After leaving S Thomas College, Bertie represented Sinhalese Sports Club - SSC with distinction and won his Ceylon cap in 1940s. He was an outstanding cover fielder. He played in the company of great cricketers like Sargo Jayawickreme, F C de Saram, C Ivers Gunasekera, Ben Navaratne, M Sathasivam, Mahes Rodrigo, Gerry Gooneratne, Abu Fuard, Makin Salih, D D Jayasinghe etc.

He was one of the best cricket coaches that Sri Lanka produced. He coached Nalanda in early 1940s, St Benedict's College, Wesley College in 1950s, Trinity College, Kandy and his alma-mater - S Thomas College, Mount Lavinia. He produced many cricketers of distinction. Bertie Wijesinha was a strict disciplinarian and he moulded cricketers of character from the above schools. He was a fatherly figure. He assisted his charges to improve their skills, enhance their personal performances. He created batsman scores more runs, a bowler takes more wickets, a fieldsman takes more catches, saves more runs in the field and seizes more opportunities to create run outs. He taught his players to put their teams before self.

Internationally reputed cricket writer, who captained the St Benedict's College, Kotahena in 1960, and the Saracens cricketer who was one of the best leg-spinners produced in Sri Lanka - Elmo Rodrigopulle, once made this remark to me about Bertie Wijesinha and it is still etched in my mind.

"Epa, for Bertie Wijesinha, coaching was a 'God given gift' to get the best out of every player. He was an exemplary coach. Lovely man, a fine human being."

When I interviewed Kumar Sangakkara in my weekly prime TV programme in 2011, Kumar paid a glowing tribute to Bertie Wijesinha.

Kumar said: "Sir, he is simply brilliant. He is a great coach. Even, now I go to him and get his advice."

He is a fine conversationalist and a man of honesty and integrity. Talking to him is an education.

Bertie Wijesinha and his 'good buddy' Sri Lankan leg-spinner, reputed dramatist - Lucien de Zoysa, were the best commentators that Sri Lanka ever produced. If the SLBC have preserved the commentaries of these two gentlemen, (I doubt very much) these commentaries of Bertie and Lucien will help the present commentators to know the real art of commentating. These two had all the qualifications and ingredients. Their English, the delivery, the dulcet voices were excellent.

He possessed a golden heart. He is one of the nicest gentlemen I have met.

My son, Bhagya, who is domiciled in Australia, serving in the financial field as an accountant, learned the finer points of cricket when playing for S Thomas College, Mount Lavinia.

Sir, two of us wish you a very happy birthday. May you live long - Chiran Jayatu!

 

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