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
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
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 -