Bertie Wijesinha, the oldest living Thomian cricketer
Bertie Wijesinha, the oldest living Thomian cricketer
Friday, March 10, 2017 - 01:00
By Mevan Pieris
R B Wijesinha
R B Wijesinha known to all affectionately as Bertie, is the second son of former Trinity cricketer Alexander Wijesinha and of his wife Beatrice Gunasekera. Bertie is the oldest living Thomian cricketer and on the 24th of May would be 97 years. During the tenure of Warden MacPherson, Bertie and his elder brother entered the great school by the sea. By the time Bertie was selected to play for the first time against Royal in 1936, his elder brother Alex had already made his mark as one of the most stylish batsmen the game had seen.
In 1933 Alex made the Thomian team under the captaincy of Shelton Gauder who later coached the Thomian team for many years with much distinction. In his debut, Alex performed brilliantly as an all-rounder capturing 10 wickets in the match with his off spinners and as opening batsman making 23 and 32 runs. It was in the following year that Alex produced one of the finest innings seen in the series with an unbeaten century studded with elegant cover drives that left the fielders standing. In 1936, S.Thomas’ were captained by the legendary Donald Fairweather and S.Thomas’ were struggling with six wickets down for a mere 65 runs, when Bertie, a tiny dark figure emerged from the dressing room to join the left handed tiny faired burgher lad in the middle, Norman Siebel.
It was to be one of the most courageous and delightful partnerships the series has ever seen. Norman broke the individual batting record unbeaten on 151 runs and together with Bertie took the score along to 201 before Bertie departed having made a half century in his debut. In the following year Bertie made another half century and captured a total of seven wickets with his seamers. In 1938, Royal were captained by the legendary Pat McCarthy and Warden R S de Saram, had appointed Bertie to captain the Thomian side in preference to the more senior Weeratunge who had already captained a few matches of the season.
As was to be expected it resulted in much dissention and Bertie could hardly hold the team together. Royal made a massive 351 runs for 7 wickets and the Thomians lost badly by an innings. Bertie captained S. Thomas’ for a second time in 1939. The Thomian second innings began needing 144 runs to win and three wickets fell with just 17 runs on the board. A captain’s innings of 70 runs made by Bertie tamed EC Kelaart and RL de Kretser to register a five wicket Thomian victory. It must be also mentioned that Bertie had not only made a half century in the first innings as well, but a half century in every innings during the whole of the 1939 season including a spectacular double century of 235 runs, against St. Benedicts College. Such a brilliant batting display in a single season has never been equaled by any Sri Lankan schoolboy cricketer. In the four Royal – Thomian matches he played, Bertie made an aggregate of 269 runs and captured 13 wickets.
On leaving school he joined his alma mater as an English teacher and succeeded Percy Cook as cricket coach. Ten years later in 1949, he married Dorothy Weerakoone and with his father-in- law’s assistance found a more financially rewarding job at Lake House where he ended up as Sports Editor of the Ceylon Observer.
Bertie played all his club cricket at the Singhalese Sports Club among a galaxy of immortals such as Sargo Jayewickreme, FC de Saram, D S Jayasundera, Mahesh Rodrigo, Ben Navaratne, Lucien de Zoysa, C I Gunasekere, Robert Senanayake and Channa Gunasekere.
In 1949 Bertie won his national cricket cap when selected to play against Pakistan at the Colombo Oval. Ceylon were routed by the Pakistan pacemen Fazal Mahmood and Khan Mohamed. In Ceylon’s paltry scores of 95 and 112 runs only Bertie produced a respectable innings of 29 runs. In the second test match, F C de Saram who had missed the first test match due to military service, stamped his class by making a superb innings of 118 runs and C I Gunasekere too shone with a classy century. Bertie made 30 runs in Ceylon’s second innings.
In the following year Ceylon made her first overseas cricket tour to Pakistan. Although F C de Saram did not make the tour, Bertie was in the company of other stars such as Sargo Jayewickreme, Mahadevan Sathasivam and schoolboy prodigies, Stanley Jayasinghe and Gamini Goonesena.
In the opening game, Ceylon were badly beaten by 10 wickets by a Karachi-Sind team and Bertie top scored with 57 runs and Stanley Jayasinghe made 37 runs. Ceylon lost badly both unofficial test matches that were played and only Stanley Jayasinghe’s brilliant innings of 80 runs is worth speaking about. In the final match against Pakistan Commander in Chief’s Cricket team, Ceylon struggled again and in a hopeless score of 100 runs for 9 wickets, Bertie ended with 44 not out. In the same year the mighty West Indians too came to Ceylon and played two test matches at the Colombo Oval. The fiery pace of Trim and Jones ripped through Ceylon’s batting. To Ceylon’s paltry first innings score of 112 runs, Bertie contributed 22 runs and in the second innings Mahes Rodrigo made a fighting century. F C de Saram was brought in for the second test match to face the pace of the West Indians and how well he did it with another superb innings of 95 runs falling short of a well deserved century by just five runs.
Sathasivam made 34 runs. Considering the fact that F C de Saram had made a superb century as an undergraduate at Oxford against Australia, it is my considered opinion that F C de Saram with so many magnificent innings against test attacks, was easily the most accomplished batsman Ceylon had seen up to the mid twentieth century.
In 1952 the management of Lake House provided a scholarship to Bertie to study journalism for an year in London, attached to the Daily Telegraph, and during this period he had enjoyed playing for a club known as the West Indian Wanderers. Years would not keep him away from the game and when Bertie migrated to Nottinghamshire in 1976 at the age of 57, he was still young enough to play club cricket for a small club known as Woodthorpe and took a keen interest in coaching youngsters at Trentbridge. Bertie’s contribution to cricket as a coach is immeasurable. He coached S.Thomas’, Trinity and St Benedict’s with dedication to duty standing long hours in the hot sun as a love of labour. He also coached little cricketers at the Singhalese Sports Club. His overall contribution to the game as coach, journalist and cricket commentator has earned for him the love and respect of them who know him.
He has always played a straight bat, a true son of the school by the sea, always so staunch and true.
He is playing the innings of his life approaching 97 years, somewhat feeble and weary but in fruitful partnership with his adoring wife Dorothy, in their peaceful home at 15 A School lane, opposite the main gates of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. May the Almighty God grant unto him comfort in the evening of his life and bless him for all what he has been to others.
Esto Per Petua.
School prefect had written about a very senior school prefect.
Note the badge, cricket colours at that time on the Thomian blazer.
Last edited by sriyanj; 16-03-17 at 06:12 PM.
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