Bertie Wijesinghe, did everything for nothing

By Bernie Wijesekera

The 131st Royalist – Thomian is the longest school cricket match in the world barring the Adelaide St. Peter’s - Melbourne Grammar School game in Australia. Apparently the great Australian Captain W.M. Woodfull played in that game. Royal cricketing legend, F.C. De Saram was the first to score a 100 for Oxford against Woodfull’s team in1930.

It is now the season for Big matches. This augurs well for the game. Keen competition is bound to prevail. No one can deny that the Royal-Thomian takes pride of place in schools cricket. In the past it has produced some great cricketers who have done proud for the country. One of them was late Dr. C.H. Gunasekera, the first Ceylonese to play County cricket - for Middlesex.

Legendary Bertie Wijesinghe apparently is the oldest Thomian captain who led the team in 1938/39 with success. He later played for the SSC and Sri Lanka, another legend from Royal is mild-mannered C. Ivers Gunasekera. Both played with distinction to uplift the country’s image. Besides C.I. and Bertie, Gamini Salgado is also bound to be there. Bertie’s oldest team mate Donald Kannangara (92) will also be amongst them. Bertie will be celebrating his 90th Birthday on May 24.

Bertie is still fit as a fiddle and leads a humble life with his charming wife Dorothy, sister of late Ronnie and Bradman Weerakoon. Bertie was great fielder. Against the West Indies led by John Goddard which team included Clyde Walcott and Everton Weeks in the 1949-50 cricket tour at the P Sara Stadium, whilst chasing the ball, overstepped the line and hit the cement barrier fracturing his ankle.

Mike Tissera the former Thomian captain (1957-58) and Sri Lanka, had this to say about Bertie; There were no foreign coaches then. He coached the Lankan team assisted by F.C. de Saram. It was a great privilege to be with him.

Bertie and Lucien de Zoysa at the microphone were a fine Royal – Thomian combination. Ranjit Fernando, former St. Benedict’s and Sri Lanka wicket-keeper batsman had this to say about Bertie: “He was my ‘Guru,’ always the soft-spoken ‘Gentleman Jim.' A great coach no doubt. He coached the Bens to be the undisputed schools cricket champions in 1964. Bertie also had a big hand moulding Sri Lanka’s first World Cup team during 1975 in U.K. Anura Tennekoon ran into a bumper barrage coming from the Lillee-Thomson duo. That is how Lankan cricket came of age. Former Sri Lanka batting star Sidath Wettimuny also paid a glowing tribute to Bertie.

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