This is a belated but worthy tribute to Sri Lanka’s only survivor of World War 11 cricket, who passed away last week. I refer to R B Bertie Wijesinha who was a coaching institution with a distinguished record of several national players produced by him.
I first met Bertie in 1946 immediately after World War 11 concluded. He had a ‘whistle stop’ coaching stint at Nalanda College, Colombo which I attended. It came to light later that Bertie found travel between his residence and Nalanda too arduous and time consuming.
The next confrontation was at the then SSC cricket ground, at Victoria Park, Colombo 7 where the Nelum Pokuna is presently located. It was when the Combined Colleges XI opposed the mighty SSC in a two-day encounter. I performed with a degree of credit and was astounded when, at the end of the day’s play, eminent seniors such as Col F C de Saram, Lucien de Zoysa and Bertie sounded me about joining the SSC. As invitations from such illustrious individuals were uncommon I sought time to discuss matters with my parents.
The next morning was sensational! The eminent ‘Oxford Blue’ Col F C de Saram had entrusted SSC’s ‘roley-poley’, mustachioed bar keeper Sarah to hand deliver the Application Form to my home. Thus commenced my partnership with Bertie.
Bertie, it must be admitted, was no Gary Sobers as an all-rounder. Nor was he a Mahadevan Sathasivam with the willow. But he was always accommodating when asked to clarify various cricketing issues.
His coaching contributions to youth were wide and immeasurable. Technique and theory were well balanced, as was in evidence during the hey days of the Wettimuny brothers. Maintaining the spirit of the gentlemen’s game was uppermost in his mind and discipline was of paramount importance.
Bertie’s attitude towards the game and its participants ran parallel to that of Nalanda’s Prefect of Games T Kandaswamy who reigned supreme for nearly three decades.
Lastly and thankfully Bertie enjoyed domestic bliss for well over fifty years with his wife Dorothy, a Beauty Queen of the fifties.
When I visited Bertie a few years ago, in the company of another Thomian stalwart, Mevan Pieris, I was taken aback to see a once brilliant cover fielder, who formed a near impenetrable barrier in the covers with Hector Perera, H I Fernando, Channa Gunasekera and, when not keeping behind the stumps, with Mahes Rodrigo, struggling to maintain his balance when walking.
It also brought to mind his half-century against the Pakistani ‘quickies’ Munawar Ali Khan, Khan Mohamed, U Chippa, Fazal Mahmoud and Maqsood Ahamed in 1950 at the Karachi Cricket Stadium. How ironical, I wondered.
May the turf weigh lightly on him!