Sri Lanka’s oldest cricketer Bertie Wijesinha dies at 96 | Daily News


Sri Lanka’s oldest cricketer Bertie Wijesinha dies at 96

Legendary cricketer Bertie Wijesinha
Legendary cricketer Bertie Wijesinha

Sri Lanka’s oldest living cricketer Bertie Wijesinha breathed his last yesterday. He was 96.

Bertie Wijesinha was a household name in Sri Lanka whether it was as a cricketer, coach, writer or commentator, he was versatile in every field.

Wijesinha celebrated his 68th wedding anniversary with wife Dorothy on March 30 and a few days later he was admitted to Sri Jayawardenepura Hospital for pneumonia where he passed away.

In recent years Wijesinha’s health had been deteriorating and he died of old age.

He donated one of his kidney’s to one of his two daughters who later died. He also has two sons.

Wijesinghe played for S. Thomas’ College Mt Lavinia from 1936-1939 and in that period distinguished himself as an outstanding all-round cricketer. Later he moved to SSC to display his skills and then represented his country from the late forties.

His desire to write something about the game saw him take up the post of Sports Editor of the Daily News from 1953-1972 and branch into the field of cricket commentating where he formed a unique combination with another SSC stalwart Lucien de Zoysa providing ball-by-ball cricket commentaries on radio in an era where television was not even hear of. Their vivid descriptions of play enabled listeners to imagine they were actually at the match.

Wijesinghe was a knowledgeable coach from whom many cricketers who went onto wear the national cap benefitted.

Leading the tributes to this great cricketer was former Sri Lanka captain Michael Tissera, a former Thomian cricketer like Wijesinha who benefitted immensely by his coaching. “Bertie was a very fine all-rounder technically he was very good. All his life he coached with the goodness of his heart,” said Tissera.

“Bertie and Derrick (FC de Saram) used to come and coach us when we were playing for Ceylon. He was a competent coach who knew the finer aspects of batting and bowling.”

The Wettimuny brothers Sunil, Mithra and Sidath who all played for the country were coached by Wijesinghe.

“Whatever skills we learnt from cricket we owe it to him. He was a fabulous coach, the best in the business. His knowledge and the way he transferred that knowledge to us was fantastic,” said Sidath Wettimuny the youngest of the trio.

“It was my father who built the first indoor cricket nets in Sri Lanka at the Health Department. He handed it over to Bertie and told him you can use it for your coaching but you must also coach my sons. That’s how we came to be coached by him,” said Sidath. “I came under Bertie’s coaching at the age of 12, but Sunil my elder brother was coached after school.

“Bertie lived a full life and was one of the greatest cricketers produced by SSC and one of the best coaches the country has produced.”

Former Sri Lanka and SSC captain Anura Tennekoon described Wijesinghe as a gentle person who in his own way taught the fundamentals of the game properly.

“He helped me to brush up my technique from school to club level. He was very good at putting the basics right of a cricketer whether it be batting or bowling, that was his main strength,” said Tennekoon.

Another Thomian cricketing stalwart Geoff Wijesinghe, a former editor of the Daily News and Sunday Observer said that Wijesinha was “a perfect gentleman, a strict disciplinarian as a coach and a fine friend”.“I had the privilege of having Bertie as my coach at S. Thomas’, as my team mate at SSC and a lifelong friend,” said Wijesinghe.

“My youngest son Suresh also had the privilege of being coached by Bertie, before he (Bertie) went over to Trinity. When my son scored 40 for S. Thomas’ against Trinity Bertie came over to the Thomian dressing room and complimented him on his batting,” he said.

“Bertie was a Thomian staunch and true who always rallied around the college flag.”

Wijesinha’s remains lie at 15A, School Lane, Gangodawila, Nugegoda (opposite Sri Jayawardenapura University). His funeral takes place on Wednesday at the General Cemetary, Borella.

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I had the privilege of playing with Berti for the SSC in the mid 50's.It is a very sad day for me.May he attain Nibbana.

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