Appreciating Bertie Wijesinghe at 95

Mevan Pieris

p106-RB-WijesinhaR. B. Wijesinghe, son of former Trinity cricketer Alexander Wijesinghe and of his wife Beatrice Gunasekera, is the oldest living Thomian cricketer whose 95th birthday falls on 24th May 2015. RBW known to all as Berti entered the great school by the sea in 1926 when warden MacPherson was about to hand over the reins to Reginald de Saram, and where his elder brother Alex was already studying. At the tender age of fifteen, Bertie was picked to play his first big match against Royal in 1936 under the captaincy of Donald Fairweather. The Thomians who batted first ran into trouble losing six wickets with only 65 runs on the board when the dimunitive dark little Berti walked out to join Norman Siebel the stocky left hander. A record breaking partnership of 136 runs realized for the 7th wicket with Berti making a polished half century in his debut and Norman making a record breaking century.

10 Ceylon team walks out '48Berti among his mates as Ceylon team walks out to field against Bradman’s Invincibles in 1948

In the following year Berti made another half century against Royal, but it was in 1939 that Berti’s brilliance as a cricketer came to full focus. His batting record in that year was simply fantastic, scoring a half century in every innings and making twin half centuries of 63 and 70 against Royal as well. The double century of 235 runs he made that year against St. Benedicts at Mt Lavinia stands to date as the only double century to have been made by a Thomian cricketer in an inter-school match. Berti was also a good off spin bowler who later became a capable slow medium seam bowler.

After leaving school, Berti served on the staff of his alma mater teaching English and succeeding the late Percy Cook as cricket coach. In 1949 he married Dorothy Wijekoon and in the same year joined the Lake House Group where he ended up as the sports editor of the Observer.

Berti played all his club cricket at the Singhalese Sports Club among a galaxy of immortals among whom were Sago Jayewickreme, F C de Saram, DS Jayasundera, Mahesh Rodrigo, Ben Navaratne, Lucien deZoysa, C I Gunasekere and Robert Senanayake. In 1949, Berti was selected to play against  Pakistan at the Colombo Oval and in the first test match Ceylon were routed by the Pakistani fast bowlers Fazal Mahmood and Khan Mohamed. In Ceylon’s scores of 95 and 112, only Berti made a respectable contribution of 29 runs. In the next test match FC de Saram who returned to the side made a polished 118 runs and CI Gunasekere too made a century. In the second innings Berti made 30 runs. In the following year, Ceylon made her first ever overseas tour to Pakistan. Although FC de Saram did not make the tour Berti was in the company of great cricketers like Sargo Jayewickreme, Mahadevan Sathasivam and schoolboys Stanley Jayasinghe and Gamini Goonesena. Ceylon were badly beaten by 10 wickets by a Karachi – Sind team and the highest score of 57 runs was made by Berti with Stanley Jayasinghe also contributing 33 runs. Ceylon lost both test matches badly, although Stanley Jayasinghe had shone with a brilliant 80 runs. In the final game against the Pakistan Commander in Chief’s Xi, Berti had top scored again with 44 not out in a modest score of 100 runs for 9 wickets. In the same year the mighty West Indians also came to Ceylon and played unofficial test matches at the Oval. The fiery pace of Trim and Jones ripped through the Ceylon batting. Of Ceylon’s first innings score of 122 runs Berti made 22 runs and in the 2nd innings Mahesh Rodrigo made a dogged century. For the second test match FC de Saram was brought into the side and made a superb inning of 94 runs. Sathasivam made a modest 34 runs.

Berti’s contribution to cricket as a coach, sports journalist and commentator have a special place in the hearts of all who know him. Above all a gentleman to his finger tips, a true son of a great school, now playing the innings of his life as always with a straight bat and going well on 95. To him all Thomians young and old sing praises. May the almighty God grant him comfort in the evening of his life. Esto per petua.


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