By Rohan Wijesinghe
A nostalgic wallow in the past then, harking back to Balmy Ceylon in the 1950’s the vintage in which the adolescent Mike cut his teeth at the Elitist S Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia against the backdrop of the emerald sea, the lush green turf and the quaint little chapel.
Indeed his deft late cuts, his silky drives and gentle nudges past square were in complete harmony with the soft murmur of the sea. A little essay then on the virtues of Michael Hugh Tissera former Sri Lankan cricket captain. Certainly not an exercise to heap superlatives on the man, instead a somewhat feeble attempt to paint a picture of the head and heart and the cricketing prowess of one of the finest cricket captains this land ever produced.
Michael adorned this lovely game, displaying enormous flair and innate style in just about anything he touched, which had anything to do with the game. He was an aristocrat in an era where aristocrats thrived, especially during the early part of his career.
Without an iota of doubt, we did possess the prowess at the game. Perhaps as a throwback to having been under colonial rule for over a hundred years, we may have harboured an inferiority complex or been a tad introverted even. So much the pity as our cricketing prowess is second to none, as, we have proved beyond doubt in the past couple of years.
Cometh the hour cometh the man. Enter Michael Hugh Tissera. He could shell an egg or butter his toast with the finesse of that of the Europeans, who graced the corridors of power at Brooke Bonds, his beloved tea shipping company. Hence his meteoric rise within the ranks of that institution.
In essence Mike was more English than the English themselves. There was something riveting about his appearance. Elegance, charisma and flair personified, and debonair to the core. If I may digress, a Big Bouquet to the English who drove the cricket stump and the tea bark so deep into our soil and soul, and so irreversibly.
Mike was a decent piece of diplomacy as well, this particular attribute adding cubits to his stature. One cannot recollect Mike being impaled by the media, the cynics, the pundits or the devotees of the game during his involvement with cricket spanning a period of five decades or more. Muted intermittent criticism if at all, or a stray cat call from a liquor laced lout, manning the open stands.
Michael’s modus operandi in unleashing his leg-spin had enthusiasts in raptures. The ritual bordered on eccentricity, as he laboriously coiled to strike, heaps of fuss and subtlety, spinning his web against the lush tree fringed parks of Maitland Crescent or wherever. He could curl his googly into the pads or spear in his flipper and uproot a stump.
If any criticism could be leveled at him, it is the fact that he under bowled himself, a dilemma common to captains who could roll their shoulder over.
I do not wish to drown my quill in the stats of the man, for it is only too well known that he annexed mountainous heaps of trophies for his employer Brooke Bonds, his club NCC and his country. Five outings however, epitomize the man. His blitzkreig 100 for the Daily Mirror XI against the likes of Wes Hall and Chester Watson, arguably two of the quickest pacies going around. at that point of time, his fluent 100 against Pataudi’s wiily Indians followed by centuries against Pakistan and England and his classy 52 against the toe crushing pace of Lillee and Thompson during the 1975 World Cup, trench warfare this, defending his lines and his men against the likes of Statham, Intikhab, Venkat, Hall, Lillee, Mallett and Benaud. Our first “Test” win overseas prior to Test status being granted was under Mike’s astute rule, against Pataudi’s Indians, in the year 1965. We haven’t caged the Indians in their own den since.
Michael the batting star
It was Michael’s batting that would have propelled him to stardom, gliding, steering and sweeping the ball from his presence, pure ethical pleasure. Tissera’s efforts ensured that the blood sweat and tears of stalwarts such as F.C De Saram, C I Gunasekera and Sargo Jayawickrema bore fruit. A loose galaxy of stars emerged in the 60th such as the Heyn’s the Tennokoon’s and the Sahabandu’s among others.
Tissera’s charisma, flair and compassion would no doubt have contributed profoundly towards gelling the stars into a cohesive fighting force. I can vouch for his compassion having played a couple of games under him for Colombo Cricket Club. Mike, was courteously articulate and besides never ever led his regiment from the rear, a pre-requisite to the make up of a great captain.
Colombo, Sri Lanka in the year 1972. The landscape changed for Michael. The country metamorphosis into a republic, changing her name from Ceylon to Sri Lanka. The political order and the commercial order Michael was used to changed drastically. Robert Golding’s Aussie schoolboys toured the country and locking horns with the local schoolboys, spewed forth a galaxy of new talent such as Roy Dias, Bandula Warnapura, Ajith De Silva and Duleep Mendis among others, challenging Mike’s tenacity, and he rode that storm and the undercurrents with characteristic Aplomb and Dignity.
Then again as an encore uncorking his champagne brand of cricket at 42 years of age, he guided the 150 year old Colombo Cricket Club to one of its most triumphant seasons in the sun, annexing the country’s cricket plum, the Sara Trophy. To complete the narrative it must be added that Mike would treat his fans to a ritual and honesty and integrity every instance he edged a ball to the wicket keeper. He would then whip off his gloves, tuck his bat under his armpits and march off towards the gloomy darkness of the dugout with the slickness of a Grenadier Guardsmen, his innate sense of fair play making his feet “Walk”, the spirit of cricket tattooed on his heart.
The ICC recently decorated Mike for services to cricket and his country should decorate the knight for Gallantry.