2014-07-29 08:56:49 -
Mr. Thilan Wijesinghe, perhaps the most underrated of cricketers ever to be produced by Ananda and possibly Sri Lanka, joins us in a reminiscence of his past glories as the youngest and the second Anandian ever to score a century at the Battle of the Maroons.
Lean and fit even today, Mr. Thilan Wijesinghe, currently the Chairman of TW Corp and Digital Commerce Lanka (which owns popular websites anything.lk and wow.lk), gave us insights on his prodigal talents as a schoolboy cricketer. We joined in discussion with him on a clear evening at his residence at Guildford Crescent.
“I consider it an honour to be interviewed for the Battle of the Maroons souvenir for the first time, when there are more deserving
cricketers” he initiates with the idiosyncratic humility of an Anandian. So was his account of the truly remarkable career he has had in his years as a schoolboy cricketer.
“I have fond memories from the time I started playing cricket when I was 9 for the under 12 team. One of my earliest cricketing memories was my father, Mr. Thilak Wijesinghe, who was also an Anandian and an avid cricketer enthusiast himself, bowling tennis balls at me.”
Wijesinghe subsequently Captained the Under 13 age group and all age groups thereafter. He holds the distinction of playing for the 1st XI Ananda Team at the tender age of 13 years.
He recalls his call-up into the senior side with a glint in his eye. "In the third term of 1972, when I was still wearing shorts to school and captain of the Under 14 cricket team, the Captain for the 1973 first XI team, Priyanka Seneviratne came to my class and sought permission from the class teacher to talk to me. Much to my surprise he asked me to report for 1st XI cricket practices. That is how I got the opportunity to play the full 1st XI season while I was still 13."
The exposure that young Thilan got at such a tender age helped him mature as a prolific run scorer very early in his career. "By the time I turned 15, I was already a third year coloursman", Thilan reminisced in the down-to-earth tone that I now had become familiar with, "and that was when I got my first 50 in a Big Match in 1975". This was also the year of the inaugural Ananda-Nalanda 50-over encounter. “I got 76 runs and helped Ananda win this match against the more favoured Nalanda team captained by Anura Ranasinghe”, Thilan said.
Thilan remembers 1975 as an eventful year where the prospect of scoring a century in the Battle of the Maroons first was planted in his mind. "In 1975, I scored a century in an Under 16 Match against Nalanda at Campbell Park. Just after I got out, the Master In-Charge and then Under 16 Coach, Mr. Lionel Mendis took me aside and asked me; “Thilan, have you realized what you have done today?” Thilan had answered casually, “Yes Sir, I scored a Hundred”. Mr. Mendis had then retorted, “No son, you scored a hundred at the Ananda-Nalanda match. Do you know when was the last time that an Anandian scored a century at the Big Match?” It was then that Thilan got to know the last time an Anandian was able to reach the three-figure mark at the Big Match was 2 generations or 43 years ago in 1932. After this conversation, Thilan became determined to break the jinx of an Anandian failing to score a century in the Big Match for so long,
The very next year, in 1976, young Thilan, though still the youngest in the team at 16, was able to be accomplish what he set out to achieve the previous year by scoring a brilliant chanceless 104 against Nalanda at the 47th Battle of the Maroons held at the P. Sara Oval. This superlative innings established many records: the highest ever score up till then by an Anandian, the second centurion ever from Ananda in 44 years and a record opening stand of 166 with Sidath Wettimuny.
“I didn’t quite expect the adulation I got after the end of my innings. As I was walking towards the pavilion, a policeman who I recognized as an Old Anandian started to organize a crowd of schoolboys to carry me around the ground. So with Police protection, I was carried around the ground by Anandian supporters and as the parade passed by, virtually every spectator stood up from his or her seat and applauded. It was truly an unforgettable experience”, Thilan remembers this day with a smile on his face. “It was the crowning moment of my School Cricket career.” The same year (1976) Thilan was selected Best Schoolboy Batsman and toured Pakistan with the Sri Lanka Under 19 team.
“Also, I cannot forget the 1977 Ananda-Nalanda 50 over match”, Thilan said. “During this match, which Ananda won, I scored a half century, got 2 wickets, took 2 catches and ran out 2 batsmen. At the end of the match, I walked away with all the awards – best batsman, best bowler, best fielder and Man-of-the-Match – every award that was on offer”!
Thilan captained Ananda in 1979, the 50th Battle of the Maroons. During the 6 years he played for the first XI team, Thilan established the record for the highest run aggregate for an Anandian in both the Battle of the Maroons Series and the One Day Series. These records have subsequently been broken.
Thilan’s heroics at cricket extended to the Inter Club theatre as well. He debuted at the P. Saravanamuttu Trophy Division 1 Tournament for the Tamil Union Cricket Club at the age of 15 and scored his maiden century the same year, in 1975. “That year, mine was the only Singhalese name on the team card”, Wijesinghe speaks proudly of a golden age when there was a significant influx of excellent cricketers being produced through the schools in the North, which inevitably dried up during the war. “But now I am optimistic that with peace, cricket in Sri Lanka will yet again be served with talent from the North”.
His association with the Tamil Union and the P. Sara Oval contributed much to his successes in the Battle of the Maroons. “This was a key reason why I got so many runs against Nalanda”, he confessed. Thilan was always confident when he was at the crease during a match at the Oval. “I knew the ground and pitch conditions very well and felt like it was home”. According to Thilan, “I recall talking to the groundsman at Tamil Union about the condition of the pitch before the 1976 Big Match and standing at the edge of the pitch practicing strokes every day leading up to the Match. This is the first time I am sharing with the outside world on how I prepared myself before scoring a century at the Big Match and scored so many runs in the Ananda - Nalanda series!” Thilan said with a smile.
The rest of Thilan Wijesinghe’s cricketing odyssey is as equally if not more interesting than the story thus far. Having given up cricket after the 1979 Big Match, opting to study in USA at Cornell University over playing for Sri Lanka, which was not yet a test playing Nation at the time, Thilan returned to cricket after a complete absence from the game for 5 years. “I remember training hard to regain my lost form, with hours at the gym and even trying Yoga!” Thilan said. Most admirably, he scored two consecutive centuries in the very first matches he played on his return from the USA turning out for the Division II team of the Tamil Union Cricket Club. Subsequently, Thilan turned out for the Division 1 team, Captained the Club and was selected the Best Batsmen in Division 1 Club Cricket for the 1990/1991 season.
In 1991 Thilan was picked as Skipper of the Sri Lanka “A” team for matches against Pakistan “A” and England “A”.
“Though I was also in the Pool for the National Team, the selectors were right in choosing Chandika Haturusinghe, who was 8 years younger to me and also an Anandian, instead of myself to represent Sri Lanka in Test Cricket in 1991. I was given the next best thing by being awarded the captaincy of the Sri Lanka ‘A’ Team,” according to Thilan.
In the year 1992 Thilan permanently retired from all competitive cricket, having chosen to pursue entrepreneurial interests as a co-founder of Asia Capital PLC. “Before I retired, I used scoot off work at about 4 pm to report for practices and then go to office to resume my work by 7pm and finish sometimes past 10pm. I retired because I knew that while working full-time I could not maintain the level of fitness required for the modern game. Simply, I knew that one can never truly excel in two different fields at the same time.”
Finally when asked about Ananda and the school’s impact on his life Thilan replied, “It is Ananda and Cricket that helped me the most in taking on the responsibilities of leadership that were entrusted to me, especially when at 35 years of age I was invited to become the Chairman of the Board of Investment and later as CEO of several public listed companies. The grounding of being able to relate to people from different walks of life, from trade union members to local and international corporate magnates to the Heads of State and the ability to lead people was certainly gained during my years at Ananda. I was fortunate to have been thrust into leadership positions throughout my school career, from being class monitor from Grade 1 onwards, Prefect, captain of junior to senior cricket teams and English Debating. What I gained from Ananda has helped me immensely throughout my professional life.”