Michael Tissera the legend | Sunday Observer

Michael Tissera the legend

Today, in our cricket history there are many who can be called legends of cricket, but, before Sri lanka gained Test status there were only a few who qualified for that title. One such true legend is Michael Tissera, a rare individual who has stayed true to the gentlemanly spirit of cricket.

He remembers playing cricket when he was a young student of S. Thomas’ College. “I played cricket from a very young age, and joined S. Thomas’ in 1950. I played in the Under 14 and 16 teams. Playing in the first eleven was a little bit of luck. I was in the boarding, and was playing tennis on the Warden’s Courts when I got a message to come and bowl to the first eleven. And I must have bowled fairly well that day, because they said, come again the next day, and the next thing I knew, I was playing on Friday in the First Eleven. So that’s how I started play in the first eleven.”

Tissera also captained S. Thomas’ College in the Royal-Thomian cricket matches. “I captained S. Thomas’ for two consecutive years in 1957 and 1958. The first year Michael Welle captained Royal, and in the second year Lorez Perera captained Royal. Unfortunately, both were drawn games. They were not really exciting encounters as such, because it was more of a batsmen’s game. I think Michael Welle got 100 in 1957 for Royal. Ronny Read got 65 in the first innings and 65 in the second innings for us. And so they were drawn games. They were not really very exciting games at the time, and we played only from 12 to 6 o’ clock in those days.”

Sawdust

Tissera captained Ceylon to its first victory over a Test-playing nation, India, in 1965, when his declaration in a low-scoring match led to victory over India by four wickets. He recalls, “That was a match delayed by rain. It was a four day game. The first day was rained off. There was rain on the second day as well, but just before tea on the second day, Pataudi came up to me and said, you know, there are 25,000 people in the stadium, shall we play? Conditions weren’t good because the wicket was wet, the outfield was wet and there was sawdust three quarters way to the boundary.

And I said, yes, okay, we’ll play. So as it went, India won the toss and batted first. I think they got about 180 or so, and then we batted and at the end of the third day with just one day left, we were a 140 odd for seven, about forty runs behind. We felt that because there was only one way to go, the wicket would probably play up in the morning because of the overnight dew and the rain. We had a team meeting and I suggested that we declare and everybody agreed. As it happened, it was a stroke of luck because we got India out for 66 in the second innings. Stanley Jayasinghe, Norton Fredrick and Darrell Lieversz bowled well.

Pollonnowita got some wickets and we had a 115 or so to get to win, but we were in a bit of a mess because Edwards got injured, and although we had a good opening stand we lost a whole lot of wickets. We were about 8 down for 90 odd because Edwards was not there, but Pollonnowita came in and he had scored runs in the first innings and he was not out.

Seeing him coming gave me a lot of confidence because I was batting at the time and together we managed to put singles here and there, and we eventually won.

It was naturally a great victory from our point of view, and to beat India in India is not easy, but at the same time I think we have to take into consideration that the conditions weren’t all that great for both sides. But, we decided to play because of the crowd.”

One of the highlights of Tissera’s career is the three ODIs he played in the 1975 World Cup in England. He says, “The 1975 World Cup was a fantastic experience. For one thing, on the day before the opening, all the teams stayed in the same hotel. So it was fantastic to meet all the international cricketers. And then there was a lunch at Lords at which the Duke of Edinburgh was the chief guest. After that, all the teams departed to their venues.

So, it was a really great experience. When the West Indies toured here just before the World Cup, we did very well against them at the Oval and the CCC, but in another match we lost the toss and Clive Lloyd, after much thought decided to send us in and we were bundled out for about 83 and the West Indies got it easy. The second game at the Oval was the highlight of the whole tour as far as we were concerned. We played Australia at the Oval. It was a superb wicket. Australia batted and got 320 or something and we ended up with 276 for 4 I think. We started off very well. We had a very good opening partnership, but unfortunately, Sunil Wettimuny and Dulip Mendis were both injured off Jeff Thomson’s bowling which set us back a little bit. But, we played well in that game and the 276 in the second innings with the score of 300 odd was the highest for many years before it was subsequently broken. That was really the highlight. All in all, it was a magnificent experience.”

Tissera also played cricket for NCC. “I reckon our Club cricket standard at that time was very high because we had only about eight teams playing in the first division and all the teams were strong. The NCC in those days had a very good side. I played from 1958 to about 1974 for the NCC. Vernon Prins was my first captain, and I was fortunate to get a 100 in my debut against Saracens. But, we had very strong sides at the NCC, and we won the Sara Trophy on a number of occasions, the Browns Trophy and the six a side. That was very enjoyable cricket.”

Tissera was responsible for managing the national team between 2005 and 2007. “Actually, I had no challenge because they were a good and disciplined side. We had for the most part an excellent captain in Mahela Jayawardane who was very good all round, with the team and strategy and policy. We had a very good coach in Tom Moody who did a lot for Sri Lanka cricket at the time, and also we had a very strong back up team of physios and trainers. I had a wonderful experience. I had no problems at all and from my point of view I was a bit reluctant to take it on in the first place but at the end of it I was happy I did, because it was a really good experience and we ended up being runners up in the World Cup in the West Indies.

Conditions change

So, in the West Indies in particular in that World Cup they played very good cricket and they were one of the most popular sides. Before that we had toured England, and we had beaten England five nil in the one dayers. All in all, that was a very good experience. I had no problems with the side and I think that was one of the better sides we had.” When asked to compare cricket during his time with what it is now, Tissera says, “It is very difficult to compare cricket of different eras. For one thing, conditions change completely. When we played cricket there were no covers. So, if it rained overnight, too bad, we had no play. So, conditions were completely different. These days with cricket being played right throughout the year, and three different types of games, one thing is that cricketers have to be super fit to be able to take part in all three. In fact, I think, one of the problems we have at the moment is that there is too much cricket and a lot of the cricketers are getting injured, particularly, our fast bowlers. Well, we enjoyed our cricket, it was different. These days, it’s a money game and people are paid and they are professionals, so it’s a completely different game. We were completely amateur. Even when I played the few matches for Ceylon at that time, I used to go to work in the morning and then go for the match. Now, it is different, where they are off all the time and training all the time. It’s a completely different game.”

When asked what the turning point for Sri Lanka cricket was, Tissera says, “I think the turning point was winning the World Cup in 1996. Sri Lanka always had good cricketers, and I reckoned, we should have got Test status probably a little earlier than we actually did. But having said that, we didn’t do too well at the start, and I suppose you can say that was acceptable, but latterly they built up a very strong one day side and the one that Arjuna Ranatunga led in the World Cup was a very strong side all round – batting, bowling, fielding, everything.

Then there was Dav Whatmore also who gave a very big input into that World Cup win. And besides Whatmore, they had Alex Contouri who was the physio. I think he made a huge difference to the side because players were getting injured and coming on and off the field, and in the little time that he was here he got them to a level where they were real professional cricketers. I think the 1996 World Cup was the turning point in our cricket.”

On the current state of Sri Lanka Cricket, Tissera says, “Unfortunately, we are going through a very bad patch. It happens, most teams have these cycles and we are having it too because when you get three or four top players retiring one after the other it affects the game and at the moment we have a team which is talented but with very little experience.

They probably will get better in maybe a year or so. They should be a much better force to reckon with. But I also think that with world cricket changing and so much being played and so many Test matches, the local tournament has to improve. Otherwise, you cannot expect a player from club cricket where you have 13, 14, 15 teams playing, to go from that level to Test level and be successful straightaway. It takes time.

So I think we need to strengthen our local cricket. I’ve been on a few interim committees and so has Sidath Wettimuny and we’ve been trying to bring about this provincial tournament where we have four or five sides so the cream will play each other. We had a very successful tournament in the first time we were in the interim committee in about 2000 or 2001.

But, for some reason as soon as the interim committee goes and there are elections and the club representatives come in, they think that the provincial tournament is going to take away from their Club cricket and so they knock it off. And I think that has been a great mistake because, had that provincial tournament gone on regularly, by now we would have had a very strong local tournament which would have helped cricketers at that level. But I’m told, they are trying to do something. The Minister is supposed to have an advisory committee of Mahela, Sanga and one or two others. So, I’m hoping the local tournament will strengthen quite a bit because otherwise we’ll find it very difficult.”

In 2014, Michael Tissera was honoured along with legendary Garfield Sobers by the cricket administration. “I was humbled by the honour. It’s a great honour, and to have it with somebody like Sir Garfield Sobers is just fantastic, because he is such a great cricketer and besides being a great cricketer, he is a great man too, I mean he is a very fine individual. So, that was a really humbling experience. I have to thank the Board for even thinking on those lines. This is not something that benefits only me. It is an honour for all the cricketers who played with me because without the rest of your team you can’t manage. So I think they should all be proud just as I am,” Tissera says.

Cricket elections

The advice that Tissera has to give to cricket administrators is, “I have always said and I still maintain that politicians should not be allowed to hold office in the cricket administration. Unfortunately, ever since the World Cup it is just two or three families who have dominated cricket administration in this country, and the way I see it, even cricket elections now have become like general elections where everybody is canvassing and everybody is promising this club money and that club money, and it’s got completely out of hand. So if you don’t keep the clubs happy, you won’t be elected.

A case in point was a few years ago, when Arjuna Ranatunga contested and he got two or three votes. It has become a case of keeping the clubs happy, but keeping the clubs happy at the expense of the standard of Sri Lanka cricket is something I don’t agree with. I don’t agree that you should be having these huge handouts to the clubs. You should help them but the clubs should help themselves as well. They can’t just sit back and expect the board to provide them with everything.” Tissera’s message to aspiring young cricketers in Sri Lanka is, “the message I have is that they have a great opportunity.

A lot of us played cricket here for a long time, but we didn’t have the opportunity of playing Test matches, internationals, one dayers and T-20s. So they have a great opportunity. They should grab it with both hands but they should realize also that their basic requirement is to play cricket for the benefit of your country and to honour the captain. Maybe, fortunately for them there is a lot of money in the game now, but I think that money is not the only thing. I’m quite happy for professional cricketers to be paid well, but they have to realize that the country must always come first and that’s where their loyalties should be.”

Pix: Vipula Amerasinghe 

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