Seldom do Sri Lanka cricketers of the pre-Test era gain the recognition they deserve for the contributions they have made to the game. Unlike in today’s context figures don’t reveal to what extent these players have made their mark and the impact they had made on the sport.
In those days people came to watch their heroes play by filling the grounds because apart from the radio there was no other way they could follow the day’s proceedings other than to be present at the venue.
Thus if the name of Michael Tissera does not strike a chord to the present generation of cricketers and cricket followers they cannot be faulted for their ignorance for there is very little in the form of literature available to them. Even on the internet there is very little information they can extract of players of the pre-Test era because they hardly got the opportunity to play against international sides unlike cricketers of the present generation. Thereby information of such players is scant and insufficient for anyone to gauge how good a cricketer he was unless you belonged to that era.
In this context naming a trophy after a past captain like Tissera by having his name coined with one of the greatest all-rounders the game has produced Sir Garfield Sobers is a fitting way of honouring him.
“It is a great honour and privilege to have my name coupled with such a great player,” said Tissera.
Players of Tissera’s calibre are few and far between. They don’t try to hog the limelight like some others do but they quietly fade away having made their contribution to Sri Lanka cricket in any which way they can.
If one is to scan through Tissera’s stats it will reveal that he played in 3 ODIs and in a first-class career spanning 17 years from 1958 to 1975 played just a handful of 30 matches and scored 1394 runs at an average of 28.44 with two centuries.
What these figures don’t reveal are the number of matches he played against international sides that were not recognized as first-class to be included in their career records. For those who have not seen Tissera play he was a graceful right-hand middle-order batsman, an effective right-arm leg-spinner and an excellent fielder. What stood out more than his contribution as a player was his leadership qualities that saw Ceylon (as the country was known then) secure maiden wins in unofficial tests against Pakistan at home and against India at Ahmedabad in 1964 and 1965 and beat MCC (England touring team) for the first time in a limited-over match in 1969. He was the youngest to captain his country when he took over the leadership at the age of 25 in 1964. He later served Sri Lanka cricket as a national selector, administrator and manager of the national team from 2005-2007.
The careers of Tissera and Sobers ran parallel with each other and the two met on three occasions, the first being in that famous Mirror match in 1961 played at the P Sara Oval between a Ceylon Daily Mirror XI and a CCA President’s XI. Six years later the two countries met in an unofficial test match also at the P Sara Oval where Tissera and Sobers were the rival captains. In a high scoring game Sri Lanka ran up an impressive total of 400 with Tissera contributing 52, but the highlight was the last wicket partnership of 110 between Neil Chanmugam who scored 72 and Ian Pieris (46 not out). West Indies replied with 549-8 declared with Sobers scoring a brilliant 115 to follow two other centurions in the innings Basil Butcher (152) and Clive Lloyd (138). Sri Lanka in their second innings scored 163-3 to draw the match with Anura Tennekoon and Lionel Fernando scoring fifties. The last occasion Tissera and Sobers met was in 1975 when the Sri Lanka team went for the inaugural World Cup in England played a warm-up one-day game against Mill Hill CC for whom Sobers who had retired from international by then appeared.
Sobers played for West Indies between 1954 and 1974 and is widely considered to be cricket’s greatest all-rounder. In 93 Tests he scored 8032 runs (avg. 57.78), took 235 wickets (avg. 34.03) and held 109 catches. He captained West Indies from 1965-72.
The credit for mooting the idea to name the Sri Lanka-West Indies Test series after two great cricketers Sobers and Tissera should go to Tamil Union stalwart Dinal Phillips, a past president of the club.
Sri Lanka Cricket who have accepted his proposal are in the process of making elaborate plans to make the occasion a memorable one during the second Test to be played at the P Sara Oval from October 22-26 by inviting Sir Garry and members of the Ceylon team that played in the 1967 match against West Indies. The Sri Lanka team comprised Michael Tissera (captain), Nihal Kodituwakku, Fitzroy Crozier, Anura Tennekoon, Premachandra (DP) de Silva, Lionel Fernando, David Heyn, Herbert (HIK) Fernando, Sarath Wimalaratne, Neil Chanmugam and Ian Pieris. Sadly from this team Chanmugam passed away in 2014 while some of the members are residing abroad.
Jason Holder, the present West Indies captain said, “Having the trophy named after Sir Garfield Sobers is something truly special. He was one of the greatest to play the game and he still makes a major contribution to the game. Only recently he joined us in Barbados and wished everyone the very best for this tour of Sri Lanka.
“It is always good to see him and interact with him and it would be great for us to take home the trophy with his name on it. We got some pretty young faces in our squad and a lot of them look up to the past greats who played the game.”
As much as Holder, Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews would also like to lay his hands on the trophy which is on offer for the first time in the series. Tissera is the second Sri Lankan cricketer after whom a trophy has been named for a contest between two countries. The Sri Lanka-Australia Test series is played for the Warne-Muralitharan trophy since 2007-08.