85th Birthday Tribute

Michael Tissera: the legendary gentleman cricketer

by damith
April 7, 2024 1:16 am 0 comment 2.4K views

By Krishantha Prasad Cooray
Michael Tissera with his children and grandchildren

When people who have the same first name meet up, there’s name-related humour. The more, the merrier, obviously, especially if they are good friends and enjoy friendly banter.

Today I am thinking of three people who share the name Michael: Michael Tissera, Michael Sproule and Michael De Zoysa, all three who played cricket for S. Thomas’ College, Mt Lavinia. The first of course is the bigger name associated with the gentleman’s game.

Today I remember these three gentlemen sending everyone into fits of laughter as they talked among themselves, each referring to the others by name. It went something along the following lines: ‘Yes Michael, as I was telling Michael…but Michael, when I explained to Michael, Michael kind of agreed, but then again Michael…’ And it went on!

Cricket lovers

This is about one of them. Tissera. Michael Tissera, known to all cricket lovers or, well, perhaps those who followed the game long before the heroics of Aravinda De Silva, Roshan Mahanama, Arjuna Ranatunga, Muttaiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara and so on, long before Sri Lanka obtained official Test status; Michael Tissera, who celebrated his 85th birthday on the 23rd of March and attending which was a great privilege and an honour.

Living mostly overseas and having to deal with day-to-day matters, popping in and out of Sri Lanka was not an easy option for me. And yet, I do make an effort to take a few days off for the Royal-Thomian Battle of the Blues, which was held a couple of weeks before Michael’s birthday party. I am big on the Big Match, but this was not a tough choice. Michael took precedence. I accepted the invitation he so kindly sent me.

I spent many happy days at the Tissera residence down Sudarshana Mawatha in Nawala and in fact grew up with his two younger children, Simone and Dirk (who also played for STC). Simone eventually ended up getting married to our mutual friend Varuna Botejue, popularly known as ‘Botty’. So he was Uncle Michael to me and his wife was Aunty June. They treated me like a son and were always there to pick me up when I tripped through the difficult teenage years when, typically, a boy is not as strong as he thinks and is brought down to Earth by that very over-confidence.

Michael with another legend Sir Garfield Sobers

Michael with another legend Sir Garfield Sobers

In later years I realised that he wasn’t just being kind to a friend of his children. Uncle Michael has always been a good friend, a God-fearing man made for a crisis because he was sober, principled and absolutely loyal. I particularly remember a day when there was a tsunami warning; he knew I was living in Mt. Lavinia at the time and wanted me to bring my family to his place in Nawala. He went out of his way for friends. That was second nature to him.

Uncle Michael, ruggedly handsome, was always smartly dressed. He was prim and proper. He was extremely methodical and punctual. He respected other people’s time and never used words unnecessarily. It went with his general attitude towards life and work. Neat, proper and the highest standards of integrity. This is why he was and is respected by one and all, in the cricketing community and in the business circles he moved in.

Commanded respect

He fervently believed that a more compassionate, equal and sustainable Sri Lanka was possible and affirmed these convictions in whatever he did. He did an honest job and conducted his affairs with humility that matched his skill and overall moral code, never engaging in idle gossip or mudslinging and never suffering those who did. This is perhaps why he commanded respect on and off the field, whether as Captain (of his school or country), as the Chairman, Cricket Board or a selector.

And he left it all in the relevant forum; he knew we were all cricket-crazy, but never compromised the confidentiality associated with the positions he held in the Sri Lanka Cricket Board.

His sporting achievements are rare. People associate him with cricket, but he actually won school colours in four other sports at S. Thomas’ — tennis, athletics, soccer and swimming. Those who were privileged to witness his sporting exploits outside of cricket would no doubt testify to the grit he displayed and the highest standards of sportsmanship he maintained.

Professionally, he was a tea taster. He was the Tea Director at Brooke Bonds Ceylon Ltd and Senior Tea Director at Tea Tang (Pvt). He left Tea Tang when he was appointed as the Manager of the national cricket team, rejoining later as Chairman. Those in the industry would know best his accomplishments, but I have no doubt that he would have left the unmistakable signatures of the work ethic, principles and genial ways that have made him such a treasure to his family and friends.

The event, that’s his birthday party, was enchanting of course. He was kind to me, as he was kind to everyone. Today, as I reflect on that event and the life and accomplishments, we all celebrated even though felicitation of that kind was probably the last thing on his mind, I tell myself that there are cricketers and gentlemen, but gentleman cricketers are rare. Michael Tissera is one, for so many reasons.

It was Michael Tissera’s 85th birthday. It was more than that, but such is his stature that a mere note such as this could never do justice to his monumental and yet gentle personality. I simply wish him good health, good cheer, and all that he would consider to be the choicest blessings in life.

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