CAPTAINS' TALES: To lead beyond limits


R. B. Wijesinha (Jnr.)
"Leadership, like coaching, is fighting for the hearts and souls of men and getting them to believe in you."
Eddie Robinson

England had been magnificent throughout the tournament. The question was by how much would they win? South Africa had lost a match in the preliminary round, but fought their way through. Theirs had been a grueling journey. Then came the Final. They were inspired. Driven by tempestuous force, they took England’s breath away and so stormed into the realms of Rugby legend. There, at their head, was Siya Kolisi, the first Black Captain of his country to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy, from impoverished beginnings to Champion of the World, from hunger to honour, from orphaned youth to Captain of a proud team of sporting warriors, from diversity to unity; to borrow from that very English Bard, surely they now "…are such stuff as dreams are made on"?

Kolisi and his unassuming leadership, that inspired such great achievement, reminded me of how I benefitted from the actions of those who were my leaders on the cricket field. There must be many such instances in life that are rarely inscribed on golden plate or held aloft for the world to see, but to the individual concerned, they are etched in memory, never to be forgotten.

I am differently-abled, having come second-best in a battle with a virus, at the age of just one and a half, to a vicious little thing called Poliomyelitis. It left its mark particularly on my legs but, fortunately for me, no one made too much of it. This helped me step out onto that field of play, to join albeit in less lauded realms, the ranks of players that Keith Miller and R. S. Whitington once questioned as being "Gods or Flannelled Fools"? I certainly belonged to the latter but that of a "Happy Fool"! There were even times when with bat in hand, and score on board, that I felt quite ‘perfect’!

Where river, lake and mountain met

It really started from birth, and to whom I was born, but that is a tale too long for telling here. This little vignette begins at Asgiriya, the sports ground of Trinity College, up in the hills of Kandy. It was then much smaller than today, with concrete terraces that sloped down the embankment and, on match days, would be filled with schoolboys shouting out their encouragement. A little higher, clinging to the grasses of the embankment, would often be a cascading flow of orange robes as the monks of the Asgiri Vihara, particularly the younger ones, avidly watched the proceedings, though a little more restrained than the white uniformed horde of biased bellowers below them.

I had the great honour of being selected to play junior cricket for Trinity. My Captain, in all of these games, was Naren Dambawinna who in a slightly later era, when a living could be made from cricket alone, would have graced the lists of the Sri Lanka National Team. Leastways, that was the belief of his School Cricket Coach at the time, who next made such prediction, in my hearing, when he watched a young 13 year old named Kumar Sangakkara who had come under his tutelage at that same school.

In my first game, at Under 12, I managed to compile some runs, in both innings, and helped the school to a comfortable win. Ever since, when going in to bat, the ‘Skipper’ would place arm on my shoulder and say "Rohan, I can always depend on you". That meant a lot to a young player going out to battle bowler, conditions and limitations of self. I hope I did not let him down too often, but I tried my best not to.

In the home of Cricket

At the age of 16, I was suddenly propelled from the familiar surrounds of Asgiriya to the playing fields of England, ultimately to those of Nottinghamshire. Woodthorpe Cricket Club kindly added me to their lists as they did the aforementioned Coach for whom paternal responsibility dictated must accompany me across the seas. He was their real target, and I was the bait. In that first year, we both played for the 2nd XI and had enormous fun.

It was a good season, and I was promoted to the 1st XI for the next. The Coach refused, happy to play and guide the youngsters of the 2nd. I was a batsman who had developed wicket keeping skills, mostly for purposes of mobile expedience. When batting, I did my own running. I was slow, that was a fact, and as a result, lost a few runs over the course of an innings. More importantly, my laboured jog deprived my partners of runs too, and this was cause for guilt.

The Secretary of the League was a team mate, Chris Coles, who over the years became what my children would, today, refer to as being ‘a Brother from another Mother’. His faith in my abilities ensured that I enjoyed 17 years of continuous league cricket, playing with, and against, some of the best local cricketers around at the time. Unbeknown to me, Chris had proposed to the League that I be allowed to bat with a ‘runner’, a proposal that was very generously accepted by them subject to there being no objection from the opposition. This, of course, would not be possible today, with the amendments to the Laws, though the extreme kindness and exemplary sportsmanship of cricketers does persist.

To be so honoured

A year or two later, and I was invited to play for the Nomads Cricket Club, a team that had dominated the League for many years, and was then captained by Paul Newman. Paul opened the batting with Steve Allcock. No finer opening pair had graced local cricket and they were a pleasure to bat with, not just because of their skill but also of their cricketing knowledge.

It had been a good summer, both in weather and with my performance. We had also attracted some new talent to the team, one of whom found himself running many runs - for me! Unused to this penalty for getting out early, there had been some grumbles. On this particular day, we were playing at the Worthington Simpson Ground, one that was frequently used by the Nottinghamshire County for their A Team Games. Flat wicket and fast outfield, the stage was set, and on Paul getting incomprehensibly out, Steve and I batted for the rest of the innings amassing a decent score; Steve making a ton and, all the while, Paul ‘running’ - for me!

Paul toiled through the hot sun and, at the end of the innings, trailed behind as Steve and I received the plaudits of team mates, spectators and opposition. On reaching the Changing Rooms, he shut the door and requested silence of the Team. He then announced,

"Running out there for Rohan, for all that time, was one of the greatest pleasures of my cricketing life. I don’t ever want to hear anyone complain for having to do so again".

That was 30 years and more ago, but I can never forget. Thank you, Skippers both, for making me just that little more ‘perfect’ than I was before.

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