Cricket’s finest gentleman Michael Tissera

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Next week, as the second Test between Sri Lanka and West Indies comes to a conclusion, Michael Tissera will be in Galle to give away Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne a trophy that bears his name and that of West Indies legend Sir Garry Sobers. Irrespective of the result of the second Test, Sri Lanka will retain the Sobers-Tissera Trophy having won the first Test. West Indies can only square the series and as the holders of the trophy, Sri Lanka will retain the title.

Sri Lanka’s current cricketers will do well to pick the brains of Tissera, an iconic figure in our game. He played the game at a time when the sport had no money and the perks that the current generation is enjoying, because of men like Tissera, Anura Tennekoon and many others of their generation who laid a solid foundation for the sport. Built on that strong foundation is the brand name called Sri Lankan cricket.

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Tissera respects the game and he has taken the values of cricket to his personal life and to his business. That’s why he is so successful. These are factors that are missing in some young players for whom cricket is their profession and nothing beyond. Not just players, but there are many of us who make a living out of cricket, but do we take values of the game beyond our working spaces? That’s the best thing that we can learn from Tissera – respect the game, value it and stay humble.

Talent itself is a great blessing and it is important to respect that. That’s why Tissera is an exceptional role model.

A disciplined man, he has set the standards and others have simply followed. His unquestionable integrity as Chairman of Selectors ensured fair-play in team selections and politicians dare not challenge him.

When Tissera took over as Chairman of Selectors in 2002, Aravinda de Silva had faded away. His cricket was over. He was heavily focusing on his business. But having realized that Aravinda still had much to offer the game, he threw down a challenge to Aravinda. If you are interested, the number four position of the national cricket team is all yours. But on one condition. ‘You are overweight and you need to get fitter.’ Aravinda loves those challenges. He knew he had cricket in him and apparently in two months he lost 15 kilos. A lot of running around Independence Square and no fancy stuff like lamb, pork sausages, cakes and of course his favourite Kandos.

On his comeback, he was a revelation. Aravinda produced a double hundred in his last Test match, he was the star as Sri Lanka reached the finals of the Champions Trophy in 2002 beating Australia in the semis. Basically he carried the team on his shoulders during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. Making runs on those bouncy tracks was child’s play for Aravinda. And Tissera knew the man better than many others. Some of those knocks were out of this world. They are the stuff that you dream of. All that was possible because of Tissera. He gave Aravinda a second chance. Every young man deserves a second chance. Had Tissera been managing the Sri Lankan cricket team, Kusal Mendis would have been like Babar Azam of Pakistan leading Sri Lanka not serving a suspension.

Tissera’s two year tenure as the Manager of the national cricket team was highly successful. Tom Moody was the Head Coach and the team reached new heights. England were thrashed 5-0 in their own backyard in 2006 and the team won many Test matches overseas. It all culminated with Sri Lanka reaching the finals of the 2007 World Cup.

That team had some tricky customers. Tissera’s brilliant man management skills saw there was smooth sailing. Moody can be ruthless, like a typical Aussie. You needed the calm head of Tissera to ensure that things did not get out of hand. Well, they did get out of hand at certain points, but no one spilled the beans. What happened on tour, stayed on tour. None dared leaking information.

Tissera is tough when he needs to be, but he is also a father figure when players need support. Straight out of school when Sanath Jayasuriya from Matara ended up at CCC it is people like Tissera who looked after him. He has done much more to help up and coming players. All silently though.

Good on Sidath Wettimuny as President of Sri Lanka Cricket for naming this trophy after one of the iconic figures of our game. It takes one great man to respect another.

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