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Roger Wijesuriya: Sri Lanka’s left-arm spinner who has one of the highest Test bowling averages

Roger Wijesuriya. Photo Courtesy: Sunday Observer
Roger Wijesuriya. Photo Courtesy: Sunday Observer

Roger Wijesuriya, born on February 18, 1960, was a Sri Lankan left-arm spinner in the 1980s whose Test bowling average reads as 294.00. Nishad Pai Vaidya revisits his career.

There are some players who are remembered for a particular number. Of course, you may speak about Don Bradman’s 99.94 or Sachin Tendulkar’s 100 international tons. But, there is a set of players known for unwanted records too. Their “claim to fame”, is related to an unwanted statistical number. Although a few bowlers have gone past his infamous record every now and then, Roger Wijesuriya of Sri Lanka still holds the highest bowling average in Test cricket for a cricketer who has retired from the game — 294.00. At the time of writing, Naeem Islam has surpassed him and stands on top with an average of 300.

Roger Gerard Christopher Ediriweeera Wijesuriya was born on February 18, 1960 in Moratuwa. At a young age itself, he was known for bowling slow left-arm. In 1978, he was selected for Sri Lanka Under-19 to play Australia Under-19. In the third Youth Test, he took five wickets and one of his victims was a future Australian international, Dirk Wellham. However, the series that launched him into limelight was the following year when he faced the Pakistan Under-19 side.

In a three-day match at the P Sara Oval, he started off with a nine-wicket match haul. He took four for 62 in the first innings and five for 68 in the second. However, in the second match, he took five for 36 and five for 56 to help Sri Lanka Under-19 win by 13 runs. And, it did not stop there, as he finished with another four-for in a limited overs game. With all that behind him, he was picked for the Sri Lankan squad for the 1979 World Cup. Although he did not play a game in the main draw, he did appear in games against the counties and in practice matches.

As Sri Lanka yearned for Test status, Wijesuriya was in their ranks and played for them in the lead-up to them receiving the much-awaited Test status. He finally made his One-Day International (ODI) debut against Pakistan at Karachi in March 1982 and finished with figures of one for 48, taking the wicket of Mansoor Akhtar. A few days down the line, he made his Test debut at Lahore. In that one Test innings he played, he recorded figures of none for 105 in 24 overs. Thereafter, he only returned in 1985 to internationals.

Following a decent home ODI series against India, he made the trip to Pakistan, where he had made his debut three years ago in 1982. But, in the three Tests, he bowled 73.4 overs and could only take one wicket. That lone wicket came in the third Test at Karachi and spin legend Abdul Qadir turned out to be his victim. Thus, Wijesuriya recorded his best Test figures of one for 68. That however, was his last Test.

In four Tests, he took one wicket at that average of 294.00. In comparison, his ODI record was much better as he took eight wickets in eight matches at 35.87 with a best of two for 25. But, for those days, his economy of 5.51 was high.

Wijesuriya did play in domestic cricket till 1994, even appearing for Sri lanka B once, but the international call-up was elusive. Post retirement, he did become a coach and guided the Sri Lankan Under-19 team for a while.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)

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