I spoke to Michael Wille over the phone on 7th July of this year. I was visiting a former neighbour and she got Michael on the line.
I confessed to him that he was my first cricketing hero and that the 1957 Royal-Thomian was the first one I remember watching. I repeated what my dad told me about him sleeping on his late father’s bed before the game.
My father got a Thomian into the grounds without a ticket through the fence in the vicinity of the tennis court. I think that this incident took place on the second day. His name was Ganesh Bala (aka Gunda). My Dad told me that I was to keep him company and not sit in the pavillion. And so I watched Wille’s innings from under the sight screen and got a wonderful view with no distractions.
The figure of the left-handed Wille never left my mind’s eye. Tall, nonchalant, imposing and classy. Every aspiring cricketer would wish to acquire such a persona.
Of the two scores of 121, I don’t recall Jothilingam’s century of 1956 because I was too young then. But while Jothilingam’s 121 was scored batting first, Wille’s 121 was scored facing a total of 259 and involved a torrid half an hour or so before close and the risk of a follow on. Jothilingam’s century was a rear-guard action building on the efforts of the batsmen before him, as I surmise. (Eyewitnesses may disagree.) Wille by contrast opened the batting and carried the team on his shoulders. To my mind it was a heroic knock.
For another six years I didn’t experience a century by a Royalist. Sensational and gallant as Malale’s century was, he was accessible. Wille was from another era altogether, a mysterious figure who left the country in 1957, and his very remoteness enhanced his mystique.
In our conversation Michael Wille held forth on the relative merits of FC and Barney as coaches and personalities. In his own words FC treated players as “privates” which wasn’t my experience. But I wasn’t game to argue with a demigod.
I told him that I recalled his habit of backing to leg side after playing at a delivery and that Ted Dexter also had this habit. It helped one’s concentration.
I inquired after his uncle Jacko Wille who worked with my Mum for a while. I think he gave Mum a lift to work when we were renting down Sri Saranankara Road. From how Mum mentioned him, Jacko was a trite eccentric.
So, there was a lot of “Wille” talk at home. The name kept cropping up in my parents’ conversations. And, of course, after Michael Wille achieved his century, my Dad constantly reminded me of what he considered to be a son’s tribute to his father.
July this year was the first and only time I communicated with the great man. I was humbled by the occasion and thrilled that he spoke to me as an equal. After all, he had been a larger-than-life figure for me since 1957.
However, he sounded very ill although he didn’t bring his state of health up in the conversation. And I didn’t ask any questions.
He was very hoarse and the conversation was punctuated with silences as he gasped for breath. Still, I didn’t expect him to go so soon.
My Thomian peers had their demigods, drawn from the mid to late fifties. The Thomian demigods played against my Royal demigods, of whom Michael Wille was the head deity – the stuff of legend. In my mind he had an aura that no one could match.
I am very sorry that Michael is no more. His passing came as a shock. It is as if I have lost a part of my youth. I regret never meeting him in person.
We all need heroes said Bob Dylan after he kissed the ground where Elvis stood while recording his music at the Sun Studio. Michael Wille was my first cricketing hero, before Norman O’Neill had even played in his first test and Ritchie Benaud had made his name as a captain.
An Article by Michael Wille presented in my cricketique web site in November 2017: ….. https://thuppahis.com/2022/11/30/michael-wille-on-his-cricketing-migrant-journey
AND AN APPRECIATION of this ESSAY by Geoffrey Reilley on 28th November 2022
What a magnificent piece of cricketing literature. As long as I have known Michael, I have always respected his ability and his passion for the game. I am aware of Mike’s Victorian cricket history and friends of mine who played against him spoke highly of him and the way he handled the ‘Aussie’ approach of the time which often included racist remarks. Mike once told me it was water of a duck’s back, but I felt at the time disappointed that he had experienced crude Aussie banter.
Over the years and especially most recently when our regular group lunches allowed me to appreciate Mike’s passion even more, he has been excellent company. I feel deeply for his family at this time. I also feel for Russ Van Rooyen’s loss of his great friend and family member.
I will join the many at Mike’s funeral in the coming days and take comfort in knowing he has gone to a better place.
RIP Michael Wille, a lover of cricket and great friend to the greatest game of all.