A miraculous recovery that stemmed from brotherly love | Sunday Observer

A miraculous recovery that stemmed from brotherly love

3 September, 2023
Sunil Wettimuny
Sunil Wettimuny

Throughout history, the name “Wettimuny” has predominantly been linked to cricket, and later on, to the field of aeronautics. Sunil Wettimuny stands as the sole Sri Lankan cricketer who has achieved prominence in both these domains. He is also the elder sibling of Sidath Wettimuny, who has also made significant strides in the world of cricket.

As the 13th ODI World Cup organised by the International Cricket Council (ICC) draws near, it is essential for Sri Lankan cricket enthusiasts with an appreciation for history not to overlook the 1975 match between Sri Lanka and Australia in the inaugural ODI World Cup hosted in the United Kingdom (UK).

Sidath Wettimuny and Sunil Wettimuny

Even to this day, seasoned sports fans recall with trepidation the moment when Sunil Wettimuny, opening the innings alongside Ranjith Fernando for the Sri Lankan team led by Anura Tennakone in that tournament, suffered an injury from a delivery by Jeff Thomson, who was widely regarded as the most formidable fast bowler in the international cricket arena during that era.

This remarkable player’s journey encompasses both his triumphs as a cricketer and aviator, followed by a profound battle with pancreatic disease that brought him perilously close to death, only for him to achieve an astonishing recovery.

According to Sidath Wettimuny, he never got the opportunity to play cricket with his older brother at Ananda College and had to wait until they played at club level for that rare opportunity.


The other brothers in the family including Ranjan, Mithra and Nimal were equally talented as Sunil and Sidath when it came to cricket.

“We all played cricket at school level. Nimal played at the club level and even league cricket in the UK. Only Ranjan stopped playing after leaving school. He also played hockey and rugby. But Sunil on the other hand was totally devoted to cricket,” he recalled.

Sunil Wettimuny, initially known for his cricketing prowess, eventually transitioned to a career as a commercial airline pilot, departing from the world of cricket at a relatively early stage.

“There was no encouragement for sport at the time. We had to find employment. Sunil could have even played Test cricket (Sri Lanka gained Test status in 1981 and played the first Test in 1982) but we had to think of our careers. I retired from the sport at 30. Today the situation is far different. We played cricket out of passion. But in our era, many cricketers had to give up their dreams to make a living,” he said.

“If someone were to ask me if I preferred cricket back then or today, I would undoubtedly say I preferred the sport back then. There was freedom to play. Today it has become a career and there is a lot of pressure. At times I sympathise with the current players. They have no rest and are under immense pressure. We did not have to face similar issues,” he said.

Sunil Wettimuny dedicated many years to his role as a pilot, travelling to 65 countries. He held the prestigious position of Chief Pilot for the national carrier (Air Lanka, later renamed SriLankan Airlines) and also contributed his expertise to several other airlines during his career.

In a significant historical moment, in 1996, when the Sri Lankan cricket team, captained by Arjuna Ranatunga clinched the ODI World Cup in Lahore, Pakistan and returned to Sri Lanka, Sunil Wettimuny had the privilege of piloting the plane.


A chat with Arjuna Ranatunga

Remarkably, this exceptional individual, who retired from sports at a relatively young age, embarked on a journey of meditation at the age of 36.

According to Sidath, Sunil was influenced by their father Ramsay Wettimuny, who was an engineer by profession. He recalled that their father, having watched a cricket match when visiting the UK, the home of cricket, had taken to the sport and had become determined to teach the sport to his boys.

“He believed we could learn about life from the sport. He built the first indoor cricket net. He handed the venue over to coach Berty Wijesinghe who was the best at the time and asked him to train us,” he recalled. “Our entire family is keen on Buddhist philosophy and cricket,” he added.

Following their father’s untimely death at just 49, older brothers Mithra and Sunil were tasked with taking care of the family. Sidath fondly recalled attending Sunil’s various pilot training sessions. “I was given the opportunity to have a ride in a Tiger Moth aircraft. It was unforgettable. I shared my aspiration to become a pilot too, but my mother responded by saying that having one pilot in the family was adequate,” he said laughingly.

Three years ago while in South Korea, Sunil fell seriously ill. It was an unusual and severe medical condition, and he found himself in aritical state.

During his 53-day treatment in a South Korean hospital, he teetered on the brink of death. It was during this dire moment that Sidath, his younger brother, played a pivotal role. Alongside other members of the Wettimuny family, they hurriedly arranged to transfer their elder brother from Korea to a hospital in Germany by an Air Ambulance, a process called a Medical Evacuation (called medevac in militaries).

“He was in hospital for 100 days. We did not think he would pull through. But in the end, he made a miraculous recovery,” Sidath said.

Recalling his near-death experience Sunil who now resides in Germany said it was the most painful experience in his life. “Sidath took all necessary steps to get me treated in Germany. He hired a private Air Ambulance for the purpose,” he said.

“I spent 114 days in hospital. I stopped eating and lost so much weight. I was kept alive through meditation. I recovered in less than a year and even visited Sri Lanka later,” he said.

Speaking of his daily routine, Sunil said he walks almost 6 Km a day and meditates for at least two hours in the morning. “I have not worked since I fell ill. It has been two years now. I spend my time meditating and reading the Sutta Pitaka. I also read the Buddha’s Teachings and the Ambiguity of Existence written by my father,” he said.

He questioned why most Sri Lankan Buddhists had not sought refuge in the Dhamma yet. “One does not have to live like a bhikkhu after turning to the Dhamma. That is a misconception,” he said.

“Perhaps they are not fortunate to find solace in the Dhamma despite living in a country rich with it. Instead, they wallow in sorrow. They do not even try,” he said.

Appam do Amathapadan

“The motto of Ananda College is Appamādo Amathapadan. In other words, punctuality leads to Nirvana. Those were also the last words of the Buddha,” he said.

The Wettimuny brothers are also renowned for their philanthropic activities. They also maintain links with cricket here and abroad and among their close friends are many current and former Sri Lankan and international players.

They will always be remembered for their gentlemanly conduct on and off the cricket field.

On the playing field