When Sri Lanka lost a famous son through dubious selections-BY DINESH WEERAWANSA


St. Peter’s College prodigy Rohan Buultjens, who was adjudged Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1981, then and now

One of the promising cricketers of yesteryear who had been unfortunate not to go beyond the pinnacle of school cricket was Rohan Buultjens, who was adjudged Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1981.

The brilliant cricketer from St. Peter’s College, Colombo, was only the third cricketer to win the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title after Ranjan Madugalle (1979 in the inaugural year) and Arjuna Ranatunga (second winner in 1980), both went on to captain Sri Lanka with distinction.

Although Buultjens was outstanding during his school career, he was not able to go beyond that, confining his career only to five first class matches.

But it was Buultjens’ extraordinary talent which deprived Ranatunga from going for a superb record in the 42-year-old history of the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year. If not for Buultjens’ shining glory, Ranatunga would have well become the only schoolboy cricketer to win the main Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award in three successive years.

Although Ranatunga won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award twice in 1980 and 1982, he had to be satisfied with the runner up of the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1981 after Buultjens stole the limelight.

To date, no cricketer has ever won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year thrice, although there are six cricketers including Ranatunga who have won it twice.

The galaxy of cricketers who had won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year on two occasions each are Ranatunga (1980 and 1982 – Ananda), Roshan Mahanama (1983 and 1984 – Nalanda), Thilan Samaraweera (1994 and 1995 – Ananda), Lahiru Peiris (2004 and 2005 – St. Peter’s), Bhanuka Rajapakse (2010 and 2011 – Royal) and Charith Asalanka (2015 and 2016).

Born on May 23, 1961 in Kandy, Rohan Philip Buultjens is currently employed at the Hatton National Bank as its Chief Technology and Digital Officer. He concentrated on his higher studies in Australia and obtained an MBA in Information Technology form the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

Rohan Buultjens has a strong cricketing back-ground. His father, Eddie Buultjens played at Test level for Ceylon in the mid 1930s. Rohan has played with English League club Milhail in Middlesex, toured with the under-23 side to Pakistan in 1984 and was in the pool for the Test series against India in 1985.

Buultjens also played cricket for Essendon, a northern suburb of Melbourne for the Statewide Cup in the same year.

The stylish left-hand batsman and medium pace bowler, Buultjens, won the prestigious Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award and the Best Batsman award in 1981.

He led St. Peter’s in 1980 to win the Horlicks Trophy All Island Schools limited over cricket tournament as they registered a runaway seven-wicket victory over the favourites Ananda with Buultjens playing a match winning role.

He scored an unbeaten half century which included three sixes and two fours and paved the way for the Peterite victory. Buultjens was in great form during that tournament, with 69 not out against Dharmasoka, Ambalangoda and 54 against Nalanda in the semis.

Buultjens, who had been playing for St. Peter’s since 1977, enjoyed the greatest moments in 1979. He rewrote the Battle of the Saints history and became the first cricketer to score twin centuries in the 45th encounter – 109 and 100 not out. In the second innings, Buultjens and his skipper Kito Fernandopulle (74) had a partnership of 173 runs for the third wicket.

He batted in difficult circumstances in both innings in the drawn game. Buultjens’ twin centuries are unique and only few other school cricketers have done it so.

Among other batsmen who achieved this feat in inter-school cricket were Royal’s George Rajapaksa (in 1943 -120 and 104 against Trinity), Prince of Wales’ DL Peiris (in the same year scoring 140 and 102 against Kingswood) and Nalanda’s WW Silva (in 1954 – 108 and 101 not out against St. Benedict’s).

Rohan Buultjens led the Sri Lanka under-20 team against the visiting Indian under-20 side in both the ‘Test’ and limited over game at the end of 1980 and early 1981. He played for NCC under Michael Tissera.

However, due to certain mechanisms that were prevalent in the selection procedure as regards to Test cricket in the the 80s, Sri Lanka lost this brilliant cricketer. At that stage everybody was earmarking him to be a future Sri Lankan Test captain but in reality, he was not able to play any cricket at international level.

Frustrated, the young man migrated to Australia to join his kith and kin and played grade cricket with distinction and then went to pursue his career in telecommunications. Prior to joining the HNB at present, Buultjens had a long 20 year service in Etisalat in Adu Dhabi.

The Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest has produced a group of elite cricketers who have engraved their names in Sri Lanka cricket history in letters of gold. The first recipient of the coveted title, Ranjan Madugalle not only reached the pinnacle of his career as a cricketer but also progressed to captain Sri Lanka and also reached the very top as an official by becoming the Chief ICC Match Referee, a proud record indeed.

The contest, which began as an unofficial one in 1978, was made official the following year (1979) and has got bigger and broader yearly as it has exposed the talent in the rural areas which has given those cricketers the opportunities to be on par, or even become better than the players representing Colombo schools judging by the number of players emerging from the rural schools who have stamped their class as top players.

The 1978 Sunday Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of The Year Contest was a significant one, though held in the outstation and not counted in the series. The contest was held at the Galle Esplanade for the first time with a view to promoting the game in the outstation. It was quite appropriate in having the show in Galle as the Outstation Schoolboy Cricketer of that year was Upul Sumathipala from Mahinda College, Galle.

The 2020 Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy and Schoolgirl Cricketers of the Year grand selection panel met earlier this year to make the final selections for the Mega Show.

Senior officials of the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA) and the Umpires Association met for the selections held under the patronage of a senior national selector of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) which is extending its fullest support.

The SLSCA delegation was led by its energetic president Thilak Waththuhewa, principal of Nalanda. Now that the selections have been made, it’s a matter of holding the 42nd Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy and Schoolgirl Cricketers of the Year 2020 Mega Show, no sooner the green light is given by the local health authorities.

Sri Lanka’s flagship English newspaper – the Sunday Observer, understood the need to recognize the raw talent of the country’s schoolboy cricketers at a time when there had been no organized inter-school cricket tournaments, apart from the traditional First XI matches of the so-called leading schools.

Under the directions of the Chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom and SLT Mobitel Rohan Fernando has made a lavish contribution towards the success of the event.

Nevertheless, the sponsor of the Observer-Mobitel School Cricketers of the Year show – SLT Mobitel played a straight bat with the Sunday Observer to maintain the uninterrupted run of the event for the 42nd year. Thus, the 42nd Observer-Mobitel School Cricketer of the Year will be the only formal school cricket awards show for the year 2020.

Hence, this event has turned out to become the showpiece of Sri Lanka school cricket that has given birth to legendary cricketers from Asia Cup winners to World champs, man of the series winners at ICC World Cup tournaments, highest wicket taker in Test cricket, Chief ICC Match Referee and the best umpire in the ICC elite panel.

These are some of the memorable happenings among many that tell how the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest has been associated with Sri Lanka cricket history.

It has been the feeder pool for the national team, providing an ideal opportunity for the next generation of cricketers once they graduate from the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year ‘cricketing university’.

Organized by the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (ANCL), the event is sponsored by the country’s national mobile service provider Sri Lanka Telecom Mobitel for the 13th successive year. Chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom and SLT Mobitel Rohan Fernando and Team Mobitel have given their maximum financial backing to keep the Mega Show alive.

The Sunday Observer realized the need to reward the raw talent of the country’s schoolboy cricketers way back in 1978-79 at a time when there had been no organized inter-school cricket tournaments, apart from the traditional first XI matches between the leading schools.

With the introduction of the Show and its expansion it has a separate segment for outstation schoolboy cricketers and it went a long way in inspiring players from remote areas to showcase their talent.

The ANCL Chairman and board of directors have always given their best support to keep the Mega Show alive. Chairman/CEO W. Dayaratne, President’s Counsel, together with Director Editorial Dharma Sri Kariyawasam, Director Legal and Administration Rakhitha Abeygunawardhana, Director Finance Janaka Ranatunga and Director Operations Canishka Witharana have helped this show to go from strength to strength.

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