One walked away, the other rode like a colossus | Sunday Observer
Rohan Buultjens and Asitha Fernando:

One walked away, the other rode like a colossus

29 May, 2022
Rohan Buultjens-When Rohan Buultjens won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1981
Rohan Buultjens-When Rohan Buultjens won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1981

Yet another product of the Observer SLT Mobtel School Cricketers of the Year contest proved his might in international cricket last week.

It was only a few years ago that Asitha Fernando of St Sebastian’s College, Katuneriya stole the limelight by winning the best bowler’s award at the Observer SLT Mobtel School Cricketers of the Year show.

Last Friday in Minpur, the 24-year-old finished with an excellent match bag of ten wickets, leading Sri Lanka to a superb win over Bangladesh in the second Test. His match bag of 10 for 144 not only led Sri Lanka to a ten-wicket win but also gave his team a sweet 1-0 win in the two-Test series after the drawn first Test.

He followed his first innings spell of 4 for 93 with a penetrative 6 for 51 in the second to win the man of the match award on Friday. Fernando rewrote his school cricket history by becoming the first Katuneriya Sebastianite ever to represent the national team. Ever since, he has represented the country in five Tests and four ODIs.

Immediately after winning glory at the Observer SLT Mobitel School Cricketer contest he was chosen to represent Sri Lanka at the 2016 Under-19 Cricket World Cup. He was the leading pace bowler in the under 19 World Cup for Sri Lanka who finished the tournament as semi-finalists courtesy of bowling performances him and Lahiru Kumara.

Going down memory lane, today we take a closer look at another versatile player who stole the limelight about four decades ago.

After the Royal and Ananda dominance in the first two years through Ranjan Madugalle and Arjuna Ranatunga, another promising cricketer marked the presence of St. Peter’s College in the third year of the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1981.

Rohan Buultjens was that product from St. Peter’s College who was adjudged Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1981 after Ranjan Madugalle (1979 in the inaugural year) and Arjuna Ranatunga (second winner in 1980). Though both Madugalle and Ranatunga went on to captain Sri Lanka with distinction, Buultjens was unfortunate not to go beyond the pinnacle of school cricket.

Yet, Buultjens was an excellent cricketer who marked St. Peter’s College, Colombo in the local cricketing arena prominently. Despite Buultjens being an outstanding cricketer during his school career, he was not able to go beyond that. His cricketing career beyond schools lasted only five first class matches.

But Buultjens’ excellent form in the 1980/81 season forced Ranatunga to be content with the runner up in the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year show in 1981.

If not for Buultjens’ shining glory in 1981, Ranatunga would have well become the only schoolboy cricketer to win the main Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award in three successive years from 1980 to 1982.

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), Charith Asalanka (2015 and 2016) and Navod Paranavithana (2020 and 2021).

Rohan Philip Buultjens, born on May 23, 1961 in Kandy, was employed at the Hatton National Bank as its Chief Technology and Digital Officer. Though the cricketing career of this excellent player came to a premature end, his academic career blossomed, after he migrated to Australia.

He obtained an MBA in Information Technology from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

He has a strong cricketing back-ground with his father, Eddie Buultjens who played at unofficial Test level for then Ceylon in the mid 1930s.

Rohan has played with English League club Milhail in Middlesex, toured with the under-23 side in Pakistan in 1984 and was in the pool for the Test series against India in 1985. Unfortunately, he could not win his Sri Lanka cap.

Buultjens also played cricket for Essendon, a northern suburb of Melbourne for the Statewide Cup in the same year in 1985. 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.

Buultjens 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 semi finals.

Playing for St. Peter’s since 1977, he 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.

Batting under pressure in both innings, his brilliant knocks helped them to hold St. Joseph’s to a creditable draw in their big match. His twin centuries are unique and only few other school cricketers have done so.

Among some of the other batsmen who achieved this feat in inter-school cricket were Royal College’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 W.W. 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 former Sri Lanka captain Michael Tissera.

Unfortunately due to certain mechanisms that were prevalent in the selection procedure as regards Test cricket in the 1980s, Sri Lanka lost this brilliant cricketer. Though virtually everybody in that era was earmarking him to be a future Sri Lankan Test captain, he was not able to play for Sri Lanka at that level.

Obviously in utter frustration, the young Buultjens 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, Buultjens had a long two-decade professional career at Etisalat in Adu Dhabi.

The 2022 Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy and Schoolgirl Cricketers of the Year grand selection panel will meet shortly 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.

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 direction of the Chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom and SLT Mobitel Rohan Fernando the event has moved forward with 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 44th year.

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 15th 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.