Bhanuka Rajapakse: Model of Perseverance | Sunday Observer

Bhanuka Rajapakse: Model of Perseverance

Bhanuka Rajapakse - Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 2010 and 2011
Bhanuka Rajapakse - Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 2010 and 2011

The Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year contest has always been the most prestigious and looked forward to event in Sri Lanka’s school cricket calendar and winning that main title has been the dream of every schoolboy cricketer since its inception.

Most importantly, the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year began at a time when even the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association did not have a tournament for First X1 school cricket. Hence, when the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year began in 1978/1979, it was an unique experience for everybody.

In next to no time, it gathered momentum and became the most looked forward to and talked about events in Sri Lanka’s sports calendar. Even performance-wise, it produced results in every show in the first two decades.

Starting from the very first winner Ranjan Madugalle, the former Sri Lanka captain and current ICC Chief Match Referee, it produced stalwarts who played international cricket. Arjuana Ranatunga, Roshan Mahanama, Asanka Gurusinha, Muttiah Muralidaran, Marvan Atapattu and Kumara Dharmasena are some of the big names who followed Madugalle on the path to success in the first decade or so.

But there have been a few unfortunate cricketers who got raw deals from the Selectors starting from former Sri Lanka all-rounder Roshan Jurangpathy who became the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1986.

Bhanuka Rajapakse, also from Royal College like Juruanpahty, is another cricketer who the Selectors ignored despite having a bag full of performances to show. Most importantly, Rajapakse won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year twice in 2010 and 2011 but got a very raw deal from the then national selectors who failed to give him a break in the big league.

Although Ranatunga won the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year titles in 1980 and 1982, Nalanda College’s Roshan Mahanama was the first to win the prestigious title in successive years in 1983 and 1984. He first won the ‘Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year’ title in 1983 with a rich harvest of runs with the willow.

He continued to let his willow do the talking in the following year too and his superb form won him the title for the second successive year in 1984.

Apart from Ranatunga and Mahanama, the others to win the grand title twice were Thilan Samaraweera (1994 and 1995), Lahiru Peiris (2004 and 2005), Bhanuka Rajapakse (2010 and 2011) and Charith Asalanka (2015 and 2016).

Pramod Bhanuka Bandara Rajapakse, born in Colombo on October 24,1991, excelled for Royal and finally ended as the skipper of the Reid Avenue boys. He was a versatile player who also excelled in swimming and squash during his school career.

A dependable left-handed batsman and a useful right-arm medium-fast bowler, Rajapakse was a top performer in domestic seasons.

Despite a prolific domestic career, Rajapakse only made his international debut when he was called up for the T20I series against Pakistan in 2019, surprisingly ten years after his first-class debut.

He was selected for the 2010 Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand as a batsman and finished as the leading run-scorer for Sri Lanka in the tournament with 253 runs. He also had an excellent tour of Australia with the Under-19 team in 2009, scoring a marathon 154 off 111 balls in the second Under-19 One Day International. He ended the series as the leading run-scorer.

His innings was the second-highest individual score for Sri Lanka in Under-19 ODI cricket at that time. Rajapakse was the first Sri Lankan U19 cricketer to score 150 in an Under-19 ODI innings and also became the first Sri Lankan Under-19 player to go past 1,000 Youth ODI runs.

Rajapase became only the fourth individual to be adjudged as the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year twice in the country’s premier school sector awarding ceremony in 2011.

He was also adjudged the Young Emerging Player of the Under 19 Category at the CEAT Sri Lanka Cricket Awards 2011.

Rajapakse initially represented the Sinhalese Sports Club in domestic cricket and has also played for Barisal Blazers in Bangladesh’s NCL T20 Bangladesh.

He was named in Galle’s squad for the 2018 Super Provincial One Day Tournament and in August the same year, he was named in Kandy’s squad for the 2018 SLC T20 League.

In the following year, he was named in Dambulla’s squad for the 2019 Super Provincial One Day Tournament.

In the 2019 Premier league season, Rajapakse scored a career best 268 in 173 balls versus Ports Authority for BRC at Moors Ground, hitting 19 sixes and 22 fours in the innings.

In the second unofficial Test in the Sri Lanka ‘A’ tour of India in 2019, Rajapakse scored 110 runs in 112 balls with 17 fours and 3 sixes at the KSCA ground, Hubli.

In September 2019, he was named in Sri Lanka’s T20 International squad for the series in Pakistan to make his T20I debut for Sri Lanka. At his debut T20 International against Pakistan on October 5, 2019, he scored 32 runs of 22 balls and became an architect of the Sri Lanka team’s 64-run victory. Rajapakse scored 77 runs off 48 balls as Sri Lanka beat Pakistan by 35 runs in the second match and was adjudged the player of the match for his superlative batting performance.

The Sunday Observer’s great partnership with SLT Mobitel has grown from strength to strength due to the untiring efforts of its CEO Nalin Perera a former Josephian rugby player.

The entry of Mobitel 13 years ago to provide financial support to the oldest Cricket Awards Show in Sri Lanka has undoubtedly lifted the standard of the contest after its humble beginnings way back in 1978/79.

Since then, it has come a long way to set new standards, inspiring the other media organizations to have similar contests.

But the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year remains the Mother of all shows maintaining the commitment it made 42 years ago.