The ‘Most Decisive Victory’ for S.Thomas’ was a record set in 1988. My father, Rajindha de Mel (1988-1989) was a Thomian cricketer who played that year under the captaincy of Anura Bulankulame. Yes, I’ve heard endless stories about this which made me seek the skipper himself, Anura Bulankulame.

The Battle of the Blues, has a rich heritage of players. The late Prime Minister, D.S Senanayake, his son Dudley Senanayake, Duleep Mendis, Anura Tennakoon, Michael Tissera; the archive goes on. This of course is a Mount Lavinia’s point of view.

Among these are the legacies of families that inherit the great names of their ancestors, namely the Saravanamuttus, the de Sarams etc, The Bulankulames’ occupy a fair share as well. benched with Anura Bulankulame, a third generation Thomian cricketer who played for S.Thomas’  from 1986 to 1988, captaining the team in his final year.

Anura-BulankulameOn the topic of the Bulankulames, the inheritance of the family begins with P.B Bulankulame, the grandfather of Anura who played for S Thomas’ (1917-1920) captaining in 1919-1920.  His elder brother, L.B Bulankulame played for Royal College(1908-1910) and captained Royal in 1910. P.B Bulankulame and L.B Bulankulame go down in history as ‘Brothers who have captained rival schools’, being amongst only a couple to do so. P.B Bulankulame’s son, Patchy, father of Dhammika, Anura and Suresh played for S.Thomas’ in the 50’s. Dhammika (1983-1984) is one of three Thomians to have scored a century and a half century in the same match (Big Match). His younger brother Suresh also played (1988 to 1990) They aren’t just known for their long standing chronology, but P.B, Patchy and Suresh all not only kept wickets, they were opening bats.

With this background it was natural for Anura to be inducted. In school he played through all ages, working his way up to the first XI. However, not being able to make it into the big match squad in 1985, he said was one of his big disappointments. “I always draw inspiration in the way I fought hard and got in to the team. While it was a disappointment for me, I challenged myself to improve my batting and comeback the following year as an all-rounder. I succeeded in opening the innings with Peter Wijeratne in 1986 and getting 47 wickets that year.”

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The year 1988, was a legendary year for S.Thomas’ as the team won most of the fixture matches they played before the Royal-Thomian. “The Trinity game was one of most exciting encounters I have ever played in. The last pair of Trinity College held on for about 30 overs trying to deny us a win, but fell short in the very last ball of the match. We won the game by an innings and 1 run”

Anura-Bulankulame-2Digressing a tad from the tale leading up to the match, Anura explained how the Royal-Thomian helped him to grow as a person.  Captaining in 1988 was something special which I believe changed my overall approach. For this I need to thank the then warden Neville De Alwis who supported and believed in me to deliver results. When a dispute arose between the coach and myself on team selection, I was summoned along with the coach for a crucial meeting to decide my fate as captain. Historically big matches were drawn games. The warden had a few questions.  “During my term I have already lost a big match in 1983. I don’t want selection disagreements between you two giving me another disaster. Who could deliver me a win” threw across Warden. The coach wanted me removed if I didn’t comply to his thinking. I was keeping to position that I was not happy with the selections and will opt out of the captaincy if don’t have a team I am confident of. Thus the question “who can deliver me a win?”. I put my hand up and said I will get it done provided I get full control of selecting the side going forward from the Ananda match. To my surprise the warden agreed, giving me full control. This responsibility and confidence placed in me changed me a lot. The team went on to beat St. Josephs, Trinity, St. Peters and Royal one after the other.

Back to the match, preparation was no easy task, Anura went on to explain why 1988 was different. “We were silently confident before the Big Match. We had progressed from being spoken of as a ‘good side’ to becoming the strongest side ever produced by STC. I believe as of today no team has achieved this feat of beating all the other top end teams. The 1988 team was the best team in the island and received numerous awards”

Further, “We had 6 coloursmen in 1988 but unlike other years, we had a set of freshers who were as equally good and who were performing at their peak. P.L.Y.Mendis, Rajindha de Mel, Aruna Gunawardena, Ashok Senadeera and my brother Suresh were a strong unit and supported me and the seniors consistently. My seniors comprised of Nisal Fernando, Vajira Wijegunawardena, Naresh Adikaram, Lashan Egalahewa and Denver Lewis”

Walking into the grounds after enjoying the comforts at the ‘Thalassa’ (Sub-Wardens residence overlooking the Big Club Grounds)where teams traditionally hole-up two weeks prior, Anura described as “a whole new experience” freshers with butterflies in their stomachs and seniors  pumping themselves up.

Anura-Bulankulame-1Anura won the toss and elected to bat first. The Thomians notched 254 for 7. Naresh Adikaram, Aruna Gunawardena and Nisal Fernando scored half centuries before bundling out the Royalist for just 95 runs. The follow-on was enforced with Royal trailing by 159 runs. By stumps on day 2, the Reid avenue camp saw the writing on the wall at 81 for 7, having to score 104 to avoid defeat by an innings.

Rain was the highlight of that night- it had been raining since late evening, and that naturally disturbed skipper Anura. “After dinner I was so restless that I met S.K Jayasingha, my previous year’s captain in the College boarding. S.K and I had a general chat till late that night. It was great as it relieved a lot of pressure off my mind.”

The bus-ride to the Oval would’ve probably been the most intense journey as it was just one phrase that was going through everyone’s mind- will rain save Royal? “We walked in to the grounds the next day expecting the worst, but to our surprise the ground was perfect despite the rain. We knew then: it was only a matter of time”

All eyes were on Lashan Egalahewa as he was just 3 short of getting 50 wickets for the season. He finished with 5 for 24  and Royal was bowled out for 87 in the first session (within the first hour) on day 3.  S.Thomas’ had won the 109th edition comprehensively. The 24-year long hoodoo had been broken and the D.S Senanayake Trophy was carried back to Mount Lavinia. The win went down as the ‘Most Decisive Victory’ (biggest victory margin) for S.Thomas’, a record which still stands strong. “We were over the moon. No team could do it for 24 years and we were the ones to achieve it. The whole school, and old boys alike were overjoyed and celebrations went on till morning the next day.”

Anura-Bulankulame-3Still tickled by it, he quipped “It was said that the Royalists learnt the Thomian College song over the three days because the Thomians were singing the College song every time a Royal wicket fell”

Well, hard work had definitely paid off for Anura Bulankulame and his team. “We were carried around the grounds and you could see what it meant to each player in their eyes. It was great to captain this winning side but seeing the happiness of the team, coaching staff, parents, the college students, and old boys and of course, to cap it off, giving Warden to whom I had kept my promise, the win he was seeking after the long drought was indescribable”

Speaking about the record set at the Big Match, Anura most humbly supplemented “It feels great to know that the record still stands strong; but, records are meant to be broken. Let’s hope our boys can come up with a performance that can break this record”.

Parting with, Anura Bulankulame left with the following words for any youngster playing his first Royal-Thomian. “There will be many people coming to give you advice, and some old boys and past cricketers popping up at the dressing room telling what you should do. This can confuse you sometimes. It is best to stay calm and focus on your skills, the role you play in the team, and go with the captain’s and coach’s advice”

Well, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, the era of Anura Bulankulame and his team is in the past, but the legacy will forever last. Long live the Battle of the Blues!