Only hours before the Sri Lankan team were about to open their World Cup account in Abu Dhabi last Monday (18), the entire Sri Lankan cricketing fraternity was shaken by the sudden passing away of – Bandula Warnapura – the island’s first Test captain. Though Lankans won the game comprehensively, it was marred by a [...]


Bandula Warnapura: A man of many feathers in his ‘cricketing’ cap


Bandula Warnapura was an inspiration for many national cricketers - File pic

Only hours before the Sri Lankan team were about to open their World Cup account in Abu Dhabi last Monday (18), the entire Sri Lankan cricketing fraternity was shaken by the sudden passing away of – Bandula Warnapura – the island’s first Test captain.

Though Lankans won the game comprehensively, it was marred by a death of a stalwart of SLC. A deep shock and sadness, the cricketing community is still coming to terms with. A moment-of-silence was also observed by the team, in respect of the old Nalandian, also an administrator, only a tip-of-the-iceberg of his services. The same tragic day, both the U-19 and the national teams, wore black armbands in added respect and sharing the sorrow.

The right-handed batsman from Rambukkana, was not only a captain. But a man of multifaceted roles, extending beyond captaincy and contributing to the cause of cricket.

Along with many of his roles he serves to the game, he was also a critic. Showing no hesitation in calling a spade a spade. Prior to the current executive committee taking over, he, along with his entourage et al, in a failed attempt to return to administration, lashed out at the board as the cause for the team “languishing” at the bottom of the rankings.

Before his innings of life concluded once-and-for-all at 68, he spent his last few weeks in the death-bed, including that of undergoing an amputation of his right leg due to diabetic complications.

Though his career lasted only for seven years, during which, he entered the history books as the first test player to lead the side, his continuation of contribution never had a stopping.

Warnapura had risen to the pinnacle of positions in cricketing administration, serving the ICC as a development manager for the Asian region

For Malinda Warnapura, unlike his senior cricketers, it was a personal connection. A nephew through his father, Malinda enjoyed the right royal treatment because of the name and fame of his uncle. At his school, St. Peters College, Bambalapitiya he was introduced as Bandula’s brother’s son, instead.

“That was the first impact we heard during our schooling days. I think that was the impact, and wherever I went, everyone knew me by his name only.”

Bandula was also a principled person and a paternal, prioritising on ethics.

“Personally, he is a person who will never help you out with cricket, especially with SLC and will tell you to do your best, find your way and there is no need to talk to anyone and I’m sure even for his sons it’s the same thing. Hence, that was the nature he was,” revealed Malinda.

Bandula as an advisor for all and sundry had given the same for the second generation cricketer in his nephew. Malinda still remembers when he got out for a zero in his debut Test match. Bandula had reminded, “Malinda, nothing much, you have only got to watch the ball. Simple things we can’t forget. You have done well so far, playing ‘A’ cricket. You don’t have to do much, only get a good score in the next match. Little things and will tell you about the fitness and to maintain them. Don’t let others point fingers on you. Always make sure you’re there 100%,” Malinda, now a batting coach at the High-Performance Centre, explained.

Malinda had sensed his uncle was out-of-sorts and off-color on 30 September, the last day Malinda had seen at the former’s father’s birthday.

“The moment I saw him, I knew there was something wrong, because I have never seen him that way. His fitness, the way he walks and talks were all much different.”

The school cricket captain of 1971, throughout his life and last lap, had been service-oriented. So much so, he had been building a ground in Batticaloa for a year-and-a-half.

“His only and last wish was to finish the ground and hand it over to the relevant party,” Malinda said.

Among those who closely associated with Bandula, is Sidath Wettimuny, his opening pair, who traversed to the days where young Wettimuny was a johnny-come-lately.

“He was very good and very supportive, especially when I was the baby of the team touring India, in the Gopalan Trophy on the first occasion and then when we toured Bangladesh, in 1978. I found him greatly supportive because he looked after the younger players very well. Hence, in that sense, he was very good. He was an outspoken man.”

Bandula’s speaking style had been fearless and forthright.

“He spoke his mind. Didn’t want to hold back anything when he wanted to say something, he was pretty blunt. Straight talking guy. Was very easy to get on with him, because you know where you stood with him,” Wettimuny rated him as a skipper.

Though he was verbally not attacked immediately, the first such non-verbal attack Wettimuny said was as an injury. The country’s and his first skipper had sustained a nasty hit on the head, off Sylvester Clarke, a West Indian, in 1980s,

“He struggled after that a bit. But till that time in the 1980s I think, he was an exceptional player. He, in fact, if I can remember right, Tony Greig rated him next to Sunil Gavaskar. The best players he saw between the two countries and one of them was Bandula. He was a fine player. But, unfortunately, when Clarke hit him on his head, and I think he was unconscious for about six hours, somebody else would’ve never played. But he came back and played after six months. Thereafter, he struggled for some reason or the other. But, yes, he was a good man to play besides,” he said of his captain. “He was a real fun loving guy. Off the field, he always enjoyed the fun-and-frolics. Very easy-going and always wanted to crack jokes and play the fool. But when he got on the field, he was hard as nails.”

Wettimuny’s most telling comment was yet to come when he finished, “Yes, he’ll be missed,” adding that, “he is certainly somebody, who could’ve contributed even more to SLC ‘’.

Bandula’s and the nation’s first-ever wicketkeeper since the start itself, had been in neighbouring cities, before eventually joining the same squad.

“We played together in the same era. Only a year apart age wise. Thereafter, when I played for University of Peradeniya, he represented Bloomfield, he had started playing for Sri Lanka before me,” Mahesh Gunathilake, the gloveman at that one-off Test against the Brits, recounted.

“As a captain, he fought for the rights of the players. Had there any problem, he would come forward and fight for them. Some people don’t do that. They will simply say “yes, sir” and keep quiet. Because of that, he got into trouble several times. Even during the South African tour (the rebel tour to South Africa during their sporting isolation) though, people say Bandula organised it, he was only one of the main players. But people thought Bandu was the culprit,” he defended his departed captain.

“Compared to his experience, I was a newcomer to the side. In 1976, he had already started playing for SL and I was the only player from outstation. The encouragement I got from him, Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias, was big.”

Speaking of a nostalgic memory, in the Pakistan tour preceding the South African, in Lahore, Bandu, as he is fondly called, and Sidath, were supposed to open the batting. But in that instance, the former had an injury and could not proceed to play. Duleep Mendis was the stand-in captain and approached Gunathilake if he could fill in for him.

“Though I was an opener until the national side, I still was not prepared. But we ended up building a partnership of 160-odd runs. That is one of those nostalgic memories. He was always that go-to captain”.

Bandula meant everything for the top-scorer in the second-innings of that inaugural Test, Roy Dias. Dias praised him profusely, “he meant everything to me.”

“He was a great captain, human being, motivator and gels all the players en masse. Extra helpful person and he was there all the time. He specially befriended the new kids on the block, along with me and Duleep. I remember our friendship growing and going a long way since the day we played our first school match together for our respective schools,” he hailed his captain.

When the two were in Malaysia, with Bandula as an Asian Cricket Council Development Manager, Dias, too, lived there for three years. Giving cricket a rest, it was then when his captain’s culinary magic treated him when they met weekly.

“For me, I was batting with Bandu and he was talking and encouraging virtually every ball. I used to come at no.3 and we used to get together most of the time in the middle,” he said returning to the game.

“We used to have powwows at my place. When we did that, we played a game of cards and it was a sing-song. He was a really nice person and always had a smile. That was Bandu and me,” Dias added.

Ashantha de Mel, coincidentally, was that team’s solitary seamer. Hence, the captain also took up bowling to support his speedster. “At that time, he was one of the best batsmen the country had produced. They were like household names. We got along very well with him. In fact, I met him in Pakistan, when we played against them in 2019. He was invited as the first test captain. He was a very good player and an equally good captain,” de Mel paid tribute.

“What I remember with Bandu is, when the Australians were going through Sri Lanka in 1981 to England, they stopped and played a match at the Sinhalese Sports Club. Bandula and Sidath batted and we won the match without losing a wicket. We scored 200 for no loss. This was exactly before we got our Test status and Bandu got a hundred in that One Day game.”

The one-time selector asserted respect between them was a two-way traffic.

“We respected each other. That’s the main thing.”

Ashley de Silva, having worked in close quarters to Warnapura, had rubbed shoulders mostly for work and a bit of play.

“I’ve worked with him when carrying out assignments and I took over. I played only once for Ceylon Tobacco Company for the mercantile tournament. But as a captain, he has been one of the best SLC has produced. Very Knowledgeable as an administrator and added a lot of value into the system,” the CEO of SLC, having shared an association for over 25-years, concluded.

Bandula has left an indelible mark and his work will be elusive to emulate.


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