137th Battle of the Blues: No smoking please – this game is bound to get too hot
The tally reads as 34 wins each for Royal College and S. Thomas’ College and with well balanced outfits one side will hope to go up as the curtain unveils of the 137th Battle of the Blues cricket encounter at the SSC ground in Colombo.
The second oldest cricket encounter played in the world will unleash on Thursday (March 10) and will run up till Saturday (12) with expectations of a verdict, making one clan happy and the other disappointed.
Yet, merry will be the word to explain the proceedings of the three days with the players battling their hearts out in the middle while supporters of both sides, belonging to different ages, from young to old, enjoy the true spirit of cricket.
A draw is on the card but both teams would play to their true potential to take home the D.S. Senanayake Memorial Shield, which sits among the trophy collection at Reid Avenue.
The game last ended in a result in 2013 when Devin Pathmanathan led Royal to a convincing 7-wicket win against a depleted Thomian side led by Javed Bongso. Since then for the past two years the game has ended in tame draws. S. Thomas’ last won in 2007 under Ashan Peiris and will be eager to regain the title after eight years.
With such a milieu in the picture, the game could lead to an interesting battle, lasting for the whole of three days. By records both teams look well poised to take the upper hand but the Thomians have a definite edge on the number of wins.
They have won seven games in 21 outings whilst Royal have had won four from the same number of games. The only loss of the season, against Trinity College in their final match prior to the big game, could create some shackles but that wouldn’t be a major matter in the coming week.
This year’s Battle of the Blues also brings some significant facts from both sides. Royal, collectively, has 10 centuries among five of their top batsmen and a bowler who has claimed over 100 wickets – left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya.
Two of their top batsmen, skipper Geeshath Panditharatne and his deputy Thiran Dhanapala, have scored over 1000 runs each. This, two 1000 runs and a 100-wicket tally, is termed as a record in school cricket. In addition to this, fielding seven coloursmen will be a great boost for the team from Reid Avenue.
S. Thomas’ too have reasons to be proud of with their tally of seven wins which is a record in number of wins for the Mt. Lavinia school. Reaching the semi-final stage of the ongoing Inter-School Under-19 Tournament is another rare achievement for them.
Head-to-head the three-day encounter will be a battle among top individual performers of both sides. Royal will rely much on their top order. Among run-getters are skipper Panditharatne who has 1039 runs under his belt with three centuries and three fifties in 21 matches.
His best knocks are against the Moratuwa Big Match rivals St. Sebastian’s and Prince of Wales’, where he scored 150 not out each against both sides. Next in line is deputy skipper Dhanapala, who has a tally of 1107 runs in 21 games with four centuries and four half centuries with the best of 143 coming against Maris Stella College Negombo.
Among others who are in good shape are opener Naveen Widanapathirana (853 runs in 20 games with a ton against Richmond and six fifties), Roanuka Jayawardane (698 runs in 20 game with three half centuries) and Pasindu Sooriyabandara (648 runs in 16 games with two tons and two fifties).
National Under-19 discard, left-arm spinner Embuldeniya, is their main bowling weapon. He has a tally of 118 wickets in 21 games with nine 5-wicket hauls under his belt. His best reads as 8 for 15 against Richmond College in a drawn game.
Embuldeniya has the ability to cause early trouble for the Thomians with the help of other bowlers such as Charuka Hatharasinghe, Duvindu Hettiarachchi, Himesh Ramanayake, Helitha Vithanage, Shan Tennakoon and Ganith Sandeepa.
S. Thomas’ on the other hand lack such lucrative players but as a team they could be a bunch of predators. Among the top of the batting list is Rashmika Opatha, who has a tally of 832 runs in 21 matches with two hundreds and five fifties and a best knock of 124. Second to Opatha is opener Yohan Mendis, who has collected 770 runs in 21 games with a century (119n.o.) and four fifties, followed by skipper Sachitha Jayathillake (758 runs in 20 games with seven fifties), Ravindu Kodituwakku (704 runs in 21 games with a century and four fifties) and Dilendra Gunathilleke (691 runs in 21 games with a century and five fifties) who are great contributors.
Skipper and left-arm spinner Jayathillake lead the Thomian bowling attack, which consists of four pacemen and one each of left-arm spin, off-spin and right-arm leg-spin. Sachitha has claimed 79 wickets in 20 games with four 5-wicket hauls. His best is 6 for 17 against Joseph Vaz College.
Next to him is left-arm chinaman Ravindu Thilakaratne, who has captured 59 wickets in 21 games with the best of 4 for 9 coming against St. Sylvester’s College. Young Dellon Peiris (41), Senal de Silva (39), Dineth Kannangara (31) and Yohan Perera (21) are other bowlers to watch. The Thomains have six coloursmen in their camp.
Despite of all these individual glories, it will be a totally different ball-game when it comes to a Royal-Thomian, second only to England’s Eton vs Harrow encounter, the only traditional school cricket game played at Lord’s. Many famous faces have played in this encounter including Old Thomians D.S. Senanayake and his son, Dudley Senanayake who became Prime Ministers of Ceylon later, while Royal produced Sir John Kotelawala, a former Prime Minister and the first Executive President of Sri Lanka, J. R. Jayewardene.
The encounter attracts a large number of past students from both schools during this time of the year, some even joining the crowd all the way from overseas.
With two evenly poised teams in fray for a win, the 137th Battle of the Blues could turn out to be one of the toughest and keenly contested games played in the recent times in the series.
Even if a win does not come by, an exciting draw will definitely delight thousands of the game’s followers who walk out of the SSC gates with wonderful memories after three days of gentlemanly cricket played among two sets of schoolboys.
Royal College Squad: Geeshath Panditharatne (Capt), Thiran Dhanapala (Vice Captain), Lasith Embuldeniya, Naveen Widanapathirana, Himesh Ramanayake, Helitha Vithanage, Shan Tennakoon, Roanuka Jayawardane, Ganith Sandeepa, Duvindu Hettiarachchi, Pasindu Sooriyabandara, Kavindu Madarasinghe, Charuka Hatharasinghe, Gayan Dissanayake, Abishek Perera, Malith Kariyawasam.
(Head Coach), Shantha Wijesundara (MIC)
S. Thomas’ College squad: Sachitha Jayathillake (Captain), Yohan Mendis (Vice Captain), Ravindu Kodituwakku, Rashmika Opatha, Dilendra Gunathilake, Romesh Nallaperuma, Ravindu Thilakaratne, Senal de Silva, Dellon Peiris, Yohan Perera, Hansaka Liyanarachchi, Kanishka Perera, Ishen Perera, Sithara Hapuhinna, Dineth Kannangara, Dulith Gunarathne.
(Head Coach), G. Nesaseelan (MIC)
- The two teams will have some records to break with Royal’s Sumithra Warnakulasuriya being the highest individual scorer with 197 which he made in 1980. Duleep Mendis holds the record for S. Thomas. He scored 184 in 1972.
- The partnership of 254 runs for the third wicket between Royalists Anushka Polonowita and Yasas Dharmaratne made in 1996 stands as the best for any wicket in the series.
- Royal holds the record of the best score of the series which is 432 for 9 declared achieved in 2006 eclipsing the best of 388 for 9 held by S. Thomas’.
|Royal College head coach Suranga Wijenayake |
“We have had a good season with four wins and dominated draws until the last game against Trinity which we lost. Both sides look good this year and the team to play clean and minimal of mistakes will hold the upper hand.
Royal as always, will be that side to play with minimal mistakes and take control of the game. We cannot underrate the Thomians, they have had a very good season and they are a positive side. We respect our opponents but this is an encounter where both sides will look to dish out their best. We will keep our heads down and play cool to gradually grab the grip of the game with intentions of a win. The boys are keen to do that”.
Probable XI: Naveen Widanapathirana, Roanuka Jayawardane, Pasindu Sooriyabandara, Geeshath Panditharatne (Capt), Thiran Dhanapala (wk), Malith Kariyawasam, Helitha Vithanage, Ganith Sandeepa,
S. Thomas’ College head coach Dinesh Kumarasinghe
During the school season we have dominated most of the games we played and the reason behind it is the unity of our players. Unlike our opponents, we don’t rely on one or two individual performers. S. Thomas’ has a team of 11 who plays alike, if one fails the other will rise up to the situation.
This is a good lead for the Big Match. We know that Royal is never a side to be underestimated when it comes to a game of this nature. They have done well during the season and they can be unpredictable. We are fully focused on a win and we will get there”.
Probable XI: Yohan Mendis, Ravindu Kodituwakku, Rashmika Opatha, Dilendra Gunathilake (wk)/Sithara Haouhinna, Sachitha Jayathilake (Capt), Ravindu Thilakaratne, Romesh Allaperuma, Hansaka Liyanarachchi, Senal de Silva, Dellon Peiris, Yohan Perera/Kanishka