There are many painful memories from last year’s big match loss that still haunt the Thomians. Flashbacks of abortive batting, blunt bowling and other on-field mishaps will linger and burn at the back of every Thomian’s mind like untreatable old wounds. But perhaps what will sting most viciously is a single, vivid mental snapshot: Royal’s [...]


The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

A veritable war of skill and attrition

135th Battle of the Blues

There are many painful memories from last year’s big match loss that still haunt the Thomians. Flashbacks of abortive batting, blunt bowling and other on-field mishaps will linger and burn at the back of every Thomian’s mind like untreatable old wounds. But perhaps what will sting most viciously is a single, vivid mental snapshot: Royal’s then-skipper, Devind Pathmanathan, holding aloft the D.S Senanayake Memorial Shield, yelling with the same euphoria which bathed every other Royalist at the stadium.

At the 135th Battle of the Blues, which gets under way from March 13-15, the time for redemption is finally at hand for the boys from Mount Lavinia. Boosting their confidence of restoring dented pride and reclaiming lost silverware will be the clear understanding of this is vastly improved unit from the one which suffered defeat on the lush turf of the SSC.

Royal team: Seated L to R: M.T.A. Rauf (Assistant Principal), Harith Samarasinghe, Devind Pathmanathan, Chamika Karunaratne, Upali Gunasekara (Principal), Sarath Keerthisena (Senior Deputy Principal), Anupa Tillakaratne, Hashen Ramanayake, E.G.M.Rajakaruna (MIC), Dilip Somaratne (Director of Coaching) Standing L to R: Umesh Sooriyabandara, Duvindu Induranga, Geeshath Panditharatne, Hasitha Samarasinghe, Malith Kariyawasam, Himesh Ramanayake, Randev Pathirana, Thiran Dhanapala, Shashika Yasawardane, Naveen Withanapathirana

At their helm stands a mature and potent force in Captain Madushan Ravichandrakumar, a battle-hardened fourth-year who will undoubtedly look to be lead orchestrator in his side’s symphony of vengeance with his fluent batting and leg spin.

Ravichandrakumar leads his team with 604 runs after 15 matches of the 2013/2014 school season and has featured impressively in the bowling lineup, finishing with 5-wicket hauls against Thurstan College, St. Anthony’s College, Kandy and Trinity College.

Looking at the broader picture, Skipper Ravichandrakumar’s performances have fairly accurately mirrored his team’s on-field identity because as a unit, S. Thomas’ College have exhibited equal strength in both their batting and bowling.

Another key organ in the Thomian warhorse is third-year all-rounder and Under 19 national player Thilaksha Sumanasiri. Sumanasiri is the team’s second highest scorer and a reliable bowling option. S. Thomas’ also have the luxury of a vast reserve of skill and grit, with freshmen such as the team’s leading wicket-taker, Tharindu Rathnayake, who has claimed 63 scalps so far this season.The Thomians also possess dynamite in their batting belt, with a cache of talented players capable of turning on the pyrotechnics. Lahiru Opatha is a name that immediately jumps out from this list, having notched up 416 runs and a high score of 101 as well as opener Nipuna Gamage, Helakamal Nanayakkara and Sachitha Jayathilake.

They will need many, if not all, the guns in this batting arsenal to fire if they hope to march off victors at this Roy-Tho. This is chiefly because facing them is a bowling wrecking crew from Royal College spearheaded by last year’s Big Match hero and this year’s Captain, Chamika Karunaratne.

Karunaratne offered a brief glimpse of hell to all of Thomian batsmen during last year’s Big Match, ripping the heart out of their resistance with a sublime match bag of 9 for 87, which garnered him man-of-the-match honours. Although he has not been at his lethal best so far this season, Karunaratne is the quintessential Big Match player and, together with Devind Pathmanathan, Randev Pathirana

S.Thomas' team: Standing L to R: Yohan Mendis, Yashod Induruwa, Rashmika Opatha, Tharindu Rathnayaka, Sachitha Jayathilaka, Akthab Cader, Chenutha Wickremasinghe, Sajana de Silva, Dulanja De Silva, Navodh Fernando Seated L to R: Nipuna Gamage, Ravindu Thilekaratne, Helakamal Nanayakkara, Thilaksha Sumanasiri, Madushan Ravichandrakumar, Sanesh de Mel, Danush Fernando, Sahan Wijesinghe

and Anupa Tillekeratne, could be one of the four horsemen of a Thomian apocalypse.

“It’s an honour to captain the team and with five coloursmen and six freshers. I am confident we can perform as well as last year,” Karunaratne said.

Among the vital players adding credence to this argument is former skipper Pathmanathan, who is having an inspirational run of form with the ball. The fifth-year left-arm leg spinner has been badgering opposing batting orders with ruthless consistency. He put on a bowling clinic against a formidable Trinity College side, which he cleaved with second innings bowling figures of 5 for 27, and was an unreachable thorn in the sides of Isipathana, Dharmaraja College, Wesley College, St. Anthony’s College Kandy and St. Sebastian’s College.

His considerable experience has also manifested itself through an increased maturity in his batting, impeccably highlighted in a knock of 56 against St. Peter’s College.

Team Vice Captain, third-year coloursman Tillekeratne, with his right-arm medium pace and stout batting, adds to this dimension of experience, composure and leadership.

Like Pathmanathan, Tillekeratne has been a calming presence down the batting order while bamboozling a string of opposition batting lineups with his bowling. In tandem with the other bowlers from Royal College, he can be crucial in authoring a successful narrative for his team at this year’s traditional tussle.

Furthermore, Royal will also rely significantly on the heavy all-round artillery of Randev Pathirana. Pathirana is having a stellar year for Royal with both bat and ball. This season the freshman has built a towering batting tally of seven half centuries and a single century while being equally prolific with the ball, particularly against St. John’s College Jaffna (5 for 1), Trinity College (8 for 78) and St. Joseph’s College (8 for 67).

Some of the other notable denizens of Royal’s batting vanguard are second-year coloursman Hashen Ramanayake and freshmen Thiran Dhanapala and Shaminda Dias.

Thomian Captain Ravichandrakumar will not trouble himself with any of these names and numbers though. He only has one thing on his mind: revenge.

“Royal was just better on the day last year. But that loss is real big motivation for us to win this year and grab the shield,” he explained.
His coach, Dinesh Kumarasinghe, echoed his sentiments, saying avenging last year’s defeat was the principal item on the agenda. He added that the side was suitably prepared to pursue this motive after a successful lead-up to the encounter.

Royal College’s Director of Coaching, Dilip Somaratne was equally emphatic about his side’s chances of defending the trophy. “The shield is with us and we want to keep it by winning it. We don’t believe in draws. I can assure you there will be a result.”

On paper and in practice, this year’s Battle of the Blues promises to deliver more than just the romanticism and nostalgia associated with the 135-year old encounter. With reputation on the line for both sides, the SSC is set to become the battleground of a veritable war of skill and attrition.

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