SOLID THOMIAN DOMINANCE TO DISRUPT THE RESILIENT REID AVENUE BOYS IN RETAINING D.S. SENANYAKE MEMORIAL SHIELD
By Chamal Weerakkody
The Sinhalese Sports Club ground will resound to the chants and cheers over three long days, from March 10, as Royal and S. Thomas’ engage in the 137th Battle of the Blues, thus writing another memorable chapter of the second longest cricketing rivalry in the world.
This will be followed by the Mustang Trophy 50-over match to be played between the two teams under lights at R. Premadasa International Cricket Stadium on March 19. Solid Thomian dominance in the Division 1 championship may elevate them to be the stronger side of the contest as the Royalists had fewer outright wins than their rivals this season. This may open a window of opportunity for the boys from Mount Lavinia to end their eight-year winless stint, since 2007 in the Battle of the Blues. Yet, the Thomians are the defending champions of the Mustang Trophy.
The first official match between the rivals took place in 1880, with J.W. de Silva captaining Royal Academy and F. W. MacDonnel captaining S. Thomas’, resulting in a victory for Royal. The first two matches played in 1878 and 1879 between Royal Academy and S. Thomas’ College, Mutwal, are not considered official matches since the members of the academic staff from both schools played along with the schoolboys. Royal College increased the tally of victories to 34 when they last won the encounter in 2013 to stand on par with their arch rivals.
Both schools produced some of the best cricketers to represent Sri Lanka at the highest level of the game. Former national captain Ranjan Madugalle, Sudath Pasqual, Asantha De Mel, B.R Heyn, Jehan Mubarak, Kithuruwan Vithanage and Kusal Perera are some of the proud products of Royal, while S. Thomas’ produced some fine cricketers such as former national captains Duleep Mendis, Anura Tennakoon, Michael Tissera and F.C. De Saram, Guy de Alwis, Saravanamuttu brothers, Kaushal Silva and Jeevan Mendis.
Thomians determined to end the winless drought
The Thomians showcased their potential this season as they qualified to play in the semi-finals of the Division 1 championship, beating Richmond College and retaining the Ranil Abeynaike Trophy by defeating Trinity College on the first innings in their own back yard. Thomian key player and skipper, third year coloursman, Sachitha Jayathilake, will lead the side carrying on the momentum they maintained throughout this season, to clinch the shield from their arch rivals. Rashmika Opatha, Ravindu Kodithuwakku, Yohan Mendis, Ravindu Thilakaratne and Dinesh Kannangara will pose a threat with bat and ball against the Reid Avenue boys.
Sachitha Jayathilake is a hard-hitting batsman and a leg spin bowler and he is a multitalented sportsman at the school by the sea. He represents his alma mater in cricket (captain), rugger (vice-captain) and water polo (vice-captain). He has been playing cricket at S Thomas’ College since under-13 and has been the captain of all age groups he represented leading up to the First XI.
Sachitha shared his views: “I think we have a quite a young team this year though there are six coloursmen. The other players in the squad are freshers but we’ve done really well as a team and as individual players. We had a pretty good season so far and I’m really happy about it. We are hopeful of bringing back the D. S. Senanayake Trophy to Mt. Lavinia. In terms of combination and variety, I think after a long time we do have very good bowling attack as we have a “Chinaman”, left-arm spinner, off-spinner, a leggie (leg spinner) and a couple of very good fast bowlers.
“It’s good to have a variation and a mix. Looking ahead at the Battle of the Blues, I expect Ruvindu Tillekeratne, who is a left-arm bowler, Delon Peiris just 15 years old, a left-arm spinner, who is also our second highest wicket taker this season, Rashmika Opatha and the vice-captain Yohan Mendis, who has scored more than 700 runs this season, to perform well. Nevertheless, irrespective of the outcome we would like to play really good competitive cricket at the big match and enjoy being out there on the field representing our College. May the best team win!”
S.Thomas’ College warden Rev. Marc Billimoria had this to say: “We have a very strong First XI side this year; they have remained unbeaten so far and if I’m not mistaken won seven matches, including tournament matches. We haven’t picked the final 11 for the Big Match as we need to fine-tune a few areas and also pick the best possible set of players. I’m happy to say that we also have some talented youngsters or freshers in this side who have performed well during this season. This includes two to three under-15 players, and also Delon Peiris the captain of last year’s champion under-15 side. They won the all-island championship after 30 years in 2015. Unfortunately he had a fractured finger so he couldn’t play some matches this year. We hope he’ll recover in time when we select the final side.”
On the captain, Jayathilake, Rev. Billimoria said: He is an excellent captain, a multi-talented sportsman which is quite rare to see now by the standards of S. Thomas’ as students now tend to specialise in a single sport. He is the vice-captain of S. Thomas’ First XV rugby and the under 19 water polo team, has a good academic background, is a school prefect and has exemplary conduct which makes him the perfect example of an all-round Thomian.
“We also have a couple of more senior players in the side. Yohan Mendis, the vice-captain is a steady player and a good support for Sachitha. All in all, it has been a very successful season for S. Thomas’ this year. They have the right attitude and they are peaking at the right time.
‘We want to see the D. S. Senanayake Shield back at Mt. Lavinia. Unfortunately we couldn’t achieve it during past few years. We were on top at the Battle of the Blues last year but the weather intervened and we missed out. On the other hand Royal College is also playing really well and they are a very good side. So it’s going to be a tough Royal-Thomian this year. It’s not going to be a cake walk for either side.
“We hope for a result, because whatever said and done the Battle of the Blues has had more draws than wins. It’s always good to go for a win. One thing about our coach and the S. Thomas’ side is their attitude, and the positive cricket they play. You wouldn’t be surprised if they suddenly declare their innings half way through when people think they are mad to do so. That’s because of the attitude they have to push for a win rather than dragging a match to a tame draw. Saving a match is not in our vocabulary.
“Either you win or lose and not to play safe because it’s not within the spirit of the game. I think what has happened with the Royal-Thomian is that it has become such a huge symbol of excellence that people tend to judge the standards of the school as a whole by how we do at the Royal-Thomian. This is something which needs to be addressed because it’s not fair to think a particular school is not good if they’ve lost the match. Certainly in terms of sports in general the Royal-Thomian encounter tends to be the measurement by which people think sports are good or bad at Royal College or S. Thomas’ College. For an example, we had sides that won national titles but had gone on to lose the Royal-Thomian. Sometimes people do forget the title a team won but make judgments based on the Royal-Thomian. That’s the unfortunate side of this encounter and I think it must be the same with Royal College. This needs to be changed.”
On the preparation for the 137th Battle of the Blues he said: “We look forward to an entertaining and exciting Royal-Thomian and also the Mustang Trophy 50-over game, which will be played under lights this year. This is partly to celebrate the 125th anniversary of RCU and 130th anniversary of S.Thomas’ College OBA. The organising committee is planning to hold both events, especially the 50-over game, in a carnival atmosphere under lights at R. Premadasa. We anticipate to generate a good income too. As you know, the Royal-Thomian brings in good sponsorship revenue, which is being used by both schools to fund their sports programmes. So as much as the fun element being fulfilled, it’s important to raise funds through this in order to sustain our sports activities.”
“For me Royal and St. Thomas’ are part of one family. My father is a Royalist and he sent me to S. Thomas’, likewise there are many Thomians who have sent their sons to Royal. That highlights the fact that we are two sides of one coin. We enjoy a historic friendly rivalry not an enmity. They have a good time out there together irrespective of the result. Their friendships and relationships made on the field last for lifetime.
“When you speak to some of the senior players, old boys you will find some of their best friends now have been their opponents on the field back during their school days. That sense of brotherhood, fellowship or camaraderie is something precious in our schools. I’m sure it’s the same among Josephians and Peterites and among Trinitians and Anthonians. Those relationships built during school days transcend the differences of schools. The present generation needs to realise this.
“If you look back we had few isolated incidents in the past, we found those were mainly due to few individual boys who had failed to understand the ethos of Royal-Thomian though they had gone through Royal College or S. Thomas’ College. They have taken things for granted and we faced those tensions between students. Both schools got together and addressed those situations swiftly, including taking some disciplinary action as we have a better understanding and a relationship. We have taken a lot of positive steps, both in the short term and long term in order to ensure those kinds of unruly behavior do not occur again.
“I always tell the boys, there’s no point in talking about being a Thomian or wearing blue and black and walking around if you are not willing to stand up for ideals and values you have to learn. Those are the things that would stand the test of time, not whether you played rugby, cricket or water polo. We are a school with a history of 165 years though with change of times, we still go by the vision of our founder.
“We encourage boys to take up sports and extracurricular activities rather than limiting themselves to books. This helps them not only to build their physique but also their personal development, interpersonal skills and make them all-round students. My expectation from the boys will be for them to go out in to the world and live up to the expectations of the founder of the school and try and make a difference in the world.”
Reid Avenue boys may upset the dominant rivals
The Thomians should be watchful as the unpredictability of the Royal side took them to the Division 1 championship quarter-finals but they lost to Isipathana College. The incredible duo of the Royal side, Skipper Geeshath Panditharathna and his deputy Thiran Dhanapala lead the batting powers with 1000 runs each under their belts. Geeshath, a hard-hitting opening batsman with a couple of centuries and also a reliable leg spin bowler, will be one of the key players in battling the opponents to retain the shield. Naveen Withanapathirana, Geeshath Panditharatne, Ronuka Jayawardene, Charuka Hatharasinghe, Malith Kariyawasam, Helitha Withanage are the players to watch out for the Thomians as they get closer to the biggest school match of the year.
Geeshath shared his views with regard to their season and preparations for the big match: “I’m happy with how we played the season so far. We managed to record four outright wins and recorded first innings wins against most other teams. We made it to the quarter-finals of the schools tournament but lost to the strong Isipathana College side. We had a poor game on that day and nothing worked. However looking back, the team performed exceptionally well, better than what I expected of them at the beginning of the season.
Thiran and I scored more than 1000 each and our left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya captured more than 100 wickets. Then we have a good set of freshers, where they have gone on to perform well during this season. Young Ronuka Jayawardena, a fresher, has scored more than 600 runs so far and Ganith Sandeeepa another youngster captured more than 40 wickets with his off-spin bowling.
“We as a team jelled together and we have a good variety and we are heading to the Royal-Thomian with lots of confidence. I must say that we get tremendous support from our principal, master-in-charge, coaching staff and the Cricket Advisory leading up to the season and during the season. Then fellow Royalists are behind us and they motivate us. They even have decorated the College. I’d like to thank them all.
“We are really excited and are happy and looking forward to the Battle of the Blues to do our best. However when it comes to the big match, it’s going to be a different game. I expect there’ll be assistance for bowlers at the SSC pitch and once it settles down, it’ll be ideal for batsmen too. However, a lot will depend on me and Thiran when it comes to batting. At the same time I’m expecting our bowling line-up to come good. So, knowing how S. Thomas’ play, you can expect a really good game. May the best team win.”
Royal College Principal B. A. Abeyratne who took over the reins at the Reid Avenue School recently had this to say: “Though I’m new to this role, I have taken time to get to know the side and follow the team as and when I could. In fact, I watched a couple of matches this season. I think Lasith Embuldeniya who is amongst the wickets is one of our key bowlers and then batsmen like our captain Geeshath Panditharatne, vice-captain Thiran Dhanapala, Naveen Withanapathirana, Ronuka Jayawardene , Pasindu Sooriyabandara have done really well and are amongst the runs this season. They play as a team and are very united. I’m proud to say these boys display some outstanding skills; they are confident, talented and they play as true Royal sportsmen. They maintain high standards on and off the field and I’ve seen them making some sporty decisions on the field and take up challenges.
I must say the Cricket Advisory at college, the staff and coaching staff have done a wonderful job in grooming and guiding these boys. Sports is compulsory for every student at Royal College and it has helped the boys improve their skills, their conduct and their personal development. We have seen the progress and we continue to encourage boys from a young age to get engaged in extracurricular activities.
“Talking about the big match, as a school we are doing our best and looking into all arrangements to host this match in a grand scale and at the same time I expect Royalists and old boys to have good time but upholding the principles they’ve learnt at this school. It’s important the younger generation and old boys come and enjoy the Royal-Thomian match in good spirit and conduct themselves in the best discipline.
This big match is a historic one with a long tradition and there’s so much interest in the game. As a traditional event for schoolboys of Royal and S. Thomas’, and as the biggest event in our calendar, it’s a big celebration for old boys and a commercial event for our sponsors. We also maintain a good relationship among two schools. We need to build on it. As you know, old boys from both schools, their families and friends gather from all over the world every year to watch this game. Also many others look up to this encounter. So we need to maintain the standards, best disciplines and preserve the values of this.
“I am aware that the Royal-Thomian joint organising committee and the two schools are taking every step necessary to ensure we host this well. I am looking forward to the support of the organisers, the old boys, staff and parents to ensure we will have a really successful big match without leaving any room for any incidents. I’d like to leave with this sentiment for both teams. ‘Success is never permanent, failure is never final. So do not ever stop your efforts until your victory makes history’.”