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132nd Battle of the Blues:

Both teams expect Batsmen to shine

There have not been any favourites or underdogs in the recent Royal-Thomian big match history and even the most accurate cricket expert would hesitate to make a prediction on the second oldest and uninterrupted inter-school cricket series in the world.

Ramith Rambukwella Chamod Pathirana

That’s because the form book plays little or no part when it comes to Royal-Thomian, especially during the last decade. Nevertheless, I should be impartial and say that S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia should have a slight edge over Royal College, Colombo 7 in their 132nd Battle of the Blues three-day cricket encounter which starts at the picturesque SSC ground today.

Both Royal and S. Thomas’ have played 18 matches each this season. But the latter has managed to remain unbeaten with two wins - Revatha Maha Vidyalaya, Balapitiya and Dharmapala Vidyalaya, Pannipitiya and 16 drawn. In contrast, the Reid Avenue Boys have won three of their 18 outings this season - against De Mazenod, Moratu Vidyalaya and St. Aloysius. But Royal had gone down to St. Sebastians, Moratuwa. Apart from that negative note, Royal has more or less the same track record as their opponents.

The Thomians have a slight edge when it comes to experience as nine lads from Mount Lavinia School team are coloursmen. Royal have seven coloursmen in their team and this will be a Battle of the Blues encounter which would bring a total of 16 coloursmen in action, a rare feat in a big match.

Royal’s average performance has largely been due to the fact that they missed two of their most seasoned campaigners - captain Ramith Rambukwella and former captain Bhanuka Rajapaksa for most part of the season as the duo were on national duty with Sri Lanka Under-19 team. The timely return of the top duo will greatly strengthen Royal’s batting.

They are the batsmen who are capable of changing the rhythm of a game and would certainly pose additional problems to Thomian bowlers.

On the other hand, Royal does not entirely depend on Rambukwella and Rajapaksa to keep the scoreboard moving. Apart from the two most experienced players in the team, the Reid Avenue boys have four other batsmen who could pose additional problems to Thomian bowlers - Heshan Kumarasiri (with an aggregate of 938 runs with three centuries and five fifties), Imal Liyanage (879 runs with ten half centuries), Varuna Dissanayake (864 runs with five fifties) and Milan Abeysekera (726 runs with four fifties). These four have shared over 3,500 runs among them this season and it would be a tall order for the Thomian bowlers. The Thomian batting has maintained its consistency, despite a couple of ups and downs. Though they could not boast of a similar high capacity batting department such as Royal, the Thomians are capable of meeting the challenge and putting a decent total on the board.

Undoubtedly, the early instructions from Royal skipper to his bowlers would be to get Nuwan Kavinda early. He is the most dangerous contender in the Thomian batting line up and he will be looking forward to complete his magical 1,000-run milestone during the big match. He is only 70 runs short of that dream milestone.

S. Thomas’ captain Chamod Pathirana, his deputy Sachin Peiris and fresher Asiri Wickremanayake too have shown great form with their willow and if the trio gets into their brilliant best, Royal will have a testing time.

Former Royal captain turned coach Gamini Perera is well aware that his boys have not displayed their true potential this season. But he hopes that Royal would reach the top gear when it matters the most. Perera is acutely aware that his boys will be a different kettle of fish when it comes to the pinnacle of their season.

Former Antonian opener and Sri Lanka ‘A’ player Sajith Fernando feels that his boys are looking forward for a good competition, “after a great season”. He knows that the Thomians are no more the underdogs and would live upto expectations.

But there only three main factors that could greatly change the pattern of the game, the toss and the form of Rambukwella and Rajapaksa. If Rambukwella (or even Rajapaksa for that matter) gets set for a merciless attack like last year, Royal will be top of the pops. Winning the toss this morning would be a huge bonus and the captain who calls correct would not hesitate to take the first leave of that perfect batting strip.

This is the 18th consecutive year that the Mecca of Sri Lanka cricket - the SSC ground will be hosting the Royal-Thomian cricket encounter. Since switching back to the SSC in 1994, all matches of the series have been played at Maitland Place. However, the Royal-Thomian was first played at the SSC grounds way back in 1975. Overall, the SSC has hosted 25 Royal-Thomian encounters, including the centenary encounter in 1979 - the year since the Battle of the Blues turned out to be a three-day affair.

Except for the 1985 game, all matches since 1979 have been three-day games.

Incidentally, the current ICC Chief Match Referee Ranjan Madugalle had the honour of leading Royal in that centenary encounter which was a drawn affair.

The Thomians are fortunate to take a one-match lead in the series tally through a majority of the past 131 meetings were drawn. S. Thomas` takes a narrow lead with 34 wins to Royal`s 33 with the rest drawn.

 

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