This weekend we will be seeing the blue ribbon Cricket encounter, the mother of all Big Matches returning to SSC with spectators on 16th Thursday onwards (continued till 18th Saturday), played for Rt. Hon. D.S.Senanayake Memorial Shield, the 144th Battle of the Blues.
This is Sri Lanka’s only uninterrupted and longest-running Cricket encounter, and globally second only to the annual encounter played between St. Peter’s College and Prince Alfred College of Adelaide, Australia, that began just a year earlier. Australia vs England Ashes Series commenced two years later in 1882.
Since playing the 141st edition at S.S.C on the 12th, 13th, and 14th of March 2020, which was well attended and then well remembered not for the status of play but the status country went into as Sri Lanka was forced to go into a lockdown during the same weekend with Covid -19 entering, this is the first time Battle of the Blues will be played with much-adored fans in presence as 142nd and 143rd were played behind closed doors. In all three years, the battle ended in draws. The 142nd after several postponements due to the pandemic was finally played on 28th,29th and 30th of October 2021 behind closed doors at Sinhalese Sports Club, first time in history match was played in October and it was marred by rain as play got underway only on the 2nd Day afternoon. Royal skippered by the former Sri Lanka Under-19 player Ahan Wickramasinghe, managed to bowl out Thomians led by Shalin de Mel to 89, using the conditions to their advantage. Royalists however had to wait until midday on 3rd Day to commence their inning again due to the wet outfield managed to score 112 runs and made a sporty declaration but the Thomians who came out to bat for their 2nd inning could not bat the entire final session as play called off early due to bad light. The 143rd Battle too was pushed back, this time to July due to Advanced Level examinations being scheduled during Feb-March period, to the second half of the year for the second consecutive year. That time too spectators were not allowed, not for the pandemic but due to the economic crisis the country was going through. S. Thomas’ College led by Ryan Fernando and Royal College led by Gishan Balasooriya settled for a draw as none could take a firm grip on the game. Thomians scored 242 runs for the 1st Innings and Royalists replied with 219 runs for the loss of 08 wickets and declared the innings to force a result. Thomians however batted the rest of the 3rd day, for their 2nd Innings and scored 142 for 6 in 64 overs by the time umpires called stumps.
The last result came in 2018, when S. Thomas’ College took back the Rt. Hon. D.S.Senanayake Shield to Mt. Lavinia under Sithara Hapuhinna, and match organizers and both schools will eagerly look for a result in 2023.
Royalists, captained by Dasis Manchanayake, suffered a historic defeat this season against Trinity College, losing at home on their 130th encounter and another defeat against the same opponent in their last match ahead of the big match (a tournament fixture). Royalists, having last won in 2016 under Geeshath Panditharathna, would want to use their experience to greater effect to bring the Shield home. They have seven coloursmen in the squad. In this season, under the coaching of Rohan Soysa (Head Coach), Royalists recorded three outright wins, one big loss or let’s say lost twice, off the 15 games played.
Royal has Sineth Jayawardena, who is representing Sri Lanka Under 19 side, currently on tour to UAE. Dasis an all-rounder who crossed the 1000 run mark this year with two centuries inclusive of a double hundred, also the second highest wicket-taker, with 28 scalps is the only player from either side to have played in front of crowds. When it comes to batting, Rehan Pieris (842), Uvindu Weerasekara (600) and Sanvidu Senaratharachchi (470) are the other leading run-makers for Royal while their highest wicket taker is Nethwin Dharmaratne has got 32 victims.
S. Thomas’ College coached by another renowned Thomian Cricketer cum Coach, Dinesh Kumarasinghe, come into this year’s battle as favourites, with an unbeaten team winning four games out of 15 played so far.
They have nine coloursmen for the match, and most likely they will play along with two freshers. Thomians recorded outright wins against Dharmapala College, Isipathana College, Mahinda College and St. John’s College Jaffna and skipper Romesh Mendis is the highest run maker with 776 runs that includes a century against Mahinda College and five half centuries. Thishen Eheliyagoda (597), all-rounded sportsman Mahith Perera (542) who also represents College in Rugby and Football, Dineth Goonewardane (419), Senesh Hettiarachchi (353) and Senadhi Bulankulame (333) were also among the runs
All-rounder Nathan Caldera scored 341 and claimed 60 wickets and will open the bowling attack while right-arm spinner Charuka Pieris has claimed 55 wickets, Akash Fernando (49) and Abeetha Paranawidana (30).
A third-generation Thomian, Romesh Mendis, son of former Thomian skipper Manoj Mendis (1994) also the nephew of Duleep Mendis who also captained S. Thomas’ in 1972, will be setting a record as he walks out for the toss as the skipper. Manoj and Romesh will become the second father-son combination of captaining S. Thomas’ at the Royal-Thomian.
Duleep Mendis’ son Sanjeev Mendis (2003-05) was Vice-captain of the S. Thomas’ side in 2005. Premalal Goonesekara (1964) and Suresh Goonesekara (1992) held the distinction of being the only father-son combination of captaining S. Thomas’ at the Royal-Thomian.
Here’s bit of a trivia, Duleep Mendis and his nephew Manoj scored two centuries each in consecutive years. Duleep in 1971 and 1972, his 184 in ’72 is still a record for the series and Manoj Mendis scored centuries in 1992 and 1993. The only other who came very close was, Nilanka Peiris (STC Captain 1997), who scored 108 to guide Thomians to victory in ’97 and the following year he was out for 99.
Senadhi Bulankulame who is in the present Thomian squad is a 4th Generation Thomian Cricketer, his father Anura Bulankulame led Thomians to victory in 1988, a famous year for school by the sea as they beat Trinity College, St. Joseph’s College, St. Peter’s College before beating Royal. Senadhi’s Great grandfather R.B. Bulankulame captained S Thomas’ in 1919 and 1920 and R.B’s son, Senadhi’s grandfather Patchy played for STC during the ’50s. Also, Senadhi’s uncles and Anura’s brothers Dhammika and Suresh too played for STC during the ’80s and in the Battle of the Blues.
Not to forget, we will see this family heritage continuing at Mt. Lavinia, with 1995 Thomian skipper Nilanka Peiris’s son Dineth Peiris who was part of the squad but not picked for the 1st XI also carries Cricketing DNA. His grandfather, Mevan Peiris who played for Ceylon, played for STC (1964-65) and his great grandfather Ashmore Peiris too (1923). Most likely he will set the record in the coming years as the 4th generation as he got a few more years left.
Royal also in their squad got some family roots deep at Reid Avenue. Their highest wicket taker this season Nethwin Dharmaratne’s father, Yasas Dharmaratne played for Royal College during the 90’s and his brother Captained in 1994, Yasas deputized under Anushka Polonnowita in 1996 and was involved in a record-breaking partnership of 254 runs, the best for any wicket.
Ironically, Anushka’s son Anush Polonowita is also in the present squad but was not picked for the final XI but he has time on his side and expects the sons to follow father’s footsteps soon.
Royal also got Sandesh Ramanayake, son of former Sri Lanka Cricketer, Fast bowling Coach Champaka Ramanayake, and Sandesh’s two brothers Hashen and Himesh played for Royal College during the last decade. Himesh was a member of the team who lifted the coveted shield back in 2016.
The excitement has lit up Colombo as both camps are eagerly awaiting to return to witness the action and had their traditional Cycle Parades, Cricketers get together and Old Boys reunions leading up to this much looked forward to Schools Cricket encounter.
The tally presently stands at 35-all, with the highly-debated 9-run match in 1885, where Royal College was all out for nine runs and refusing to play on the second day, which was considered a win by S. Thomas’ and considered a draw by Royal.
Played in the highest tradition of excellence, the two schools have formed a bond of mutual respect, camaraderie, sportsmanship, and friendly adversaries on and off the field, which has stood for almost one-and-a-half centuries.
Here’s wishing all the best for the two teams, Royal College and S. Thomas’ College for the 144th Battle of the Blues!