On the 7th of March 2019, hot off the heels of the cycle parades, the 140th Battle of the Blues began with as much fanfare as is expected of a cricketing tradition that spans more than a century. A brilliantly sunny Thursday was the ideal day to begin one of the most anticipated encounters between S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia and Royal College, Colombo.
After losing the toss to the Royal skipper Kavindu Madarasinghe, the captain of the Thomian 1st XI squad Sithara Hapuhinna was forced to field. However, the Thomian bowlers were ready. Kalana Perera’s outstanding performance wrecked the Royal line up. Within minutes of play Royal had already lost Isiwara Disanayake, their opening batsmen for a duck. The rest of the batting order followed suit. By lunch, Royal College was 87 runs for the loss of 5 wickets, four of which were nabbed by Kalana Perera.
It was not only Kalana Perera, however, who shined in the Thomian bowling arsenal. Shannon Fernando also collected 4 wickets for just 27 runs in the first innings. Moreover the Thomian fielders were anything but sloppy. Shalin De Mel displayed the characteristics that any bowler wanted in a slip fielder. His safe and sturdy hands played a part in sending 5 Royal batsmen back to the dressing room in the first innings and 2 more in the second.
Almost immediately after lunch the Royalists were at a dismal 87 runs for the loss of 7 wickets. After the devastating loss of Kamil Mishara, the future looked bleak for the Royal squad. They desperately needed a strong and stable partnership. And under the guidance of Kavindu Pathirathne and Kaushan Kulasooriya, Royal got exactly what they wanted. The pair saved Royal from an embarrassing first innings by raising the score from 87 to 152. Sadly however with the dismissal of Kavindu Pathirathne the rest of the line up collapsed, giving the Thomians, 158 runs to beat in their first innings.
The Thomians’ first batting innings got off to a catastrophic start. Thomian supporters had high expectations for Shalin De Mel and Sithara Hapuhinna and yet the Royal bowlers had different plans. Both openers were dismissed for 14 and 21 respectively. Ryan Fernando stepped up to the crease in an effort to save the Thomian side.
Having never played a 1st XI cricket match before, he faced the pressure of the Big Match extraordinary well. Along with Yohan Perera, the pair rebuilt the Thomian innings; Ryan scoring a well deserved 60 and Yohan just missing a half century with a 49. And then, the bowlers struck again.
After the dismissal of Ryan Fernando, Kishan Munasinghe was sent back by Kamil Mishara for a disappointing 8 runs. Yohan Perera and Dellon Peiris were quick to follow. At the end of the first day, the Thomians had tied the Royal score with 158 for 6.
Day two began badly for the Thomians with the loss of Dilmin Rathnayake and Ravindu De Silva for 3 and 2 respectively. The Thomians were demoralised, in dire need of a stable partnership. Umayanga Suwaris and Kalana Perera came to the rescue of the Thomian team. With both scoring 62 runs each, the Thomains ended their innings with a strong 269 on the score board.
Kamil Mishara and Iswara Dissanayake set up the Royal innings with a solid foundation of 54 runs. Yet they were both dismissed by Kalana Perera and Shalin De Mel respectively. Kavindu Madarsinghe and Ahan Sanchitha of Royal also followed suit. The second day ended with Royal at 148 for 4.
The third and final day began with an overcast sky sending waves of anxiety through the Thomian supporters. Kavindu Pathirthne was sent back early in the day by Kalana Perera, and was replaced by last year’s skipper Pasindu Sooriyabandara. Despite the dismissals of Bhagya Dissanayake, Tithra Weerasinghe and Kaushan Kulasooriya, Pasindu stood bravely against the Thomian bowling onslaught. He was able to rack up a total of 67 runs and established a crucial partnership with Lahiru Madushanka for the 8th wicket. It was almost tea, and the Thomians had still to break this partnership. The Thomian spectators worried if this might end up similar to this year’s Mini Battle, with the Royalist batting till sundown.
The Thomians desperately needed to take out this partnership. Hapuhinna then brought on a change in bowling by inviting Yohan Perera to bowl to Sooriyabandara.
Perera delivered a loose short ball that Sooriyabandara knocked straight into the hands of slip fielder Dellon Peiris. The devastating innings of Pasindu Sooriyabandara had come to a close. The Thomian tents erupted with excitement. And the very next ball by Yohan Perera ended the Royal innings by bowling out Gishan Balasuriya for a duck. Victory was in sight.
With a 121 runs to reach and two and half hours to do so, Sithara Hapuhinna and Shalin De Mel made their way to the crease. With 56 for S. Thomas’ College on the score board, Kamil Mishara shockingly dismissed the Thomain skipper for 34. Ryan Fernando was next to go with a heartbreaking 3 runs to his name, being stumped by the Royal skipper. And Yohan Perera was bowled for 2 by Madushanka.
The Thomians however, were unshaken. Shalin De Mel passed his half century with a thundering shout of support from the Thomian boys’ tent. Ravindu De Silva replaced Yohan Perera and played intelligently, consistently rotating the strike. The Thomians still had hope.
As the score board continued to tick, the Thomian supporters got louder and louder. The sound of the boys’ tent rivalled the sound of music and papare from the other tents. With 20 runs remaining, the Thomians lined up around the grounds.
In the 19th over, Gishan Balasuriya took the ball. The Thomians needed 14 runs to win and Shalin De Mel was on strike. Quick running between the wickets brought the required score to 2 runs before the last ball of the over.
In the final ball of the over, with the strength, precision and skill of years of training, Shalin De Mel slammed the ball to the leg side for four, the Thomians had done it! A legion of Thomian supporters invaded the field. The match was over. The Thomians had won! It was a truly iconic moment. A moment to go down in the pages of history. After a 12 year hiatus, after the agonising defeat of 2016 and after so many heartbreaking draws, the Thomians had finally done it. For too long the shield had been at Reid Avenue, now it’s finally home.