Thurstan-Isipatana 45th Big Match
It’s no Gulliver Vs Lilliput at SSC grounds

by Reemus Fernando
Pix by Nishan S. Priyantha

Thurstan College Seated from left: Achala Ramanayake, Dinesh Weerasinghe (Coach), G.R.M. Bandara (Asst. Principal), Umesh Karunaratne (Captain), P.S.A.D. Janaka Kumara (Principal), Charith Gayan Perera (Vice Captain), D.N. Gurudeniya (Master in Charge) and Buddhi Samarawickrama. Standing from left: Thisura Madurapperuma, Sumudu Wickramarachchi, Indika Massalage, Shalaka Rangajeewa, Charith Dharshana, Shehan Kamaleen, Ishan Perera, Geeth Kumara, Chamalka Gamage, Ranishka Gamage, Ravindu Wijeratne and Pubudu Senevirathne Umesh Karunaratne (Captain) Charith Gayan Perera (Vice Captain) Buddhi Samarawickrama, Achala Ramanayake, Shalaka Rangajeewa. and Geeth Kumara.

Just a year after we mentioned about a vast gulf that existed between Isipatana and Thurstan on these pages, it’s quite a different story that we have to pen about the two outfits as they meet in their 45th Annual ‘Big Match’ played for the Blackham Wijewardena Trophy, commencing today at the SSC Grounds.

Isipatana College Seated from left: K.H. Nandasena (Coach), Chirantha de Silva (Captain), L.L. Sisira Kumara (Master in Charge), K.A.D. Punyadasa (Principal), S.A.G. Sarath Chandra (P.O.G), Lilan Fernando (Vice Captain) and Vimukthi Deshapriya. First row standing from left: Sakuntha Premarathne, Amira Rabel, Harith Wanigaarachchi, Amila de Silva, Dantha de Silva, Shiral Senarathne and Sathya Premarathne. Second row standing from left: Thiwanka Ranasinghe, Pranama Sri Vimukthi, Ifran Ismail, Dimuth Warapitiya, Chamara Waduge and Danuka Fernando.Chirantha de Silva (Captain) Lilan Fernando (Vice Captain) Vimukthi Deshapriya, Amira Rabel, Ifran Ismail and Danuka Fernando.

Wanting to win back the coveted titles, Thurstan is no big Gulliver waiting to gobble up a Lilliput when they lock horns with Isipatana as the latter has grown in stature during the past year, although the success rate of the two outfits this season could be attributed to those mythical figures.

Thurstan, skippered by Umesh Karunaratne, who is taking a hastily arranged flight back home from Malaysia at the time of writing, after Sri Lanka lost their last match to England in the Youth World Cup, has recorded six outright victories this season to be the favourites for today’s encounter. Except for a few hiccups in the first innings, against Kingswood, Maris Stella and Nalanda, Thurstan have had no major worries this season. That makes them one of the toughest Thurstan teams to meet Isipatana in a ‘Big Match’ in recent history.

Isipatana, who were longing for a proper ground a year ago are now equipped with a facility and the strength of the outfit, skippered by Chirantha de Silva is a far cry from the trembling outfit they were a year ago although a solitary victory and two defeats in 14 outings this season suggest otherwise. The victory against Lumbini and some gutsy performances against formidable Royal College and S. Thomas’ College in the first innings are hints of their character, this season.

Thurstan, who lead the victory tally by one (5-4), are ahead of their counterparts as far as the run tallies and wickets tallies of individual players and the number of victories they have recorded this season are concerned.

Umesh Karunaratne will be the key bowler for Thursatan as he controls the spin department with a season haul of nearly 60 wickets. While he will use his World Cup experience as well, he has a number of spinners in the bowling department who have shown promise in the season.

Off spinner Buddhi Samarawickrama and the leg spin trio of Geeth Kumara, Ravindu Wijeratne and Chamalka Gamage who have shared nearly 100 wickets this season, will strengthen their spin department while Shalaka Rangajeewa will be the pace spearhead.

In the batting department, left handed top order bat Geeth Kumara (850 runs), will look forward to reach the magical 1000 run mark in the annual encounter while five others will look to brace the batting line up and continuing to pile on their heaps of runs.

Karunaratne’s deputy, Charith Gayan, and last year’s skipper Buddhi Samarawickrama, and hard hitting opener Indika Massalage have scored over 500 runs each this season and they will be the key batters for Thurstan.

Isipatana will rely heavily on middle order bat Amira Rabel and ‘Big Match’ debutant Ifran Ismail who are the only players to have scored over 400 runs this season. Captain Chirantha de Silva, Thiwanka Ranasinghe and opening bat Shiran Senaratne are the other batsmen who have done well this season but their main strength is bowling.

Deputy skipper Lilan Fernando, their leading wicket taker and Shiral Senaratne are the pace spearheads while leg spinner Vimukthi Deshapriya and the off spin duo of Chamara Waduge and Thivanka Ranasinghe control the spin department.

Apart from the performance in the School Season, Thurstan have got other reasons to be favourites in the two day battle. Half a dozen Thurstan players who featured in the Sara Trophy final for Seeduwa Raddoluwa along with their coach Dinesh Weerasinghe earned the club a Premier League position last weekend is the ideal moral boost ahead of the crucial encounter.

However, there will be other concerns for the two sides, their officials and organizers as they set rolling the ‘Big Match’ season in the aftermath of the suicide bomb attack at the Fort Railway Station compelled the Education Ministry to impose a temporary ban on school matches.

The two heads of the colleges pledged to set an example by holding an incident free ‘Big Match’ under tight security and the ‘Big Match’ goers will be keen to see that the promise is kept. If an incident free ‘Big Match’ could come with a result which hasn’t been the case for nine years, then that will be the best example that could be set to open the ‘Big Match’ season.

Isipatana from: Chirantha de Silva (Captain), Lilan Fernando (Vice Captain), Shiral Senarathne, Ifran Ismail, Thiwanka Ranasinghe, Sakuntha Premarathne, Amila de Silva, Vimukthi Deshapriya, Chamara Waduge, Amira Rabel, Dimuth Warapitiya and Dantha de Silva,

Thurstan from: Umesh Karunaratne (Captain), Charith Gayan Perera (Vice Captain), Buddhi Samarawickrama, Geeth Kumara, Achala Ramanayake, Shehan Kamaleen, Indika Massalage, Shalaka Rangajeewa, Ravindu Wijeratne, Chamalka Gamage, Ranishka Gamage, Ishan Perera and Sumudu Wickramarachchi.

Amira Rabel might miss match

While Thurstan will have the luxury of having Umesh Karunaratne, their captain on time to lead the side, Isipatana are likely not to have their key batter, Amira Rabel for today’s encounter as the in-form player was affected by high fever on the eve of the big match. "Rabel is doubtful for the match as he has got a high fever," a source close to the team said.

Ashantha de Mel – Chief Guest

The Chief Guest at the ‘Big Match ‘will be Ashantha de Mel, the Chairman of Selectors. De Mel, a distinguished old boy of Isipatana College, represented the First XI cricket team in the mid 70s. He had the distinction of representing the Sri Lanka team in the country’s first ever Test victory against India. Jagath Alwis, Deputy Chairman, Ceylinco Education Group, another distinguished old boy of Isipatana College, will be the Guest of Honour.


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