Unbeaten Thomians meet former team mate in Royal line up

139th Battle of the Blues

by Reemus Fernando

Going by the records of past few Royal-Thomian encounters, comparing and contrasting the teams appear to be a futile exercise as the euphoric atmosphere or the sentiments surrounding the historic battle seem to transform the teams to such an extent that underdogs emerge victorious and favourites eat humble pie.

Comparing these two teams ahead of today’s 139th Battle of the Blues appears to be more complicated as teams playing at two different levels are pitted against one another at the most looked forward to cricketing encounter, starting at the SSC.

The Thomians captained by Dellon Peiris are the more experienced side. They have more fire power in the bowling armoury. Like during the past two editions, the country’s fifth ranked team hold the edge over a team compelled to play in the Division II category. Royal are also ranked fifth but that is in the Division II tournament.

The Thomians remained unbeaten this season and of the 18 matches played, 17 were against Division I teams and well established teams. They recorded six outright victories.

Royal played 19 matches and of them seven were against Division II teams. And suffered a shocking ten-run defeat at the hands of St. John’s, Jaffna. The four victories they recorded were against minnows Piliyandala Central, St. Mary’s, Kegalle, Siri Piyaratana MV, Padukka and a lacklustre Division I team, Dharmaraja, Kandy.

S. Thomas’ are fielding a team packed with experienced players. Six of them are coloursmen. Their pace attack is spearheaded by Sri Lanka Under-19 paceman Kalana Perera who geared up for the Big Match with a five-wicket haul (including a hat-trick) in the last match he played. He missed a better part of the season due to his involvement with the Sri Lanka Under-19 side and the ICC Youth World Cup in New Zealand. He shares the new ball with Thevin Eriyagama who is playing in his second Big Match. Pavith Rathnayake is the third coloursman in that department.

Their slow bowlers include consistent wicket takers Peiris and Shannon Fernando who have both taken over 60 wickets this season.

Maneesha Rupasinghe is the leading batsman with over 600 runs. Wicket keeper batsman Sithara Hapuhinna, Peiris (over 400 runs), his deputy Dulith Gunaratne (over 400 runs), Manthila Wijerathne (closer to 600 runs), Kishan Munasinghe (over 400 runs) and fresher Shalin de Mel complete the rest of the line up.

S. Thomas’ are notorious for recruiting upcoming talent from outstations and Colombo suburbs. Teams at the receiving end of such moves have often cried foul. Today they will meet one of their own lining up with Royal to face them.

Bhagya Dissanayake had over 200 runs in eight matches last season but that could not win him a place in the Thomians’ playing eleven as they opted for experience. He passed the O/L exam with flying colours and moved to Reid Avenue where his success with the bat (over 600 runs) has won him a place in the Royal line up now.

It will be an interesting sub plot to watch is as to how he goes about when he joins skipper Pasindu Sooriyabandara (over 1,200 runs), Kavindu Madarasinghe (over 700), Kamil Mishara (over 700), Thevindu Senarathna (closer to 700) and Gayan Dissanayake (over 600) to make strong their batting.

Spinners Manula Perera (83 wickets) and Kamil Mishara (53) are the leading wicket takers for Royal. Themal Bandara is the other spinner.

Their pace attack is formed by Dimal Wijesekara (27 wickets), Lahiru Madusanka (17 wickets) and Kavindu Pathiratne.

The victory tally stands at 35-34 in favour of Royal according to their count. They dispute the 1885 result which the Thomians claim to have won. According to Thomians the tally stands at 35-35.

(Pix by Kamal Wanniarachchi)

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