34th Annual Battle of the Blues – UK
By Geethaka Fernando
The 34th Annual Royal-Thomian Cricket Encounter - UK, held on 6 August, once again provided a day of enthralling and nail-biting cricket for the Old Boys and their families who live in the United Kingdom.
The iconic Walker Cricket Ground in London, which boasts a 162-year history, was the venue for the third consecutive year.
This year’s match was a star-studded affair as the two teams included six former college captains, 15 former 1st XI players and nine cricketers who had gone on to play first class cricket. The Thomians were determined to defend the coveted Amerasekara Shield for the sixth consecutive year whilst the Royalists were eager to rain on their parade.
The sun was out to burn the last bit of the dew left by overnight rain. The tinge of grass on the pitch was expected to offer some assistance to the fast bowlers initially. However, reluctant to change a winning formula, the Thomian skipper decided to bat first after winning the toss. The Thomian innings purred into motion as the dashing opener Sacha Seneviratne thwacked a towering six over deep mid-wicket. It did not take too long for the Royal seamers to mute the scoring through impeccable line and length. The early departure of Dilshan Manamperi brought Lloyd Paternott, the star from the previous encounter, to the crease. Lloyd announced his arrival with a brace of boundaries and looked to be in good nick. Chamika Karunaratne, a former Royal and SL U-19 captain, was introduced into the attack and immediately started causing trouble with some pace and bounce. In his second over, Lloyd latched onto a nugget of width on the off side just to be caught brilliantly by Devind Padmanathan at backward point. Pathmanathan joined Karunaratne to claim another couple of scalps in no time, sending the Thomians into a nosedive. Leaving the usual flamboyance aside, Skipper Mendis played a subdued knock and tried to revive the innings by forging a partnership with Madhushan Ravichandrakumar, the 2014 Thomian skipper.
After the departure of this pair, the dashing all-rounder Shashrika Pussegolla joined Nirrushan Raveenthiraraja to take over the responsibility of steadying the ship. The former Thomian captain Nirrushan, who is remembered for one of the best fight-backs in Royal Thomian history, once again displayed his grit against a testing spell of bowling.
The spin sensation Pathmanathan managed to break this partnership by taking the prize wicket of Pussegolla, hampering the chances of the Thomians reaching 200. The speedsters were brought back into the attack by the Royal captain with the intention of knocking the tail off. Nirrushan soon departed, lobbying a catch to the keeper off the bowling of Karunaratne and the lower order failed to add many runs before being bundled out for 153.
Given the quality of the Royal batting, a Thomian victory seemed a far cry. The veterans Navin Samarakoon and Malinda Thotiwilage opened the batting for Royal. Samarakoon in particular was in sublime form, dispatching the ball to all corners of the field in the early overs. An immediate change of length by Sacha Seneviratne following a tactical midfield chat with the skipper, managed to bring the much needed breakthrough for the Thomians. The departure of Samarakoon brought the all-rounder Hashen Ramanayake, the elder son of former Sri Lanka paceman Champaka Ramanayake, to the crease.
Thilaksha Sumanasiri was soon introduced into the attack to peg back the scoring rate and he rose to the occasion by bowling four tight overs just for 7 runs with the utmost control.
The former big match winning captain Vidhyesh Balasubramaniam, rolled back the years with an exhibition of leg spin from the other end. This spin wizardry left Royal reeling at 31 for 3 after 10 overs when Dhanushka Perera, the 2001 Royal College captain and big match centurion joined Hashen in the middle.
Perera started to use his feet nimbly against the spinners and was dispatching them with ease to all parts of the Walker ground, taking the game away from the Thomians. The Thomian skipper introduced himself into the attack and immediately produced the breakthrough. Perera departed for a well made 32, spooning a return catch to Shami Mendis. Another former Royal skipper, Pathmanathan, joined Ramanayake and started hurtling towards the target. The Thomian skipper turned to off spin prodigy Pussegolla expecting a miracle turnaround. Thereon, it was a masterful display of off-spin conceding only 17 runs off the next 6 overs of his spell.
Under the astute leadership of Mendis, the Thomians attacked relentlessly in the field with swallow dives and slides that ensured even rare loose balls were punished minimally. However, Ramanayake was outstanding in the face of wickets falling around him. Unfazed by the pressure, he continued to hold the fort for the Royalists as he has done over the years.
The Royalists entered the last 10 overs needing 45 runs with only three wickets in hand. Pussegolla and Ravichandrakumar managed to squeeze in another 5 overs just for 15 runs ratcheting up the pressure on the lower order. In a desperate quest to keep up with the run rate, Pasindu Chamikara tried to clobber a full length delivery from Pussegolla down the ground only to find the hands of Sumanasiri at long on. In the 36th over, a direct hit from Ravichandrakumar found a languid Rangana Rajapaksha when scampering for a single marking the sixth consecutive victory for the Thomians. Pussegolla was named man of the match for his match-winning four-wicket spell.
Dan Whiting, the General Manager of the Walker Cricket Ground and a renowned cricket writer, said: “It was a pleasure for the Walker Cricket Ground to host such a prestigious and longstanding fixture. The quality of the cricket was excellent, especially some of the fielding and as a ground that has hosted players in the past such as W.G. Grace, Ricky Ponting and Graeme Smith, it was a pleasure to see such fine cricket. Everyone had a good day and I hope that the whole Sri Lankan community, from the players to the wives, children and spectators, enjoyed their time here in North London. You were a pleasure to host.”
Old Thomians UK 153 (Paternott 24, Karunaratne 5-15) beat Old Royalists UK 127 (Ramanayake 39*, Pussegolla 4-34) by 26 runs