The cheer of “R.O.Y.A.L”, the colours “Blue & Gold” and the word “Big match” could simply plant a smile on any Royalist’s face. Let me justify mine. The word “Royal” and the cricketing actions were not unfamiliar for me. In a background that comprises of uncles and cousins who treasured Royal and cricket, I was a part of the gang; the highlight, my father, a former Royal cricketer.
Written by Harith Samarasinghe – (Royal Captain 2014/2015)
The memories off the field were a handful, but they were bright. My first was at the 124th Battle of the Blues, I was 9, with not much enthusiasm for the match. At the boy’s tent Prefects pushed us to cheer but we were more interested in playing “one bump” on the lawn in front of the SSC scoreboard, making it our own big match only pausing at a sudden cheer. I still remember watching the 127th at my father’s batch tent dotted with old boys and a few kids. I was quietly enjoying the battle when a fellow Royalist came up with a bat and ball and said “Aiya shall we play one bump?” It was the first time I’ve made a conversation with him but I didn’t hesitate. We ended up playing all three days. In my wildest dreams, I would not have imagined that this stranger and I would end up leading the Royal cricket team at the longest uninterrupted cricket encounter in the world, 9 years later. The one who took that journey by my side was my deputy Geeshath Panditharatne.
Photos of the Royal College Cricket Team 2018.
Life as cricketer at Royal began at the age of 11, the journey since has been indelible and elating. At first day of training our coach Mr. Gamini Perera asked a simple question, “As a Royal cricketer, what is your ultimate goal?” We were not sure of an answer and everyone was hesitant to speak up since it was our first day. He spoke again “Your ultimate goal should be to play the big match”. Yes, indeed it was the dream of every Royal cricketer to wear the coveted Blue & Gold blazer and like everyone else I was determined.
I knew that dream was within my reach when at 14 I got selected for the 1st XI squad in 2009. The 06 years since have been the best days of my life so far. The friendships and experiences gained were priceless. The days I went home with a smile and went home a sad, were uniform. It was all part of a learning process. Three seasons went past and I failed to make it to the team which played the big match. Then arrived the season which changed the life for many of us, especially myself.
The 2012/2013 cricket season was special because I finally reached my goal and was part of the team which brought the Senanayake Shield back to Reid Avenue after 8 long years. At the start of the season we had 11 coloursmen. The previous year’s team stood, which was rare. We started the season as favorites winning 4 matches outright and remaining unbeaten. The Thomians already on the back foot. I played all the matches but was left out for the last two. I thought I had missed the opportunity again. I was determined to make a comeback. Arrived the day of the mini battle (2nd XI big match) and I was going to somehow try to win the match. The rest was history, I bowled by far my best spell and claimed a match bag of 13 wickets. We didn’t win as we ran out of overs with two Thomian wickets remaining. The big match camp commenced that evening. We had a couple of practice sessions before the day the team was to be announced. Before leaving for training at SSC our coach Mr Niel Rajapakse asked us to gather around and began to announce the team. He kept saying the obvious names first and reached the final spot. The next two words made my dream a reality. I had made it! I was jubilant and feeling privileged to represent my alma mater at the most anticipated event of the year.
The morning of the biggest day of our lives had arrived; the 134th Battle of the Blues. The pressure was immense. The expectations were sky high. We were intented winning back the shield and were hugely motivated. Our captain Devind Pathmanathan won the toss and gave the Thomians first lease. Walking down the SSC tunnel under the college flag to the field for the first time, with prefects encouraging and the vision of the cheering white army at the boy’s tent, gave us goose-bumps.
Next came an avalanche for the Thomians, an unbelievable spell by our speedster Chamika Karunarathne who ripped through the Thomian side grabbing 5. I was fielding in the slips and the ball passing the batsmen to the keeper, just whizzed past. He was bowling with brutal pace and was supported by brilliant fielding especially by the skipper Devind Pathmanathan who dived to his right at short mid-wicket and threw it to the keeper to run out the Thomian batsman, Thilaksha Sumanasiri. The Thomians were bundled out for 192. Much to our disappointment our openers faced only a few overs before rain intervened.
The next day we batted to tea reaching a score of 271 with half centuries by Sampath De Silva and vice-captain Milan Abeysekara. Frustration, rain again, day 2 was abandoned. That night the camp was hush. Our captain called us to gather to the top of the J.R.J Pavilion. Each of us spoke about how important this win is for us and reminded ourselves how hard we’ve trained for the past 7 months and vowed not to let it fritter away. We were motivated than ever and confident of winning. Now, it was up to the rain gods. Going into the third day we made a bold declaration overnight with a lead of just over 50 runs and on the field it was Chamika again decimating the Thomian top order. Out of all the Thomians, Sumanasiri looked most comfortable facing our bowlers, batting with fluency. We had to get him out somehow! He stood tall between ROYAL and the coveted Senanayake shield. The Thomian wicket keeper and my good friend Sanesh De Mel was facing while Thilaksha was at the non-strikers end, Chamika came steaming in and delivered a ball just short of length. Sanesh cut hard, I set off to my right as I was fielding at cover point, but the ball reversed its direction as it deflected off the hand of Samapath who was fielding at gully, which caused mix up between the two batsmen. I had to change my direction quickly sensing opportunity, picked up the ball with one stump to aim at, threw the stumps down. The bails flew, and the right index finger of the leg umpire slowly started rising, the celebrations afterwards was insane. Personally, it was one of the most cherished moments out of all the big matches I’ve been a part of. I was running around the ground and the whole team was trying to catch me, it was the wicket of their best batsman and we got him out the only way it was possible.The Thomians were bundled out for mere 125 runs at tea, setting us a target of 67. We scurried to the dressing room as the skies were turning grey. With a famous win within our grasp, we pressed the pedal from the start. We were closing in our target and everyone smelled victory as the crowd gathered around the boundary to celebrate a Royal victory. The Thomian bowler ran in and bowled a looping half volley outside off and our vice-captain Milan Abeysekara drove it pass covers to hit the winning runs. Yes! We beat the rain. The whole team along with crowd started running towards the center, I couldn’t find any of my teammates as I was on the shoulders of my classmate. As I went into the dressing room, I saw my team mates also being carried out on the shoulders of triumphant Royalists. It was the day the Royal spirit prevailed over the mighty Thomian grit. All 17 of us were treated like gods that day, the team which brought the Senanayke shield back home. It was a dream team and I was lucky to be a part of it. Winning the big match, the first time I ever took part in it was unforgettable. However, tragedy struck the winning team when one of us the golden boy Poorna Aluthge was robbed from us due to a fatal road accident in 2016. He always managed to maintain happy vibes on and off the field. This irreparable loss of a great team mate and the vacuum will stay with us forever. We pay tribute to our brother Poorna.
The next season, 2013/2014 was a season which I had to carry responsibility. We had 5 coloursmen including myself. Three of them including the captain Chamika Karunaratne were ruled out for most of the matches due to national duty, the task of grooming the young side for the big game rested in the hands of the vice-captain of the side Anupa Tilerekeratne and myself. We had good season winning two outrights and remaining unbeaten. The Thomians also had a formidable side, the odds for the big match were equally balanced and it was anybody’s game. The big day finally arrived, 135th Battle of the Blues, we were high on confidence after beating Trinity in the penultimate match who was unbeaten for many years, but that confidence was lost in a jiffy.
The Thomian captain Madushan Ravichandrakumar won the toss and put us in and their pace duo Akthab Cadar and Sahan Wijeysinghe showcased a repeat of Chamika’s brilliance last year. They ripped through us, we were reeling at 56 for 5 at lunch. Already Thomian prefects were chanting “Thora victory”. A sudden sense of fear rushed through my mind. Play commenced after lunch and disaster struck again, we lost our captain in the very first over. I went in to pad up. Amidst the pressure our coach Mr Dilip Someratne approached me with a pleasant smile, cool as a cucumber tapped me at the back and said “Hairth, a quick fifty would be nice”. I didn’t want to disappoint him and showed that I was comfortable with the situation despite the jitters. I replied him saying “Will give it a shot sir”. In the next over Sahan Wijeysinghe struck again and took the wicket of Devind Pathmanathan. We were almost dead at 58 for 8.
I was in next to face the hat-trick ball. Not being a proper batsman, I was confident enough to score few runs, but not confident enough to know that this innings would change Royal’s destiny in this match and my role as a cricketer as a whole. I walked into the middle to see my team mate Thiran Dhanapala almost in tears. The first few words which came from him were not at all pleasant. Me being the senior of the two, I had to calm him down to focus on guiding Royal out of the woods. We together mustered all our strength and weathered the storm slowly accumulating runs, getting more comfortable in the middle. We managed to put on a record-breaking partnership of 97 runs, highest ever for the 9th wicket at a Royal-Thomian. I ended up scoring a quick 49 ball 50 and Thiran missed out on a well-deserved half century. Fighting it out, we managed to get a respectable total of 160 by tea, still the chance of a Thomian victory imminent. Thora put on a mammoth 325 for 8 declaring after tea on day two. We were trailing and had no option but to bat out the rest of the match, with more than 120 overs to survive.
Then came by far the best innings I’ve witnessed at a Royal-Thomian. Hashen Ramanayake single handedly saved the match for Royal scoring 96 runs off 300 odd balls battling out the whole of the third day and was very unfortunate to miss out on a very well-deserved century. It was an innings which demonstrated sheer determination, courage, and patience. It will go down in history as one of the greatest innings at a Royal-Thomian. Not to forget the support he received from Randev Pathirana which was equally important. We managed to escape from the jaws of defeat and force a draw. The celebrations were like that of a big match win. A moment we all will cherish for the rest of our lives. It was hard fought battle between the two teams, a great cricket match. All 22 players walked off the field with their heads held high.
Lastly, the final season of my time as a cricketer at Royal and personally the most important of all. Taking over the captaincy of the First XI team was the pinnacle of my cricket at Royal. I was endowed with a team filled with experience and young talent. We had a superb season building up to the big event. We managed to win 8 outrights wins, one short of the record 9 wins during the 2008/2009 season. We went into the big match having the upper hand but the Thomians had different plans.
My counterpart won the toss and opted to field first. Despite our top four batsmen scoring more than 700 runs for the season, we were bowled out for a modest score of 200 runs. The Thomians in return put on a score of 50 for no loss at the end of the day. The second day was interrupted by rain shortly after the commencement of the last session, then Thomians staying strong at with a lead of a few runs. They declared at lunch with a lead of over 70 runs and in return we were 25 for 1 when rain intervened again an hour after lunch which washed away the rest of the match. The match ended in a dull draw with the Thomians having the upper hand. We as a team was utterly disappointed not being able to perform to our capabilities.
It emphasizes the uniqueness of the big match. I perceive that when it comes to the big match the performance throughout the season is immaterial, it’s a different game. It all comes down to handling the nerves under pressure and not getting carried away with the excitement of the big occasion.
Photos of the Royal College vs S. Thomas’ College 139th Battle of the Blues.
The journey was indeed exhilarating. Lessons learnt for life throughout my tenure as a cricketer at Royal and especially at the big match were priceless. There is so much of uncertainty in cricket. It makes you practical about things. Teaches you to accept both success and failure. It taught me how to act calm under pressure, changing environments and how to work together as a team always putting the team before self. The most important out of all is the fact that to achieve something in life you must work hard and smart. Above all the bond and close friendship that one builds and cultivates. The Royal-Thomian is a tremendous learning curve and a lifelong experience.
I will not be who I am today if not for my days at this prestigious institution and this beautiful game. I will forever be in debt for my alma mater, the greatest school of all, Royal College. I am also ever grateful to my team mates, coaches, teachers, support staff, fellow students and last but not least our parents and family.
With days away from the most anticipated event, I would like to wish both teams all the very best. Let the friendly rivalry of over a century between these two great institutions bring utmost excitement throughout all three days.
Royal is not Royal if not for S. Thomas’ and S. Thomas’ is not S. Thomas’ if not for Royal.