During its proud 141 years, the Royal-Thomian encounter has witnessed great batsmen who charmed the spectators, setting various records with their willows. So far, 56 centuries have been recorded in the history of the encounter with 29 coming from the Thomian camp while 27 have come from Royal.
The first century in the series came in the 38th encounter in 1917, when Thomian batsman B.T. Janz scored 103 runs. Eight years later, the Royalists achieved their first, when Neil Joseph scored 113 runs in 1925. It was regarded as the fastest century back then, coming in just 60 minutes of play. In the following year, he scored his second century, becoming the first player to score consecutive centuries at the Royal-Thomian.
In 1930, D.B. Gunasekara (Jnr.) made 148 for Royal and F.C. de Saram scored 140 in the following year. The year 1931 also saw Thomian, N.A. de S. Wijesekera scoring 105. It was the first century from the Thomian camp since B.T. Janz in 1917.
In 1936, Thomian Norman Siebel’s unbeaten 151 was the first to break the 150-run barrier, a record which stood for 20 years, before R.J. Reid made an unbeaten 158 for S. Thomas’ in 1956. Royalist, Jagath Fernando’s mauling 160 in 1971 was soon to be broken in the following year by Thomian skipper Duleep Mendis who steamrolled the opposition with 184 runs in 1972, a score which still remains as the series record for a two day encounter. Mendis also scored a century in 1971. Sumithra Warnakulasuriya’s marathon 197, on debut in 1980, remains as the highest individual score, unbroken for the past 40 years.
The year 1983 saw an unbeaten 145 by Rochana Jayawardene which eventually led to a well-deserved Royal victory. It also marked the end of a series of stalemates since 1969. He also dominated the 104th Royal-Thomian by securing a match bag of 9 wickets for 73, producing arguably, the best all-round performance at a Royal-Thomian encounter. In 1987, Anura Bulankulame scored a scintillating century by attacking from the first ball he faced. In the following year he led the Thomian team to victory after 24 years. His brother Dhammika Bulankulame scored a ton three years earlier, in 1984.
In 1989, at the age of 16 years, Nigel Fernando became the youngest to captain Royal College. Later in 1991, as a fifth year coloursman, he scored an elegant 128 runs which eventually led to a victory under the captaincy of Rohan Iriyagolle. In the same year, Nigel Fernando led the Sri Lanka U-19 side.
The encounter in the year 1992 will be remembered for the valiant match saving innings of 144 by Gamini Perera, which prevented a definite Thomian victory. Duleep Mendis’s nephew Manoj Mendis scored consecutive centuries in 1992 and 1993 while Anushka Polonowita (165) and Yasas Dharmaratne (124) set up two centuries in 1996, the only instance of both captain and deputy scoring centuries. The year 1997 too witnessed 2 centuries in the same encounter when Thomians Bhathiya Karunaratne (116) and skipper Nilanka Peiris (108) scored tons which eventually led them to victory. In the following year (1998), Nilanka Peiris was agonizingly dismissed for 99, for what would’ve been consecutive centuries at the big match. He was also the first ever batsman to depart at 99. The 20th century saw its last century scored by Thomian Meshad Peiris (103) in 1999 while Dhanushka Perera (116), the Royal opener set up the first ton in the new millennium.
Hardly anyone can forget Royal skipper Ganganath Ratnayake’s unbeaten 111 in 2003 and Dhanushka Edussuriya’s valiant 136 in the 125th encounter. The thriller in 2006 saw both openers Malinga Maligaspe (140) and Sukitha Senaratne (104) scoring centuries for Royal, the only instance in the series.
A win for S. Thomas’ in 2005 came with Ashan Peiris’ majestic 125. He repeated the same feat in 2007 when he, along with Nizam Mazahir pummelled the Royal bowlers. Peiris slammed 161 while Mazahir’s destruction resulted in 162 runs. Both centuries by Peiris in 2005 and 2007 resulted in Thomian victories, inflicting innings defeats to the Royalists.
Following the 2007 win, Ashan Peiris set a few unique records in Royal-Thomian history. He remains one of the rare cricketers to experience a win (2005, 2007), a loss (2006) and a draw (2004) during his career, to appear in a landmark encounter (125th in 2004), captain his side (2007), score a century both as a player (2005) and a captain (2007) and become a big match winning captain (2007).
In 2008, during the first innings, when Royal were reeling at 67 for 5, Charith Fernando scored a brilliant 137 to take Royal over the 300-run mark. Kusal Perera’s classy innings of 142 in 2009 was eclipsed by F. Saleem’s 165 which saved the Thomians from a definite loss. Saleem’s innings took a gruelling 9 hours, the longest innings by a schoolboy cricketer.
The crowd present in 2010 witnessed Ramith Rambukwella ramming the Thomians with a colossal 165 off just 148 balls. His innings included 21 fours and 5 gigantic sixes. He, along with Bhanuka Rajapaksa scored 22 runs off Lalindra Peiris’s over, the most runs in an over by Royalists in the series.
Heshan Kumarasiri’s composed 127 in 2012 was a treat to watch in an intense encounter. During the course, Kumarasiri also reached 1000 runs for the season. In the same year, Thomian all-rounder Chamodh Pathirana missed out on a well-deserved century when he was dismissed for 99. It was a heart-warming moment when a packed crowd at SSC witnessed the Royal wicketkeeper Milan Abeysekera consoling Pathirana just after his dismissal, revealing the comradeship of the two prestigious institutions. Wicketkeeper, Sanesh De Mel’s unbeaten 110 in 2014 was the first from the Thomian camp since 2009.
The riveting encounter in 2016 saw a dauntless ton by Thomian opener Rashmika Opatha which came in a mere session on Day 1. He became the first batsman after Jagath Fernando to score a century before lunch. His 124-run knock came in 131 balls with 16 fours and 4 maximums. The stirring finale later saw 16-year old debutant Pasindu Sooriyabandara scoring a remarkable ton under pressure, not only to save the Royalists, but to lay a foundation for a stunning turnaround in the end. His 123 off 309 deliveries broke the record for the youngest centurion at a Royal-Thomian.
Jagath Pattiarachchi (100* in 1974), Sumithra Warnakulasuriya (197 in 1980) and Pasindu Sooriyabandara (123 in 2016) remain the only Royalists to score centuries on debut while D. Ponniah (100* in 1967) and Manoj Mendis (124 in 1992) achieved the feat in Thomian colours.
The distinction for the highest opening partnership goes to Sukitha Senaratne and Malinga Maligaspe who added 218 runs to the Royal first innings score in 2006. The highest partnership for any wicket goes to Anushka Polonowita and Yasas Dharmaratne, the pair which went on to add 254 runs for the 3rd wicket in 1996.
The rare occasion of scoring more than one century during their Royal-Thomian careers is shared by Royalist Neil Joseph (1925 & 1926) and Thomians Duleep Mendis (1971 & 1972), Manoj Mendis (1992 & 1993) and Ashan Pieris (2005 & 2007).
Only 3 Thomians and 2 Royalists have achieved a rare batting double (a century and a fifty) in the same game. Willie Jayetileke (62 & 110*) in 1937, Dhammika Bulankulame (108 & 72) in 1984 and Jeewan Mendis (111 & 54) in 2001 have done it for the Thomians while Malinda Thotuwilage (95 & 108) and Ganganath Ratnayake (75 & 111*) achieved the same feat for the Royalists in 2001 and 2003 respectively.
The 2006 encounter resulted in the highest match aggregate where a mammoth total of 1149 runs were scored by both sides. S. Thomas’ two innings comprised of 278/8 dec & 295 while Royal made the highest team total in the series 432/7 which was followed by a dramatic run chase of 144/3.
If someone wonders as to who has the highest individual aggregate at the Royal-Thomian, that title goes to the 1998 Thomian skipper Upeka Fernando, who made 394 runs during his career span from 1995 to 1998. For Royal, it has been two batsmen, Sumithra Warnakulasuriya (1980-82) and Bhanuka Rajapaksa (2007-11). Both have scored 386 runs in their careers. Contrary to Warnakulasuriya, Bhanuka Rajapaksa has also taken 14 wickets for 306 runs, establishing himself as one of the most successful players at the Royal-Thomian.
Propelling a willow at a Royal-Thomian is by no means easy. It is a laborious endeavor, requiring temperament, firepower and character until you reach the eventual milestone during three taxing days of play. These batsmen, along with many others have decorated the Royal-Thomian encounter with the willow in their hand, sealing unforgettable memories in the minds of Royalists and Thomians, both young and old.