The Royal – Thomian, needs no special introduction. The 141 year-old tradition goes back to 1879, when Mr. Ashley Walker, the Cricket master at Colombo Academy (Former Royal College), took the initiative of playing against S. Thomas’.
In 1880 it became a students-only encounter, where it was played at Galle Face, the present premises of the Taj Samudra Hotel. The Academy was led by J.W De Silva while F.W McDonnell captained S. Thomas’. The Colombo Academy emerged victorious in the inaugural encounter.
The 25th encounter was played in 1904 at CCC in which S. Thomas’ emerged victorious under A.S. Eliyathamby. The 50th Royal-Thomian in 1929 was conquered by the Royalists while the 75th battle in 1954 at the Oval ended as a draw. The centenary encounter in 1979 was played at SSC, for the first time as a three-day affair. Ranjan Madugalle led the Royalists while Johan Peiris captained the Thomians. In a thrilling encounter, the Thomian duo Mahinda Halangoda and C.P. Richards saved the day, as ‘Thomian Grit’ prevailed in a memorable stalemate. The 125th battle was played in 2004 as Tharaka Kottehewa and Kaushal Silva led the Royalists and Thomians respectively. It too, ended in a draw.
So far, the encounter has been played at 9 different venues. They include Galle Face, Gordon Gardens, NCC (Victoria Park), CCC, Campbell Park, NCC (Maitland Place), SSC (Victoria Park), P. Sara Stadium (The Oval) and SSC (Maitland Place).
Gordon Gardens and NCC (Victoria Park) have the unique record of hosting a solitary Royal – Thomian (in 1881 and 1892 respectively), while the historic Colombo Oval has hosted 40 encounters, most at a single venue. Having hosted the encounter for the first time in 1975, the SSC at Maitland Place is also remembered for being the venue for the centenary encounter in 1979. It has been the venue for the battle continuously since 1994.
Sumithra Warnakulasuriya’s marathon 197 (in 1980) remains the highest score by a batsman at the Oval, while 165 runs made by batsmen Anushka Polonowita (1996), F. Saleem (2009) and Ramith Rambukwella (2010) remain as the highest individual scores at the present SSC venue.
In 1926, Royal amassed 304 runs, the first time either of teams crossed the 300-run mark. The highest team total at Oval stands at 357/8 dec (in 1980) while the highest team total at SSC is 432/7 dec (in 2006). Both records are held by the Royalists.
Royalist, G.T. Kapukotuwa holds the record for the best bowling performance at the Oval with 7 for 35 in 1945, while Thomian D.L. Wickremaratne’s 7 for 50 in 1990 is considered as the best bowling performance in an innings at the SSC.
The team led by Eardley Lieversz broke the deadlock in 1969, which was the longest period (18 years) without a win for Royal (1952-1968). Led by Anura Bulankulame, the Thomians ended a long drought by winning the encounter in 1988 after 24 years.
The longest period without a draw came between 1888 and 1899 where, out of the 11 encounters, the Thomians won 7 while Royal recorded 4 wins. Draws dominated the game for 13 years, from 1970 to 1982 until the Royalists led by Chulaka Amerasinghe ended it with an emphatic 10-wicket win in 1983.
The prestigious D.S. Senanayake shield was first presented in 1928. The Royalists claimed it in the following year under the captaincy of N. Kandiah. The shield remained in the hands of the Royalists until D. Fearweather’s Thomian outfit clinched it in 1935. Between 1969 and 1988, the D.S Senanayake shield resided at Reid Avenue for 19 years, while S. Thomas’ became its home for 17 years between 1952 and 1969, the longest stays at respective institutions.
In 1988, Royal fielded one of the youngest teams in their history as the average age stood at 16 ½ years with five players being 15 years old. The team suffered a mammoth defeat by an innings and 72 runs, giving the Thomians their biggest win in the series and also a taste of victory after 24 years. But the young outfit stood for 3 more years, securing consecutive victories for Royal in 1990 and 1991. The Royalists, captained by P.C.D McCarthy achieved their biggest victory in 1938 by an innings and 87 runs.
The closest wins for Royal came in 2006 and 2016. Perhaps the closest encounter of them all, in 2006, Royal secured a 7-wicket win with just 2 minutes to spare on the final day. In 2016, Royal won in the final delivery of the match. The closest win for the Thomians came in 1924 where they won by 23 runs, 5 minutes before the close of play.
For the last 50 years, the Royalists have emerged victorious by chasing down a total in the 4th innings. The last win for Royal by a margin of runs was recorded back in 1969. Their following wins in 1983, 1990, 1991, 2006, 2013 and 2016, came after successful run chases. For S. Thomas’, their last successful run chase was in 2019.
The age old rivalry is known for its beauty and uncertainty. In 1951, chasing 191 to win, the Thomians were cruising at 154 for 3 in the final half hour, when 25 minutes later, the next 7 wickets fell for a mere 23 runs, sealing a phenomenal 13-run win for Royal.
Coming into the 1990 big match, the Royalists were winless in the entire season. The Thomians commenced their second innings in the latter part of day 2 and were 59/0 at stumps. Beginning day 3, they had 10 wickets in hand and were 80/2 at one stage. But they were subsequently bowled out for 98 with last 7 wickets falling for a mere 8 runs. Royal needing just 67 for victory, chased the target, winning by 9 wickets and pulling off one of the most thrilling turnarounds in Royal’s favour.
In 1999, history was written for S. Thomas’ in a similar manner. Starting day 3 with a second innings lead of 30, the Royalists were 45/1 at one point but crumbled to 80 all out. Needing 111 to win and despite a Royal resistance, the Thomians won by 4 wickets in a dramatic turn of events.
The year of 2016 too saw a riveting finale on the big stage. The strong Thomian side made an imposing 350 at declaration before forcing Royal to struggle at 125/5. But debutant Pasindu Sooriyabandara’s valiant ton set the tone for a revival and as the Thomians were put into bat with a 22-run lead on day 3, tables turned in a bizarre way, bundling them out for 127. The eventual 150-run pursuit was sealed by Royal in the final ball of the match.
In 1990 and 1991 the Royalists recorded consecutive wins but had to wait for 15 more years for their next win which eventually came in 2006 with a thrilling end to the game.
Both Thomian victories in 2005 and 2007 inflicted innings defeats on the Royalists. In 2013, the shield made its way back to Reid Avenue after a lapse of 6 years under the captaincy of Devind Pathmanathan until S. Thomas’ regained it in 2019 under the captaincy of Sithara Hapuhinna.
Going into the 141st encounter, the tally stands at 35 wins for Royal, 35 for S. Thomas’, with 70 ending a draw.