‘Victory has a hundred fathers, and defeat is an orphan’. The words of John F. Kennedy, one of America’s favourite sons.As the dust settled at the SSC after three pulsating days of cricket, two traditional rivals found themselves on each side of that spectrum.
The Royalists were ecstatic. And so they should be. In school boy cricket, when your opponents plunder 350 in a day, and then put you in, there’s generally only two possible outcomes. Victory is not one of them. To come back the next morning and front up took guts. And guts aplenty were on exhibition as Geeshanth Panditharatne rallied his troops to systematically grind the fancied Thomian attack into the turf. Pasindu Sooriyabandara was the star of the Royal innings with a dogged Steve Waugh-like 123, which provided the anchor for his team mates to bat around. Yes, he was lucky with a run out that perhaps could have, and should have been given. We, of course have the benefit of replays, and still photos – the umpires didn’t. There is also some jabber of many other decisions going their way. But that should take nothing away from this fabulous Royal performance. In sport, as it is in any other aspect of life, you need some luck to go your way from time to time. However, it’s up to the individual(S) to make the most of the rub of the green.
I believe that mighty effort of resistance on the second day, where they effectively batted out 100 overs took the wind out of the Thomian sails. I don’t think the lads from Mount Lavinia expected that. Not after the pasting they dished out to their opponents on the previous day. But cricket is a funny game. You’re on top after certain periods, and then, you miss a trick and before you know what, you’re on the back foot again. I do feel a bit sorry for the STC side. Sachitha Jayathilaka, having contributed a big part in the demolition job with a quick fire fifty, put the Royalist into bat, with around 23 overs left. However, one over into the innings, the heavens opened and the Royal batsmen were back in the hut with all their wickets intact. Had they played the quota, would have the Thomians made inroads? You never know. But that was not to be.
In many ways, S. Thomas’ were architects of their own downfall. The Thomian batsmen form one of the most potent lineups in schools today, and they bat aggressively. This is the recipe that has seen them rack up many wins this season, and taken them into the Div 1 semis. Why on earth try and change that? Rashmika Opatha scored a brilliant hundred in the first innings. The fastest by a Thomian, breaking the previous best set by Bathiya Karunaratne from nearly two decades ago. His was a key wicket in the second innings, followed by an inexplicable shuffle of the batting order. A horrible plan, which went horrendously wrong. When skipper Jayathilaka entered the fray, they were a shambles with five wickets fallen for next to nothing on the board. He was LBW in a heartbeat, and the school by the sea were all but done. There was some brief resistance by Senal De Silva and Dellon Peiris. However, just shy of tea on the last day, they were wrapped up, leaving Royal with 150 to get in a session.
This left the Reid Avenue boys with a lot of work still left to do. A wicket fell cheaply, but their batsmen never let the momentum slip. They kept getting boundaries regularly enough to make sure they were always in with the chase, and took whatever singles that were on offer. The tension was so thick out there, you could almost carve it with a knife. Sounds blaring, liquids being downed, and chants ringing in the air…but all eyes, be it some blurry ones, were firmly fixed on the epic climax before them.
As the winnings runs were scored, a sea of spectators armed with blue and gold flags engulfed the SSC. It was done. The near impossible, made possible. In many respects, this game was similar to the epic encounter in 1999, with the outcome in reverse. Royal set the pace on the first day. Led by Thushan Amarasuriya, they amassed around 380 (if my memory serves me correctly). Naren Ratwatte’s Thomians were on the hop. However, a hat-trick in the second innings by Suranga Peiris ripped Royal apart, and S.Thomas’ turned the tables on their more fancied arch rivals.
I felt for the boys on the wrong side of the result. Particularly for Sachitha Jayathilaka, an extremely talented and diverse sportsman, who I have been long associated with on the rugby field. This loss will be particularly hard to take. But it’s gone. They need to front up at the Mustangs Trophy – another grand occasion with the game this year being a day-nighter. I remember full well the first day-night limited overs game. It was 1993, Miqdad Marzook leading STC, and the diminutive Gamini Perera his vis-à-vis. My good friend Arjuna Waidyasekera scored ‘man of the match’ awarding fifty, paving the way to a Thomian victory.
It will be true test of fortitude and character for Sachitha and his boys. As the whole country were plundered into a powerless state the next day, in the aftermath of all the drama, the Thomians undoubtedly would have found the heat far more distressing. Defeat is bitter. Hard to take. All the harder when the stakes are that much higher. However, with time it dawns on you that it’s another important stepping stone for greater things to come. As a schoolboy sportsman I’ve tasted them all. Some dizzy heights, as well as some gut wrenching lows – moments you just want to bury your head in the sand. However, looking back with so much water having passed under the bridge since that time, I have undoubtedly learned far more through defeat that in victory. I’m sure it will be the same case with this bunch.
Going back to the game, the 137th encounter between two schools, so rich with tradition, there were two winners on the day. One, the magnificent Royal College team. The other, the unmatched and unrivaled Royal-Thomian spirit. There are a few more encounters to go this year between the old rivals. If it’s anything like what we’ve just seen with the cricket, we’re in for quite a treat. Young Jayathilaka has quite a bit of unfinished business – a score to settle, on the rugby ground, and the Water polo showdown. A result or two are bound to go his way.