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124th Battle of the Blues : Royal go out with confidence

by Dinesh Weerawansa - Daily News Tue Mar 11 2003

Unbeaten Royal College, Colombo are determined to make their presence felt when they take on their traditional rivals S.Thomas' College, Mt.Lavinia at the 124th Battle of the Blues three-day cricket encounter which starts at the picturesque Sinhalease Sports Club grounds, Maitland Place, Colombo on Thursday. Leading mobile communications provider, Dialog GSM will sponsor this year's Royal-Thomian too.

The Royal-Thomian encounter is one of the oldest continuous annual cricket matches of the world. This would be the 25th occasion that the match is being played over three days ever since the series began in 1879.

From the centenary encounter in 1979, the blue riband of annual cricket encounters became a three-day affair played in true spirits of the game, maintaining the high traditions for one and a quarter century.

The Reid Avenue boys would march into the big 'un, brimming with confidence of tasting victory after 12 years. Royal registered back to back big match wins in 1990 under Udaya Lakmal Wijesena and in the following year under Rohan Iriyagolle. Ever since, they have not been able to get the better of the Thomians and it looks like 2003 is going to be another memorable occasion for them.

This year's Royal side is a classic example for a blend of youth and experience which has clicked nicely over the past five months or so.

Captained by Rochana Wijeratne, the lads from Cinnamon Gardens have been enjoying a rich harvest this season and a big match win would be the ideal to put the icing on the cake of a highly successful season.. They have already underlined their supremacy in the inter-school league this season.

Royal have played 16 matches this season and beaten St. Benedict's, Dharmapala, Dharmasoka and St. Anthony's, Katugastota. They also have dominated in the majority of the balance 12 matches, including six first innings wins, which speaks of the volume of success they have been enjoying in the 2002/03 season. Opening batting for the Reid Avenue boys would be Dimithri Siriwardene and second year coloursman and wicket keeper bat Velu Arulprakash, both of them have shared nearly 1,000 runs between them.

Siriwardena cracked a polished 155 and is determined to play another key role at the most important assignment for the year.

Janith Jayawardena would occupy the vital No.3 berth and has over 500 runs to his credit. Strengthening the middle order batting would be skipper Rochana Wijeratne, the second year coloursman who has scored over 650 runs with top scores of 89 against St.Joseph's and 107 against Trinity, and last year's captain and fourth year coloursman Ganganath Ratnayake, who has produced over 500 runs off his willow. Navin Dias and fresher Tharanga Edirimuni too would add strength to Royal's middle order batting.

Amongst the other centurions produced by Royal this season are Ratnayake (124 vs. Dharmapala) and Jayawardene (100 vs. Isipatana).

Skipper Wijeratne would have the luxury of a well-combined bowling attack, which is armed with both pace and spin. Sharing the new ball attack for Royal would be Tharaka Kottehewa and Pradeepan Jayaprakash. Kottahewa, who really gave an impressive account at last year's big match, enjoyed a match bag of 12 wickets against Wesley. He has over 40 wickets this season.

The spin duo of Heshan Morawaka (left-arm leg) and Danushka Edirisuriya (right-arm off) have shared over 75 wickets between them and it would be interesting to see how they cope up with the Thomian middle order batting.

Fitting in nicely to balance the Royal bowling attack with be the experienced off breaks of Ratnayake, who has nearly 50 wickets this season.

Coached by former Sri Lanka Test spinner Roger Wijesuriya Royal team is determined continue the good work. Hard work and dedication have been the key to their success and the Royalists would look forward to think about the 2003 big match with a positive mind.

Royalist Sumithra Warnakulasuriya is the highest individual scorer for either side in the series with his marathon knock of 197 made in 1980. Royal has contributed to the national team over the years. Among the Test cricketers produced by Royal are Ranjan Madugalle, Asantha de Mel, Roshan Jurangpathy, Jayantha Amarasinghe and Jehan Mubarak. Madugalle, who figured in five Royal-Thomians from 1975 to 1979 aggregating 328 runs at an average of 46.85, went on to captain the Sri Lanka Test team and is currently the chief match referee of the International Cricket Council. Only two Royal batmen have scored centuries on debut - Jagath Pattiarachchi (100 n.o in 1974) and Sumithra Warnakulasuriya (197 in 1980).

ROYAL COLLEGE squad: Rochana Wijeratne (captain), Velu Arulprakash, Dimithri Siriwardene, Tharanga Edirimuni, Navin Dias, Ganganath Ratnayake, Janith Jayawardene, Tharaka Kottehewa, Heshan Morawaka, Danushka Edusuriya, Pradeepan Jayaprakash, Dhanushka de Saram, Nadun Punchihewa, Chaturanga Somapala, Roger Wijesuriya (coach).