Captain Raveenthiraja Nirrushan (103 n.o) and opener Faahim Saleem (100 n.o) gave a perfect lesson on what Thomian grit is all about as they smashed centuries to escape innings defeat as S.Thomas College made 225 for 2 in their follow on, on day two of their 130th Battle of the Blues three-day cricket encounter against Royal College continued at SSC grounds, Colombo yesterday.
When the Thomian captain Nirrushan walked in to join opener Saleem at the middle, S.Thomas were heading for certain defeat - still needing 193 runs to escape innings defeat with only eight second inning wickets in hand.
Resuming the second day at their hopeless overnight total of 54 for 4, S.Thomas were bowled out for 99 in 33.3 overs. After being enforced the follow on with a huge deficit of 214 runs, the Thomians were in further trouble losing their first two second innings wickets with only 21 runs on the board.
But the duo was instrumental in staging one of the greatest fight backs in the 13-decade long Battle of the Blues history to share a double century partnership for the third wicket.
Their unfinished 204-run alliance in 79.1 overs with a neat run rate of 2.57 runs per over, not only helped S.Thomas to avoid innings defeat, but also made the supporters from Mount Lavinia proud.
Nirrushan was the first to reach the magical three figure mark and a few minutes later opener Saleem emulated his captain as both remained unbeaten at the end. Nirrushan was 103 not out (off 234 balls with 13 boundaries) while Saleem was 100 not out off 262 balls with ten fours).
The pair was extremely careful in selecting their shots and their respective strike rates of 44.01 and 38.16 speaks volumes of patience they have had in putting Thomians to safety.
Saleem had a lucky escape when he was dropped in the slips by royal skipper Abeykoon off the bowling of Thanthirigoda when the batsman was on 38, while Nirrushan too was dropped when on 45 in the slips off the bowling of Abeykoon.
They are just 35 runs short of erasing the all-time Thomian highest partnership for any wicket.
At the rate they have been going, they are well set to better the 238-run record partnership between then captain Ashan Peiris (161) and Nisham Mazahir (162) in 2007 (also for the third wicket). Thus, the majestic alliance between Nirrushan and Saleem could well account for the highest ever partnership by S.Thomas as well as their best third wicket stand.
If Saleem and Nirrushan could add a further 51 runs today, they would also be in a position to shatter the series record for the highest ever partnership (254 runs), currently held by Royalists Anushka Polonowita (165) and Yasas Dharmaratne (124) since 1996.
Many thought the Reid Avenue boys would wrap up the match inside two days, much to the disappointment of the usual capacity Saturday crowd. But Nirrushan and Saleem gave a perfect lesson on what a real fight back is. They know they have a huge responsibility on their shoulders to save S.Thomas from the jaws of defeat and did just what was expected from them.
They started the recovery job slowly and made sure they won t lose any more wickets in the first session to take lunch at 38 for 2 with Saleem on 18 and Nirrushan on four.
But once they had a good taste of the Royal bowling attack, they went for their natural stroke play. They survived more than two full sessions to put S.Thomas in a respectable position, compared to what they were in the pre-lunch session.
Royal bowlers cut a sorry figure as Saleem and Nirrushan treated spectators with a galaxy of strokes, both on the on side and off. They showed equally good technique in both attack and defence as Royal captain Yasitha Abeykoon had to use as many as nine bowers. Yet, Royal were unsuccessful in separating Saleem and Nirrushan before the close of play yesterday.
Despite the great recovery job by the Thomian pair, they are not in a safe position yet, with an overall lead of only 11 runs and eight second innings wickets in hand.
Earlier last morning, Royal took no time in capturing the six remaining first innings wickets of the Thomians who were bowled out for 99 runs in less than an hour s play. Royal bowlers bowled to a good line and length to show no mercy to Thomian batsmen who were all at sea.
The most devastating spells came from Royal skipper Abeykoon (3 for 36 off 12 overs) and Maneesha Thanthirigoda (4 for 11 off 7 overs). The leg breaks of Thanthirigoda looked extremely deadly and the Thomian bowlers had no answers whatsoever.
Today s first session would be crucial for both sides. The team which bags honours in today s pre-lunch session would hold key to the 130th Battle of the Blues encounter.
If Royal could run though Thomian batting quickly today, as they did yesterday, then they could well look forward to a win to square the series 34-all.
But if Saleem and Nirrushan continue their good work and get support from at least a couple of more batsmen, then they would be in a position to shatter Royal s hopes.
ROYAL COLLEGE 1ST INNINGS
313 for 9 decl. (Kusal Perera 142, Banuka Rajapakse 87, Faahim Saleem 2 for 37, Chamal Fonseka 2 for 50)
S.THOMAS COLLEGE 1ST INNINGS
FAAHIM SALEEM lbw b. Abeykoon 00
ANUJA FERNANDO lbw b. Rajaratne 22
CHULAKA KUMARASINGHE run out (Abeykoon) 03
RAVEENTHIRAJA NIRRUSHAN lbw b.Abeykoon 24
ALDRIN KERNER lbw b. Thanthirigoda 01
CHAMOD PATHIRANA lbw b. Thanthirigoda 06
ASHANE FERNANDO c. & b. Thanthirigoda 05
CHAMAL FONSEKA b. Thanthirigoda 05
LALINDRA PEIRIS c. & b. Abeykoon 01
DINESH WALPITA c. Vithanage b.Maowjood 07
SACHIN PEIRIS not out 12
EXTRAS: (4B, 7 LB, 1 W, 1 NB) 13
TOTAL: all out 99
Batting time: 33.3 overs, 151 minutes
FALL OF WICKETS: 1-0 (Saleem), 2-16 (Kumarasinghe), 3-41 (Anuja Fernando), 4-54 (Kerner),
5-65 (Pathirana), 6-67 (Nirrushan), 7-76 (Fonseka), 8-79 (Peiris), 9-85 (Ashane Fernando), 10-99 (Walpita).
BOWLING: Abeykoon 12-2-36-3 L. De Silva 5-1-13-0 Rajaratne 4-2-7-1
Rajapakse 3-0-14-0 Mowjood 2.3-0-7-1 Thanthirigoda 7-3-11-4.
S.THOMAS COLLEGE 2ND INNINGS
FAAHIM SALEEM not out 100
ANUJA FERNANDO c.Hettiarachchi b.De Silva 04
ASHANE FERNANDO c. Perera b.Abeykoon 11
RAVEENTHIRAJA NIRRUSHAN not out 103
EXTRAS: (1 B, 6 NB) 07
TOTAL: (for 2 wkts at stumps) 225
Batting time: 84 overs
FALL OF WICKETS: 1-10 (Anuja Fernando), 2-21 (Ashane Fernando).
BOWLING: Abeykoon 13-1-38-1 L. de Silva 3-0-10-1 Rajaratne 13-1-37-0 Rajapakse 5-0-15-0
Mowjood 11-2-26-0 Rambukwella 7-1-21-0 Thanthirigoda 21-8-41-0 Hettiarachchi 2-0-18-0 Witnanage 9-1-18-0.