Captains of Royal and S.Thomas Bhanuka Rajapakse (68 off 60 balls) and Dinesh Walpita (4 for 51 off 18 overs), came out with some brilliant individual performances on the opening day of their 131st Battle of the Blues three-day cricket encounter begun at the SSC grounds, Colombo yesterday.
In reply to Royal s modest first innings total of 283 for 9 declared, S.Thomas were struggling at 20 for one at stumps.
Earlier last morning, Thomian captain Dinesh Walpita surprised everyone when he won an all-important toss last morning and invited Royal to take the first lease of a strip which looked favourable for batsmen.
Walpita proved his own decision right when he had the prized wicket of Royal opener Ramith Rambukwella with the total on 41 in the 16th over. Rambukwella, the most prolific scorer for Royal this season with a rich harvest of over 900 runs this season, made only 27 runs during his 46-ball stay at the middle.
Opener Chalaka Bogoda, joined by Sri Lanka s Youth World Cup star Bhanuka Rajapakse, gave Royal fresh hopes in a second wicket partnership of 57 runs.
The brightest spot in the Royal innings was that sparkling knock of 68 off 60 balls by skipper Rajapaksa, who was in his usual aggressive form. He took the Thomian attack to task with some merciless and elegant stoke play which was coloured with three magnificent sixers and another nine power pack boundaries. The Royal captain was associated in another vital partnership 42 runs for the third wicket with Bogoda.
But Royal failed to make use of their early advantage and lost wickets at regular intervals. From a strongly-placed position of 140 for 2, Royal slumped to 249 for 7, losing five wickets with the addition of only 109 runs.
It was medium paceman Walpita who was mainly responsible for restricting the powerful Royal batting line up. Ever since removing Rambukwella shortly before lunch, Walpita continued to add pressure on Royal batting and he was rewarded with three other scalps to finish with 4 for 51 off his 18 overs.
At one stage, Royal were strongly placed at 98 for one in the 34th over and it looked as if Walpita s decision to field first would boomerang on them. However, the Thomians gradually came back to the picture and has wickets at regular intervals to make sure Royal would not go for a mammoth first innings total.
Royal continued to lose wickets after the departure of Rajapaksa with their total reading at 198. Their last three wickets produced only 33 runs before the Reid Avenue boys closed their first innings at a modest 283 for 9 made off 74 overs. Though Royal s total look comparatively unimpressive by their standards, the Reid Avenue boys bounced back as S.Thomas opened their run chase with a bang.
Royal captain Rajapakse who opened the new ball attack, met with immediate success in his eighth ball of the Thomian innings as opener Brian Dharmasena was caught by Deva for a duck.