1969 Royal-Thomian: When Royal ended an 18-Year Drought

Eardley Lieversz**

Royal’s win in 1969 was the last result in the two-day game. Hopefully, readers of this article will be able to draw some comparisons with the eleven games that have ended in a result in the 40 years since the game was lengthened to three days.

The extra day may not make it any easier to achieve a result, but does nullify the advantages of batting first.  Posting a big total no longer insulates a side from defeat, as Royal found out in 1999 and the Thomians in 2016.  By the same token, a side that dominates the game can expect to win without cutting corners.  For instance, because of the extra time to dismiss a side twice, declaring by tea on the first day, doesn’t confer any extra benefits.

Standing L to R: Jagath Fernando, Nirmal Hettiaratchy, Beverley Paul, Jayendran Thalayasingam, Upali Samarage, Jayantha Peiris, Sunimal Yapa
Seated L to R: Bogoda Premaratne (Principal), Asita Jayaweera, Carol Samarasekera, Eardley Lieversz (Captain), Sahadevan Thalaysingam, Dhyan Caldera, John de Saram (Master in charge)

Fifteen tense minutes

At approximately 5.30 p.m. on 8th March 1969 the Thomian no. 11 arrived at the crease.  As the last Thomian pair hung on grimly and played down ball after ball, spectators were surprised at the captain’s calm.  The fact is that by the law of averages the last pair was unlikely to last half an hour, providing the bowling changes continued to be rung.

Confident that the game was in the bag the captain enjoyed being on the cusp of a historic triumph, which was better than the triumph, itself.  It would have been an anti-climax, after striving throughout the game, to capture the last three wickets in quick succession.  Royal would have been less deserving of victory if they hadn’t had to work on the last pair.

As it turned out both camps were on the edge of their seats for 15 long minutes.  Victory was sweeter for having been delayed until the juncture at which St. Thomas’ had sensed a faint glimmer of hope of saving the game.

Not only had the game been a foregone stalemate one hour into the second day, only half an hour earlier when final drinks were taken at 5.00 p.m., the game appeared to be heading right down to the wire with the Thomians well placed to save the game.  At 5.28 p.m. when Paul replaced Yapa at the scoreboard end, a tense finish still seemed likely.  None of Royal’s cricketers expected to be left 30 minutes to capture the last wicket.  Coming to terms with this unprecedented stroke of fortune left little time for anxiety when the last Thomian pair put up stiff resistance.

The advantages of batting first

Royal were fated to dominate the game because the Thomian captain had intended sending Royal in if he won the toss, as he did the following year. In the late fifties and sixties, the side batting first inevitably had the better of the game.  Further, the weaker side could narrow the gap between itself and its opponent by batting first.  This is what happened in the 1962 game which Royal were favoured to win because of her formidable pace attack.  St. Thomas’ College (STC) recovered from 86 for 6 wickets to make 197 and have Royal on the boil.

The side that batted first had two sessions in which to bat and could declare from a position of strength.  Moreover, the bowling and fielding tended to fall away in the last hour before tea.  By contrast, the side having second use of the wicket was always under pressure whatever total they chased.  Firstly, the side batting second was more intent on protecting its wickets than in scoring runs. Then the innings had to be built from scratch the next morning against a fresh attack.  Ultimately, the side batting first called the shots by making the final declaration that determined the fate of the game.

Royal’s first innings target of 219 in 1969 had very few fours in it; its momentum based mainly on well run singles and a late flurry by Yapa (42 n.o.).  Royal would have been hard put to make that score batting second after a tiring stint in the field.

However, just as much as losing the toss did not inevitably lead to defeat, batting first did not necessarily guarantee a win, without risk taking.  Derrick de Saram set about instilling this attitude in Royal’s cricketers when he took over as coach in 1967-8.  Many hold that Royal’s march to victory in the big match commenced with its ennobling defeat at the hands of Wesley.  No one celebrated the outcome of the Wesley game more than Colonel de Saram who believed that a courageous defeat was the moral equivalent of a win.

The prerequisites of victory

Royal had learnt a lot from her mistakes in the 1968 game. One mistake was to bat on beyond tea. Providing Royal had the runs on the board, in order to beat STC they had to capture ten second innings wickets. But Royal couldn’t hope to dismiss STC in their second innings if they couldn’t bundle STC out by lunch on the second day. In 1968 Dennis Chanmugam declared as soon as STC avoided the follow on, after only losing a single wicket in a session. While the Thomians had no chance of winning after conceding such a lead, they had nonetheless proved that they were a hard side to dismiss and had shoved that fact in Royal’s face. Dennis was effectively telling Royal – “You couldn’t dismiss us in the first innings, you will struggle to dismiss us in the second innings”.

If STC was allowed to declare at lunch in 1969 they would have won a psychological victory. Although it didn’t seen likely when STC was 130 for 5, Royal’s preference was to pre-empt a Thomian declaration by dismissing them and delivering the confidence that having done it once, Royal could do it again. It had the reverse effect on STC who were aware that its tail, having been exposed once, could be exposed again. So, only by declaring at tea on the first day could Royal have had the time to achieve the desired outcome – to prevent STC from declaring its first innings closed and obtaining a moral victory. The lead didn’t matter as much as capturing ten first innings wickets. And so when STC went out to field just before lunch on the second day, they were rattled and truly on the back foot.

In 1965 STC batted after tea and didn’t add substantially to the total in the process of losing their last three wickets. In 1968 Royal were 230 for 8 at tea, and added a mere 2 runs after, squandering 35 precious minutes. In both instances, valuable time was wasted in attempting to further enhance an already impregnable position, rather in allowing the bowlers the opportunity to dismiss the opposition through natural attrition, before lunch on the second day. (This was the second time in thirteen matches that Royal had won the toss and consequently there was little precedent to follow. But the following year Royal was able to capitalise on the wisdom of hindsight.)

In 1969, even if RoyaI wanted an unassailable total in the vicinity of 250, that would have improved their chances of enforcing the follow on, there was no guarantee that Sunimal Yapa, who was 42 n.o. at tea, could have continued in the same vein. Batting first and posting a total of over 200 was only half the battle won. Being in a strong position Royal could afford to take risks, and needed to, even if it meant giving STC a chance to rally

A stalemate averted

Although Royal were never in danger of defeat in 1969, the prospect of dismissing STC twice appeared very remote at the end of the first day.  After losing their third wicket at 47, the Thomians recovered thanks to a masterly 33 by Kariyawasam who made a mockery of Royal’s aggressive field settings.  The success of crowding batsmen hinged on the latter perceiving a crisis and responding to it by either excessive caution or reckless aggression, both of which played into the hands of the fielding side.  However, Kariyawasam played a classic innings and called Royal’s bluff.  What were Royal’s chances of beating their opponents if they couldn’t dismiss Kariyawasam once, let alone twice?

Although Royal was lucky to dismiss Kariyawasam before close, the manner of his batting, the apparent lack of penetration in Royal’s bowling, and the mere 33 runs that stood between St. Thomas’ and following on, made a draw the most likely outcome.  This view was reinforced an hour into the second day when the score stood at about 130 for 5 wickets.  The Thomian batsmen at the crease weren’t in any difficulty and at this stage Royal had captured only two wickets in the last two hours of the Thomian innings, which now seemed set to extend beyond lunch and end in a declaration.

Quite suddenly and unexpectedly, the Thomian innings folded 32 minutes before lunch giving Royal a lead of 72 runs.  This surprising turn of events owed as much to the long Thomian tail as much to a sense of complacency that overcame the Thomian camp which resulted in two run outs.  At the close of the first day’s play in 1968, the Thomians were staring down the barrel of a follow on.  Consequently, they defended doggedly the next morning and lost only a single wicket in averting the follow on.  In 1969, having averted the follow on for the loss of 5 wickets they never envisaged the scenario that was to unfold.  If they had, they would surely have striven to extend the innings to lunch and to limit Royal’s options.

Cricket at It’s finest

Royal now had to score runs fast and not lose many wickets in the process.  St. Thomas’ had to contain Royal by capturing wickets and delaying Royal’s inevitable declaration.  Royal’s quality batting line up was up against an economical Thomian attack, which made for the finest 70 minutes of the match.  The accelerated momentum of the game placed a premium on teamwork.  Every individual in either team sensed that a slip on his part would prove costly and loosen his team’s grip on the game.  Accordingly, the crowd was less forgiving of lapses and more appreciative of smart cricket.

Royal set STC 188 runs to achieve in 161 minutes, which some felt was generous and fraught with risk.  However, Royal’s intention was to give itself sufficient time to bowl its opponents out and most certainly this knowledge worked on the Thomian psyche.  The Thomians would have preferred an impossible target that would have allowed them to play out time if the situation deteriorated. As it stood, if Jayasekera got going STC had a good chance of winning. But if wickets fell early STC would find it a lot harder to salvage a draw.

With runs flowing Royal had resisted the temptation of setting a target of over 200 and taking the pressure off STC. Both of Royal’s declarations in the game opened up the game slightly, but from a position of strength, that allowed Royal to control the outcome.

There were other factors that worked in Royal’s favour.  The target set was more than what St. Thomas’ had totalled in the first innings.  And Royal enjoyed the psychological advantage of making a declaration from a position of strength after losing only four wickets and scoring at over a run per minute.  P.N.W. Gunasekera, who led St. Thomas’ to victory in 1964, read the flow of the game astutely and tempered the Thomian skipper’s premature optimism with the words “Be careful, you could lose this one” (as related to the Royal captain years later).

Royal In the box seat

In the second innings Royal’s captain had a dream run with many of his moves turning to gold.  Unknown to all, Jayasekera, the man most feared by Royal, was burdened by the realisation that his team’s hopes of winning or saving the game rested on his shoulders.  (His coach, in tears, implored him not to lose his wicket.) Hence, the last thing he wanted was for cover to be brought up to a silly mid-off, which he later confided had unnerved him.  After his sensational departure in the first over, and the shock waves that it generated, it was a question of putting pressure on the Thomian batting without worrying about the number of runs conceded.  (The only reason STC reached 100 was because Royal had the field up and did little to plug boundary hits.)  From then onwards everything flowed Royal’s way as if all of the bad luck enjoyed by Royal in previous Royal-Thomians was being compensated for in one fell swoop.

One feature of the Thomian innings after tea was the fall of a vital wicket just when it seemed that Royal was about to lose their grip on the game.  Kariyawasam, Wijesooriya and de Saram, three batsmen who appeared set for long stays, fell unexpectedly, the first two to shots that were totally out of character.

Royal built on momentum

Although Royal’s bowling wasn’t as tight as that of her opponents, it had greater variety and guile.  The dismissals of Kariyawasam and de Saram demonstrate that.

Royal thought on her feet. In both innings STC’s first drop was bowled around his legs. Royal had exploited his fondness for the sweep and had moved the deep fielder square, thereby encouraging the batsman to sweep fine. But all these strategies were a luxury afforded by the team that enjoyed a favourable momentum

The Royal – Thomian is all about momentum and exploiting the opportunities that momentum brings in its wake. Momentum nullifies the strengths of strong sides/individuals, and allows teams, particularly weaker sides, to maximise their potential and grab the key moments. In 1962 by batting first STC were best able to keep Darrell Lieversz at bay. In 1969 by batting first Royal were able to cope with Thomian in swing bowler Wijeratne better than at any other time.

The side that bats first enjoys the breaks. Umpires are reluctant to lift their fingers in the first session of a Royal – Thomian. But as the game reaches a climax umpires are caught up in the drama of it all and get itchy fingers. (The 1986 tied test in Madras between Australia and India came about because the umpire adjudged one of the two Indian batsmen at the crease, LBW to a bat/pad.) If STC had batted first the momentum may well have flowed in its direction resulting in a different outcome. And all the options freely available to the Royal captain may have been monopolised by the Thomian captain.

The dice didn’t roll favourably for the Thomian captain. Irrespective of the quality of the opposition, winning the last game preceding the Royal Thomian is a filip. Royal beat a weak Trinity team but received a tremendous morale boost by taking 20 wickets and Royal’s captain had arrived at an effective method of bowler rotation that he could take into the Royal – Thomian. The Thomians totally outplayed a Peterite team, much stronger than Trinity, but narrowly missed victory.

Royal maintained its momentum by batting first in the Royal-Thomian, and not doing anything foolish. The batsmen sat on the splice and won the battle of attrition by never having two new batsmen together at the crease, which enabled her to accelerate the scoring in the last hour before tea against a tiring Thomian attack.

Playing as a team

Observers remarked that Royal’s win owed much to teamwork. Teamwork is usually associated with how a side performs on the field. Bowlers work in pairs and spinners and paceman help each other by putting pressure on the batsmen. Finally, the fielders are alert and grab every chance.

But Royal’s team spirit was forged in its struggle to make runs in the first innings.  Although Royal had a strong batting line up, none of her leading batsman could consolidate good starts, and they had to rely on the individual contributions of every batsman.  Royal also had to develop an understanding around which, quick singles, which kept the total ticking, could be generated.  Because nothing came easy from the start, the Royal eleven were forced to maximise their team’s opportunities and lean on each other. Royal batted as a team, rotated the strike in order to protect each other, and then went on to support each other on the field.

Executing the basics better

Cricket is no different to ballroom dancing in that success is built on perfecting the basics rather than in demonstrating flash. Royal could have squandered the chance of having first use of the wicket, and the momentum which came with it, by rash stroke play.  What differentiated Royal’s batting from that of the Thomians, was the former’s rotation of the strike in both innings, and alertness in grabbing singles.  It could be said that Royal outran St. Thomas’ to victory.  It was really that simple.

Before and after lunch on the first day, Royal were a wicket away from a collapse, particularly if two new batsmen were together at the crease. Royal had to keep Wijeratne’s late inswingers at bay soon after lunch in order to survive to tea. This was achieved by a combination of technique and strike rotation by Samerasekera and Lieversz in order to take the pressure off each other. By finding the gaps and taking singles with ease, Royal kept the Thomians on their toes and kept the total mounting in a risk free manner. By contrast, the Thomian openers tried to score off fours, rather than rotate the strike, and paid the price by being dismissed in rapid succession.

Royal hunger

In addition, Royal exhibited a sense of desperation. This was demonstrated in Hettiaratchy’s stumping of de Saram in the first innings and Samerage’s catch to dismiss de Saram in the second innings.  Hettiaratchy had to take a step to his left to gather the ball and then throw himself back in the opposite direction to dislodge the bails.  Both players understood that de Saram was adept at occupying the crease and killing time. The Thomians by contrast seem to be waiting for things to happen than making them happen.

There is no substitute for good cricket and the application of common sense.  This is what enables a side to build on momentum. And an irreversible momentum creates space for each individual player to chip in a timely manner.

Timely contributions

No Royal batsman scored over 50.  Neither did any bowler take over 3 wickets in an innings.  Here again, in order to apply maximum pressure on the Thomian batting, it was necessary to rotate the bowling rapidly.  If any bowler took four or more wickets in an innings, through lengthy spells, it may have been to Royal’s detriment.

It is true to stay that the contributions of individual Royalists couldn’t be measured statistically.  Jagath Fernando is a case in point.  Although in a subsequent Royal Thomian he went on to make a century before lunch, the 18 and 12 he made in the match were more telling contributions.  In the first innings, his second wicket partnership of 30 with Jayaweera following the loss of the first wicket with one run on the board, blunted the Thomian attack at crucial moments.  (The Thomian left arm in swing bowler could have potentially routed Royal if he had tasted more blood in the first hour of the game.) The purposeful 12 that he made before lunch on the second day established the tempo required to make quick runs.  Likewise, Jayaweera’s modest contributions of 28 and 25 at first drop, took the score to 69 and 71 in the first and second innings respectively, staving off a collapse in one innings and establishing the foundations for a competitive declaration in the second.  In addition, S. Thalayasingam dismissed for nought by Wijeratne in the first innings, mastered his nemesis by top scoring in Royal’s second innings and denying St. Thomas’ the breakthrough they were desperate for.

There were other instances of players who came up with contributions appropriate to the situation.  Samarasekera’s combative 40 under pressure, Caldera’s brisk 21 in Royal’s second innings that ended in a selfless run out, J. Thalayasingam’s immaculate delivery in only the third ball of the Thomian second innings and Paul’s leg-spinners that twice broke the back of the Thomian bottom order, come to mind.  Three out of the five wickets Jayaweera took in the match, to dismiss de Saram twice and Kariyawasam once, in which the batsmen succumbed to his inimitable guile, were extremely timely and put pressure back on the Thomian batting just when it threatened to eat up crucial time. Finally, the self-effacing manner in which each Royalist made a difference found perfect embodiment in Hettiaratchy who set a game record by not conceding a bye in the match. Royal’s most remembered hero was Samarage, who scored 1 run and took 2 wickets in the match, but took one of the great catches which no one present will ever forget.

The benefits Of unpredictability

Royal had observed de Saram plodding away against the tight off spin bowling of Kudahetty and Mendis in 1968. Every ball was on a perfect line and length. De Saram knew what to expect and stretched forward even before the ball left the bowler’s hand. Jayaweera and Mudalige, who could have added variety, were sparsely used.

In 1969 Royal decided to flummox the Thomian batsmen, including de Saram, with unpredictability. This was achieved by rotating bowlers and giving the Thomians loose stuff intermittently. Royal wasn’t hoping to get de Saram caught in the outer – simply to get him bowled through confusion. It was envisaged that de Saram would go on the back foot, in preparation for a full toss, which never eventuated, when he should have gone forward, with fatal consequences.

Unpredictability had succeeded in dismissing the Thomian skipper in the second innings. After losing two early wickets in her second innings STC stemmed the slide until tea. Having stabilised his team’s batting, the Thomian captain was poised once again to break up Royal’s field. In a couple of overs Kariyawasam would have put the game irrevocably out of Royal’s reach.  Royal played its last card by bringing extra cover up and inviting Kariyawasam to hit over the top.  It was hoped that in attempting to do so he would either be stumped or get an outside edge.  Instead, Jayaweera, sensing the batsman’s intentions, held the ball back and the batsman popped the ball to close mid-off.  Everyone’s disbelief turned to prayer in the knowledge such an injudicious stroke would never be repeated.  Samarasekera held on to the catch and a no ball was never called.

A catch that will always remain in the mind’s eye

 Heading towards the 5 p.m. drink break, the fifth wicket pair of de Saram and Wijesooriya were defending doggedly and had steadied the ship somewhat.  But thanks to Samarage, St. Thomas’ had lost five wickets when the break was taken and Royal’s spirits had lifted.  Until then, Royal faced the prospect of having to capture six Thomian wickets in the remaining hour, with the Thomians buoyed by the fact that, following a poor start, they had recovered to lose only 4 wickets in 100 minutes of play.  They had only to continue in this vein until about 5.15 p.m. to save the game.

In the previous overs Samarage had fetched loose balls that had been summarily despatched to the boundary.  Now de Saram checked his attempt to pull a full toss from Jayaweera and succeeded in popping it up in the close mid wicket region. Somewhere in the deepest recesses of his mind Samarage had worked out that the game was slipping away from his team and that this chance had to be grabbed if Royal were to win the game.  He came rushing in from deep mid wicket, dived forward, grabbed the ball inches off the ground, and turned around to face the direction he came from, in order to maintain his balance. Such desperation summarised the motivation of the Royal team. Royal now sensed that such a miraculous catch couldn’t be associated with a drawn game.

It is commonly believed that Colonel Derrick de Saram, Royal’s coach, schemed in his son’s dismissal.  If this is so, the captain was none the wiser.  In truth, the liberal use of full tosses was an impromptu response to the exigencies of the situation.  They were intended to break the batsman’s concentration and make him more susceptible to conventional deliveries. The Royal captain constantly reminded the three spin bowlers of the need to slip in a full toss per over.

But if any batsman was fated to be dismissed by a full toss it was de Saram. De Saram was essentially a front foot plodder to whom a loose ball sowed confusion. And if any Royal bowler was going to be the instrument of de Saram’s demise, it was Jayaweera who delivered deliberate full tosses in an accidental manner better than anyone.

Last rites

St. Thomas’ were 23 for 2 wickets at tea.  In 19 minutes of play after tea they slumped to 32 for 4 wickets.  Another 36 minutes that seemed like eternity went by before Royal enjoyed her next success with the total at 56.  By 5.14 p.m. St. Thomas’ were down to her last three wickets with 86 runs on the board.  By 5.30 p.m. the last Thomian pair were at the crease.

At about 5.44 p.m. the last ball of Jayaweera’s over was fielded by Yapa who commenced the over that was to end a momentous 15 days for Royal that commenced at Campbell Park when Wesley made Royal hunt leather on the first day and place the latter in danger of following on.  The following day Royal lost in a manner that brought them no discredit for they came from behind to determine the game’s outcome.  Between losing to Wesley and beating Trinity, a controversy raged over the selection of the wicket keeper.  However the Principal shook the captain’s hand on the morning of the match and posed the following question – “Just as much as you fiddled with the selection could you also fiddle with the match and give Royal a win?”  No fiddler’s bow could capture the sweetness of the moment that lay three balls ahead.

Yapa delivered two orthodox deliveries, which the batsman negotiated comfortably. He then held the ball by the seam and pushed it through to trap the batsman plumb in front.

Pandemonium then reigned at the Wanathamulla Oval. Royalists swarmed all over the ground. One individual scaled the roof in the vicinity of the Royal dressing room and fell right through almost injuring a spectator.

The customary post match rituals were set aside. The Royal’s captain’s desire to lead his team back to the pavilion was thwarted by a group of Royalists who came from nowhere and carried him on their shoulders. The traditional toast of “hip hip hurrah” by the two teams was not feasible because cameramen crowded the Royal dressing room.

Finally, Royal’s cricketers tried to restore tradition by walking to the Thomian dressing room to perform the obligatory rites, not foreseeing the emotional turmoil there. Royal’s cricketers were so wrapped up in their triumph that they had failed to appreciate what the Thomians were going through. However, on that day itself, opponents were generous in their acknowledgement of each other’s merits and were magnanimous in their own specific ways. That moment saw the beginning of a camaraderie that has now been transformed into a brotherhood of men.

It takes two to lose (and win)

It is true to say that history is written by the winners.  As a result, the Thomian captain has been unfairly maligned.  Statistically, Royal fared better.  Royal won by 86 runs and only lost 12 wickets.  Yet, Kariyawasam played the best knock of the game, Wijesooriya’s scores of 38 and 30 for the match were not only elegant but crafted under pressure, and Wijeratne with his late in swingers was potentially the most lethal bowler in either team. It would have only taken a single variable to be differently aligned for a vastly different outcome to be realised.

Full credit to the Thomians for fighting all the way and forcing Royal to evoke all her ingenuity and resources.  And let us sing the praises of Royal’s captain of the previous year, Ranjit Gunasekera, who reversed the pattern of Thomian domination in the sixties and left us with the blueprint for victory. He had to create his own path, which then become the road map for those that followed. He had also demonstrated that Jayasekera could be curbed and therefore Jayasekera’s aura was slightly tarnished when he arrived for the 1969 game. Dr Ajita Wijesundera summed it up at a gathering of the Royal sixty group in 2014 when he remarked, “Eardley finished what Ranjit started”.

Eardley Lieversz, February 2019

[1] The first version of this article appeared in the Royal cricket souvenir of 2002 and was titled “With fifteen minutes to spare”. The present article is an update and was rewritten to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the last decision in a two day Royal-Thomian…. while the title has been modified by The Editor Cricketique.

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