By Amindha de Alwis
The 2018-19 season has been one like no other for Thomian cricket. Led by Captain Sithara Hapuhinna, S. Thomas’ College emerged champions in the Singer U-19 Division One Limited-overs tournament, won the Royal-Thomian Big Match encounter after a lapse of 12 years and reached the finals of the U-19 Two-day Championship. To cap it all off, the team also made two successful tours to Australia and England in December and June respectively.
In an exclusive interview with the ‘Daily Mirror’, Head Coach Dinesh Kumarasinghe who retired at the end of the season, remarked that this was one of the most successful cricketing seasons in Thomian history. Indeed, reaching the finals of both major U-19 tournaments as well as winning the Big Match is a feat unparalleled by any Thomian side.
Training and preparation
Kumarasinghe stressed that the heights achieved by the side was the culmination of a lot of hard work. “We start three months before the season and we have a special physical training programme with a trainer. We also play a series of practice matches, so by September we are ready for the season,” he said. He also stated that the team is trained at a level akin to club standards which helps them play with a professional mindset that aids consistent performance.
Leading the way with the bat was skipper Sithara Hapuhinna who amassed 1049 runs over the course of the 2-day tournament. Shalin de Mel too had a prolific season with 899 runs next to his name. Ravindu de Silva and Umayanga Suwaris made headlines in the semi-final of the 2-day tournament, putting on a triple century partnership against Nalanda College with de Silva notching up a double century (213).
In the bowling department, former captain Dellon Peiris (78 wickets) and Sri Lanka U-19 National Kalana Perera were the wreckers-in-chief. Left arm seamer, Perera in particular, had a fine season, picking up 90 wickets in the Two-day tournament -an achievement that is no mean feat for a fast bowler on Sri Lankan wickets. He starred in this year’s Royal-Thomian Big Match with six wickets in the first innings, as well as an important 62 runs with the bat. The six wicket haul brought him his third 5-fer in the Royal-Thomian which is a record in the series.
Kumarasinghe referred to Perera as someone who could go far in his cricketing career. “Kalana Perera is a potential national player. At the moment he is in South Africa with the emerging team. He has a good future ahead of him but he needs to be managed properly. At College we handled him carefully and limited him to short sharp spells because with the conditions in this country, if you give such bowlers 10-12 overs in a row, they get injuries,” he said.
Limited overs championship
S. Thomas’ College clinched the U-19 Limited Overs title with a 12 run victory over Richmond College, Galle in the final held on the 9th of April. Yohan Perera’s 124 runs and three important wickets by Shannon Fernando made the difference in what was a closely fought tussle. This was in fact the third occasion that S. Thomas’ College had won the 50-over championship under Kumarasinghe with the other 2 championships having been won during his first stint as Thomian coach from 1988-2003.
The Thomian outfit came within touching distance of the Two-day Championship, but was beaten to the trophy by St. Joseph’s College in the final.
Tours to Australia and England
During the mid-season break in December, the team travelled to Adelaide, Australia to participate in the Chappell Brothers Challenge Trophy. The team was able to win the trophy and Kalana Perera was adjudged the ‘best bowler of the tournament’.
In addition, as a reward for their performance during the season, the team recently made a tour to England and participated in seven matches with local teams. Two of the games were washed out, but the Thomians put up an impressive display to win four of the remaining matches while losing just the one game; and that too in the final over.
The tour of England marked the second occasion that a Thomian side coached by Kumarasinghe had made a tour to the country. He had previously been at the helm when the Royal-Thomian winning side skippered by Nilanka Peiris, made a visit to the country to play seven minor counties in 1997.
Developing the structure of Thomian cricket
When Kumarasinghe commenced his second stint as Thomian coach in 2013, on an invitation by then Warden, Prof. Indra De Soysa and the cricket advisory committee, his long term plan was to develop the junior structure in the school. “So I started an academy and we now have more than 200 boys involved in it. The academy is for kids below 11 years of age and at the end of the year we have a cricket carnival where we pick the cream and train them,” Kumarasinghe said. He added that the boys who miss out on selection to the development squadsalso continue to receive training since there may be late developers among them.
Outside the schoolboy level, S. Thomas’ College recently started the Old Thomians Cricket Club to encourage players who have left school to continue playing the game. “A lot of Thomians don’t continue playing cricket after leaving school. They give up. So when we have our own club, they have incentive to continue because we have all the facilities. When we entered for the Division Three tournament, we won the Championship in our first year and we were promoted to division two. Then in Division Two we won the Western Province Championship,” he said.
Kumarasinghe who retired from his position as Head Coach at the end of the season, was appreciative of the support rendered to him bythe Warden Rev. Marc Billimoria, the Sub-Warden Asanka Perera, the cricket advisory committee and old boys around the world for helping him develop cricket in the school.
Upcoming 2019/20 season
S. Thomas’ will enter the upcoming season having lost eight (8) of their senior players from the last season. Sri Lanka U-19 representative Ravindu de Silva who impressed with 85 runs in the final match of the recent Youth ODI series against Pakistan U-19s will be the one to watch in what will be his final season at school and Shalin de Mel, Umayanga Suwaris, Thevin Eriyagama and Maneesha Rupasinghe will be among the other players expected to lead the team forward.