Sri Lanka Cricket in its desperate attempt to revive its legend and pride of the nation's cricket is hosting the Nidahas T20I tri-nation series involving India and Bangladesh. While the tri-series took place at R Premadasa Cricket Stadium, the city dwellers were busy celebrating “the real Big Match” in the shape of a school rivalry older than the Ashes, amid the state of emergency that the government has imposed following communal violence in the past weeks.
Cricket in Sri Lanka, the nation also known as the pearl of the Indian Ocean, has great English influence, given the long years the company had ruled this part of the world. Though the nation started playing Test matches only in the early 1980s after getting admitted to the International Cricket Council as a Full Member, the Battle of the Blues - a rivalry between Royal College Colombo and S Thomas' College Mount Lavinia – reached its 139th year this month.
School cricket has deep roots in Sri Lanka and there are at least 32 separate school battles to celebrate for the people. However, none are like the Battle of the Blues - a three-day game that started Friday.
First played in 1879, two years before the Ashes rivalry between England and Australia, one can only imagine the size of the celebration centered on this rivalry, which lasts three days, while all the other longer version school matches are played over two days. In 1880, the game became a students-only encounter and was played at Galle Face, present premises of the Taj Samudra Hotel. The Academy was led by JW de Silva while FW McDonnell captained S. Thomas. The Colombo Academy emerged victorious in the inaugural encounter.
In Sri Lanka, loyalty towards school cricket is one of the strongest in the globe and that sentiment begins in the roads and ends in the cricket field in March every year. The oldest and the most prestigious boys’ schools turn the city into party atmosphere for their respective annual cricket encounters called “The Big Match”.
The Battle of the Blues between Royal and Thomian drew old boys not only from around Sri Lanka but from the whole world. Having 80-year old great grandfathers passionately wearing school colours and waving flags next to kids still in school and wearing uniform is not unusual. There are big parades around the city days before the match for the old and the current boys and it is a sight of explosion of colourful, chaotic insanity.
Such is the craze of the game that even the current Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is one of Royal's illustrious alumni, did not miss the first day of the party at Sinhalese Sports Club, along with some 18,000 others. Around 50 of the current Sri Lankan parliament members belong to these two historic schools and around a similar number of cricketers went on to represent Sri Lanka in different formats. Current Sri Lanka top-order batsman Kusal Perera went to Royal while the country’s first Test captain Duleep Mendis is a Thomian.
The carnival will continue over the weekend with the finals scheduled for Sunday and around 30,000 are expected to turn up.
Off the 138 matches played in nine different venues - Galle Face, Gordon Gardens, NCC (Victoria Park), CCC, Campbell Park, NCC (Maitland Place), SSC (Victoria Park), P Sara Stadium (The Oval) and SSC (Maitland Place) - Royal College is just a win ahead of the Thomians with 35 victories. Sixty nine of the matches ended in a draw.