‘BIG MATCH’ memories | Daily News

‘BIG MATCH’ memories

This week heralds the onset of Big Match Fever. An ‘affliction’ which is contrary to it’s literal meaning. Instead, it raises the spirits and engenders revelry and camaraderie and hopefully healthy competition.

It is fair game for students after a gruelling term of study to let loose and deservedly enjoy. It brings to the Big Match Theater old boys of the schools, parents, and admirers many of them of the fair sex.

One cannot grudge the festive atmosphere as it creates the occasion for musical accompaniment of every fine stroke, a sixer, a boundary, a yorker, a googly, a bouncer, a doosra, a daring run-out or a dexterous catch. In the midst of all this a touch of cricketing romance gets into the mix. Call it a mixed grill fully worth indulging in!

This year further impetus is being provided by the sponsorship of renowned Big Matches by Dialog Axiata who are the country’s leading sports promoters as well as the prime sponsors of Sri Lanka’s Cricket team.

And then there is Hatton National Bank who are powering the 85th ‘Battle of the Blues’ between the two leading saints, St.Peter and St.Joseph. The other day it was pleasing to see the presentation of sponsorship cheques by the Chief Executive and MD of HNB Jonathon Alles, a former Joes captain, a stylish left hand bat and also Head Prefect and brilliant student of the Darley Road school. He presented the cheque to the two schools’ Rectors Travis Gabriel and Trevor Martin.

Jonathan scored heavily in inter-school cricket had the talent needed and would have earned the Sri Lanka cap had he continued his promising cricket career but opted for Baking instead. Right so, I may add.

Back to the ‘Big Matches.’ Before the country attained Test status inter-school cricket was played by only a few schools. For instance this columnist’s school St. Benedict’s College played only seven matches in the first term and two before the pre season. Most schools played similarly.

But today with almost every school in the country taking to the game, they play nearly 20 matches during the pre season and season proper. Cricketers scoring 1000 runs and taking a near hundred wickets is now no big deal.

With the ‘BIG MATCH’ fever almost catching up, schoolboys travelling in buses and cars will have the flags of their respective schools fluttering and shouts ‘come on’ whatever the name of the school being cheered loud and clear.

Also on the days of the ‘BIG MATCHES’ it was customary for schoolboys to organize jalopies, take tills round and collect money to support their fun an frolic.

Also former cricketers who had played in these big matches and old boy supporters living abroad make it a pilgrimage to fly in their numbers to meet, greet and recalling old times and having a good time at the dinners and dances that are organized.

It was all good fun with hardly any out of line behavior. Sadly however, in recent times values have fallen taking a turn for the worst with some of the revelers misbehaving .

Of the ‘BIG MATCHES’ the one that undoubtedly ‘prized’ is the Royal-Thomian, tagged the ‘Battle of the Blues’ that has an over 100 year tradition and is still continued with great enthusiasm, nostalgia and emotion.

While incidents are many in these matches, one incident that is still vivid in my mind is the century made by T. Jothilingam for Royal probably in 1955. And that is that he allegedly consumed 17 glasses of water during that marathon and memorable innings which still remain as what could be called a record.

Incidentally it must be mentioned that Jothilingam was the son of the famous Queen’s Counsel T.Thiagalingam, Thiagalingam’s other sons were T.Parathalingam, T.Jayalingam and T.Nirmalingam. Sadly Jothilingam passed away in the prime of his life. Thiagalingam’s brothers were C. Nagalingam, C. Suntheralingam, Dr. C.Amirthalingam and C.Panchalingam. They had super class in their genes.

While Parathalingam, Jothilingam and Nirmalingam played for Royal, Jayalingam played for the school by the sea S.Thomas College. The four brothers were outstanding cricketers all playing for the Tamil Union. Parathalingam and Nirmalingam captained Royal.

Another ‘big match’ which is spoken about is the 1954 game known as the ‘Battle of the Kandyans’ between St.Anthony’s Kandy and Trinity College. That was the game when Antonian openers the one and only Abdul.C.M Lafir and Ronnie Stevens who put up an opening stand of 266 which still stands unbroken. Lafir made 175 and Stevens 120.

In school cricket, later in club cricket and when he played for Sri Lanka, Lafir was one of the most stylish right hand opening batsman that the cricket scene in the country had seen. We still remember his century and the opening stand as though it was yesterday.

‘BIG MATCHES’ have names coined like the Royal-Thomian being called the ‘Battle of the Blues’, the Joe-Pete called the ‘Battle of the Saints’ the Ananda-Nalanda called the ‘Battle of the Maroons’ and the Trinity-Antonian called the ‘Battle of the Kandyans’.

There are also other ‘big matches’ termed ‘Battle of the Babes’, ‘Battle of the Rocks’, ‘Battle of the Mangoosteens, ‘Battle of the Crabs’ and many more that don’t come to mind.

Surprisingly my school St. Benedict’s College failed to find a school to play a ’Big Match’. During the time of that sports loving Director Rev.Bro Alban Patrick who gave the turf wicket and imposing pavilion to schools sportsmen and which pavilion is now named in his honour and once in a life time Prefect of Games A. Gnanapragasam, was the battle between St. Benedict’s and the ‘Combined Sister Schools’.

The Sisters School comprised cricketers from other Christian brothers schools like St. Anne’s Kurunegala, St. Anthony’s Wattala, St. Sebastians, Moratuwa, De La Sale College, Mutwal and St.Mary’s Chilaw.

That game began in 1957 and ended prematurely when in 1961 owing to the schools take over made some of the Christian brothers schools Maha Vidyalayas. It was a sad end to a ‘Big Match’ that promised good, interesting and exciting cricket like do the other big matches.

In that final game with St.Benedict’s poised to chalk up a victory, Kingsley Fernando of St.Sebastian’s and Maximus Abeynaike of De La Salle who led the Sister Schools put up a stubborn stand to deprive SBC of a certain victory with Fernando making a magnificent 154 not out studded with strokes all round the wicket. I recall Abeynaike made an unbeaten half century.

Later on SBC managed to lure D.S. Senanayake to playing a ‘big match’. The game was played for a few years until after the usual one-day encounter the DSSC supporters there went berserk and the contests had to be abandoned.

By the way play a straight bat and enjoy life now. It has an expiry date on it.

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