140 years of Grand Sporting History | Daily News
The Battle of the Blues:

140 years of Grand Sporting History

The Cycle Parade of Royal College.
The Cycle Parade of Royal College.


Thomian College prefects carry their school flag at a past encounter.

The Royal-Thomian has a rich and colourful history spanning 140 years and is also the second longest uninterrupted cricket series played in the world, second only to the annual encounter played between St. Peter’s College, Adelaide and Prince Alfred College, Adelaide, that began just a year earlier.

The colorful history that is associated with this battle dates back to 1879 when the original match was played between the Colombo Academy and St. Thomas’ College, Mutwal. Even though the Colombo Academy won this first encounter, it is not accepted as the first "Battle of the Blues" as masters were allowed to play alongside the students.

A year later, only students took part and it was crowned the first official encounter between the two schools. This match took place at Galle Face, the area where the Taj Samudra stands today.

The 140th edition of Royal-Thomian Battle of the Blues encounter will commence at the SSC grounds from today (March 7) and will beplayed over three days.

Being an undeclared holiday for the young and old of both schools, it is clearn that this is one of the most anticipated events in the school calendar.

Countless expatriates plan their holidays around this time to return to Sri Lanka to witness this match. This is the second longest uninterrupted cricket series in the world (the longest being the series between St. Peter’s College and Prince Alfred College, South Australia). Even two world wars have mot been able to halt this rivalry, all in the name of good sportsmanship.

For over a century, the two schools have been toiling on the field to take home the prestigious Senanayake Memorial Shield. Incidentally, Rt. Hon. D. S. Senanayake, who became Sri Lamka's first Prime Minister, was a member of the Thomian cricket team from 1901 and 1902.

The D.S. Senanayake Shield was first presented in 1928. If a match is ever drawn, the school that already holds the shield retains it. After winning the 137th Battle in 2016, and drawing the 138th and 139th battles, Royal College is the current holder of the shield.

At present the overall tally between the two schools stands at 35 wins for Royal College and 34 wins for St. Thomas’ with 70 drawn. Then again, this depends on which school is your Alma Mater.

In 1885, Royal College was all out for 9 runs, and with no play on the second day, St. Thomas’ considered it a win. Royal however, stood firm that it was a draw.

The encounter became a three-day event from its centenary match in 1979, when Ranjan Madugalle, who was to captain Sri Lanka national team later, led the Royalists; and the Thomians were led by Johan Peiris. The encounter subsequently ended in a draw.

This year, the Thomians will be led by Sithara Hapuhinna who will yearn to take the trophy away from the Royalists, who will be captained by Kavindu Madarasinghe. Both rival captains are left-hand batsmen and wicket-keeper’s of their respective teams. 

Tents dotted with school decor; flags waving in the breeze; and baila singing groups of old boys and current students alike will flood the grounds on match days. Overloaded cars full of cheerful supporters going on their traditional cycle parades through the city on the days leading up to the match will be a familiar sight.

The Royalists have a rather amusing tradition of their own. During the parade, a coffin draped in the Thomian flag is taken around the city. Both schools put up with callous jokes and comments, all in the name of fun.

Last year, the "Mustangs Tent Club" celebrated its centenary. Featuring some of the elite and senior individuals in the schools community, it is an exclusive, invite-only enclosure. Even our current Prime Minister leaves politics outside to have a good time. In the old days, inviting the Governor on the second day of the match  was a custom. The Mustangs Trophy, given out to the winners of the Limited Overs encounter was named after this tent.

Speaking to the popularity of this match, many Prime Ministers; a former President; Ministers; and leading citizens in Colombo have represented both schools in this Big Match. Some players have even captained the national team with much acceptance from the public.

The playing fields of the schools have the distinction of producing cricketers who later became eminent heads of state.  St. Thomas’ produced the father of the nation, D.S. Senanayake and his son Dudley Senanayake (1927-1929).  While Royal produced Rt. Hon. (General) Sir John Kotelawala MP (1914-1915) as Prime Minister and the first Executive President of Sri Lanka, the late J.R. Jayawardene (1925). The shield, at present, sits as the crown jewel amongst the silverware in the principal’s trophy cabinet at Royal College, which will be challenged by an emerging Thomian outfit this year. St. Thomas’ College last won the big match in 2007 under skipper Ashan Peiris, while Royal College last won the coveted shield under the captaincy of Geeshath Panditharatne in 2016.

Sri Lanka’s premier connectivity provider Dialog Axiata has also made a pledge to contribute Rs. 1,000 for every run scored and Rs. 10,000 for every wicket that fell. Last year’s exciting encounter contributed Rs. 1,036,000 to the ‘Play for a Cause’ pledge.In 2015, the 136th edition of the Royal-Thomian. Dialog rekindled a long and successful partnership with Sri Lanka’s blue Riband Big Match. The 140th edition of the Royal-Thomian will be the 13th year that the match is sponsored by Dialog.

The proceedings were directed in consultation with the Principal of Royal College and the Warden of St. Thomas' College to support and empower selected deserving schools. Since the inception of the ‘Play for a Cause’ pledge, Rs. 2,959,000 worth of cricket gear was donated to 10 deserving schools.

Royalists and Thomians, both young and old, will continue to enjoy this friendly rivalry while upholding their respective traditions. These schools have really understood that winning is not everything, but making the effort to win is.


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