A testament to camaraderie | Daily News

A testament to camaraderie

Cricket is clearly an indivisible part of our nation’s bloodstream. While the honour of inventing ‘the gentleman’s game’ falls on another, Sri Lankans have, without a doubt added our own flavours and colours. Throughout history, school cricket games around the world such as the famed ‘Eton-Harrow’ game have played a pivotal role in the development of the sport.

‘The Great Inter-Collegiate Match’, first played in the year 1879 between the Colombo Academy and St. Thomas’ College Mutwal, currently referred to as the "Battle of the Blues", is the second longest-running cricket encounter in the world. These games continued despite the threat posed by two World Wars and a Civil War that spanned three decades.

The encounter has seen many prominent individuals in their youth don colours of both institutions which includes four former Heads of State (the Senanayake father-son duo for S. Thomas’ and Prime Minister Kotelawala and President Jayawardene for Royal). Though the event has evolved in a timely fashion the spirit at its core and values embodied have, for the most part, remained unchanged.

The encounter is played for the "Senanayake Challenge Shield" which currently lies at Reid Avenue, after being claimed by Royal in the year 2016 under skipper Geeshath Panditharatne.

The stage is set months ahead as the joint committee of ‘old boys’ sort out the logistics for the three-day event; and the present boys set the tone at their respective institutions. Of all such pre-match preparations and events, the schools’ Cycle Parades takes centre stage in the public eye. Traditionally held on the day preceding the match, the event is reminiscent of the days of yore when the schoolboys used to cycle together to the venue.

The three-day spectacle is a remarkable sight and while the game is indeed the highlight, it is far from being the only thing that defines it. Entering the arena that is the Sinhalese Sports Clu (SSC), one sees the array of vibrant tents that surrounds the pitch each with its own arrangement of décor, food, beverage and music. A huge number of these are either of alumni groups of the two colleges or public pavilions. Of these tents, there are few that are worthy of special note.

The ‘Mustangs Tent Club’, is an exclusive, invite-only enclosure which features some of the more senior and eminent figures of the schools' communities. Those who frequent the Mustangs include the current Prime Minister and many other statesmen who leave politics beyond the Bar of the House to share a drink, a song and a good time.

Back in the day, it was a custom to even invite the Governor on the second day of the match to be a spectator amongst its members. The Tent Club last year celebrated its centenary - its most notable contribution to the series is the initiation of the Limited-Overs encounter in the year 1979 played for the aptly named ‘Mustangs Trophy’.

Two of the grandest and loudest events would be the Royal and Thomian Boys’ Tents placed right opposite the team dressing rooms. Here youngsters from the age of 6 to 19, often numbering in the thousands, echo a barrage of cheer for their respective teams led by the College Stewards. At its vanguard, the Senior Prefects stand in their iconic straw hats, banners at hand.

The players cite the respective Boys’ Tents as their main source of moral support and encouragement. They are the voices of those who they have come to represent in the field, those who stand by them till triumph or defeat. From the parading of flags held high above the heads of the players, to the occasional runs in to the pitch, these two groups offer many sights that are nothing but ecstatic.

The atmosphere in all these enclosures resembles a full-blown fiesta with loud voices mixing in perfectly with the papare music. It is probably one of the few places where one can witness opposing sides throw the most impertinent of insults but still walk out as the strongest of friends and allies (save for a few ‘bad apples’). The Royal-Thomian relationship is like no other which to the untrained eye, might even seem highly peculiar.

To many a Royalist and Thomian, especially those who have flown afar in search of pastures new, the ‘Big Match’ serves as an opportunity to reunite with faces they have grown up with  and to rekindle the inner child that lies within. The passing years see friends row from youngsters at the Boys’ Tent into family men from all walks of life who see their own children embark on that very same journey. 

Speaking of families, the Royal-Thomian has had several represented across generations on the pitch. From the de Sarams; the Lieversz; the Heyns;  the Goonesekeras; the Bulankulames and the Saravanamuththus. 

When one thinks of such statistics there is a group of people that cannot be forgotten: the young men in uniform, carefully striking at their prey with a cry of “Sir!” or “Ma’am!”. With the amount of running about they do in the blazing sun with a heap of weighty tomes, one may argue that these gentlemen receive a more intensive workout than the teams themselves on the day. The  ‘Souvenir Committees’ have served a very important purpose throughout the years taking the effort to circulate the official souvenirs of either institution, each containing a treasure trove of facts, figures and tales. The effort and hard work put in by these young ‘minstrels’ is certainly worthy of recognition.

Throughout the years the "Battle of the Blues" has gained ever-increasing recognition and coverage (even featuring stories by international media outlets (such as National Geographic and the Wall Street Journal). The game too has evolved each year to be on par with international cricketing standards. The ‘big match’ is what it is today thanks to the tireless efforts of many great individuals who have kept the ball constantly rolling for over a century and continue to do so.

No amount of words could  do justice, of what it is like to be in the midst of this one-of-a-kind spectacle, which is the ultimate testament to camaraderie. The only way one can truly be a part of this exciting experience is to be there in person. So be sure to make your way to the SSC Grounds on 7th, 8th and 9th of March for the 140th edition of the "Battle of the Blues". – Pulse


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