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Royal Thomian Match Stories and memories of the greatest match ever

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Old 06-05-11, 10:46 AM
sriyanjay sriyanjay is offline
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Default The world’s second oldest cricket match is 125 not out this year A matchless match

The world’s second oldest cricket match is 125 not out this year
A matchless match

By Lankika de Livera

The Aussies will be playing the Lankans in the first Test at Galle but even for cricket-mad Sri Lanka, the probable Warne-Murali battle will not be the talking point this week. For just three days from now, the spotlight turns to that legendary encounter in the Sri Lankan schools' cricket calendar, the Royal-Thomian. This year, it is even more special because it is the 125th Battle of the Blues.

For months now, faithful old boys from both sides have been hard at work to make it a memorable event and the excitement has even spread overseas. Many old boys are flying in from England and Australia and a special enclosure "U.K. Exiles" has been organized at the match venue, the SSC grounds.

There's a gala dance organized by the two sides at the Hilton where tickets even going up to Rs. 10,000 per soul have been snapped up. Proceeds are, of course, to be channelled to the schools.

Last week, the joint Royal-Thomian street parade took to the streets with boys of all ages, past and present, sporting the special commemorative t'shirt. One sleeve was blue and black while the other was blue and gold. A grand carnival was also organised jointly by the two schools.

For nearly 150 years now, the two schools have produced many illustrious sons of Lanka among them several Prime Ministers. D. S. Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike were all Thomians while Sir John Kotelawala, J.R. Jayewardene and Ranil Wickremesinghe, Royalists. Amongst them, D.S. and Dudley were both in the school cricket team of their time while JR played for Royal.

Old Royalist Cecil Perera observes that in the 1930s the boys' tents were cadjan huts and part of the thrill was setting fire to them as soon as the match was over. It was great fun, because unlike now, there were no ugly fights and nobody ever became violent, he says.

"Match Fever" would set in a few days before the match with the flag-waving trucks, together with the musical bands and parades a common sight on the streets of Colombo.

The ever-popular "Papara Band" of Royal-Thomian fame is an intrinsic part of the match, heralding the all-important mood of fun and revelry. For as we all know, those melodious Baila and Kaffringa tunes like "Issara kale patan" (better known as Nana na na na na) and "Sanakeliye", and other songs like "Harima wedak neda machang" and "Mahaweli ganga iyne" are part and parcel of the Royal-Thomian.

Then there are the blue, black and gold smoke bombs, the colourful fashions of the ladies, the skirmishes of the boys (not serious ones), the drinking sessions of the old boys, the blue black and blue and blue and gold flags and the general carnival atmosphere that characterizes the Royal-Thomian. Says old Thomian Anil Wickremaratne, "The atmosphere was electric, with all the build-up, especially when I was in college".

But while all this revelry was going on, for the cricketers themselves, it is serious cricket out in the middle.Cricketing great and Thomian Michael Tissera (formerly Director of Brooke Bonds) observed, "I played cricket for five years for college. Two of the years I captained and I could never take part in the fun because by that time I was either too young or too old. The great fun part of the Royal-Thomian is unfortunately an area we don't know much about. Non-cricketers are the ones who enjoy the Royal-Thomian the most!"

Neil Chanmugam (Group Director, Maharaja Organization) played for S. Thomas' in 1958. He recalls that the Royal-Thomian was played in the early days at the Vihara Maha Devi Park. That was the pre-1940 era. The SSC was then next to St. Bridget's Convent. The present Department of Fine Arts pavilion was the pavilion for the big match. In 1940 the matches were moved to the "Oval" - which is presently called "The Tamil Union". In his time the matches were a two-day affair and started on Fridays at noon. At 1.50 precisely there was a "Milk Break" - although of course, nobody drank milk. The break was for lime juice and play went on till 6 p.m.

Nostalgically he remembers that playing cricket at the Oval was charming as the distance between the spectators and the players was small. There was a great degree of friendship and fellowship amongst the Thomian and Royalist cricketers. Some of his best friends were Royal cricketers like Michael Dias, Sarath Samarasinghe, Lorenz Perera, Daya Sahabandu and Nihal Kodithuwakku.

Chanmugam says the cycle parade, which has now become a tradition was an innovation of the Royalists and the Thomians cribbed it. Now both Thomians and Royalists gather at their respective schools the day before the match and cycle to their Captain's home where they are hosted to tea.
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Old 06-05-11, 10:47 AM
sriyanjay sriyanjay is offline
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Default Cont. The world’s second oldest cricket match is 125 not out this year A matchless m

While the cricketers were in serious business of playing - the merry-makers were on the roads in their trucks, hardly aware of what was happening to the match. Chanmugam says these "flag -waving truck adventures" were frowned upon by the Wardens, but feels these activities were part and parcel of what made the Royal-Thomian so special.

The exploits of the merry-making schoolboys are legion. Thomian Anil Wickremaratne (Chairman of Microcells and President of the Plastic and Rubber Institute) recalls that between 1956-58 they hired a hearse from a funeral undertaker and tied a small coffin swathed in the Thomian flag to the front bonnet. Accompanied by the papara band, they took to the streets of Colombo. The parade was led by the bicycles with the cars following.

Wickremaratne recollects that they also used to hire old crocks for the parade. These were open vehicles and on one occasion Viren de Mel (now at Ceylinco) was dressed as a woman in the old crock hearse and it was filmed and shown as a news snippet in the film halls. He says they were very nervous afterwards wondering when they were going to be caned by the Warden. Old crocks were later banned from the parade, mainly because they were open vehicles and the boys dancing on the bonnets and mudguards while the cars were moving was considered dangerous.

Lakshman Thalaysin-gham, now Marketing Manager at AMW captained Royal in 1966. He recalls an incident where a coffin wrapped in the Thomian flag was brought to the grounds and carried around.. The lid was open and the boy sitting in it would pop up and down taking a drink off a bottle and the Thomians were supposed to be chanting, "Kawda Male? Thora Mala". The Thomians were losing the match at this stage.

Thalaysingham recalls the friendliness and camaraderie amongst the Royalists and Thomians - which is sadly not so present now. Praboda Kariyawasam, Thomian Captain in 1969/70 tells the story about the “charmed lime fruit" given to him by Pappatikka (a school master) in 1969 - to be squeezed a little at a time, when he wanted a Royal wicket to fall. He faithfully did the needful and wickets did begin to fall, but when he wanted the wickets to fall in a mighty hurry, the charm obviously went wrong as the juice only trickled along his thigh and ended up in his sock - the match (1969) was lost by S. Thomas'!More details of this lime story I am told can be found in this year's souvenir magazine.

Ajita Pasqual, CEO, Seylan Bank captained Royal in 1973 and recalls vividly the electric atmosphere at the match. This is unique to the Royal-Thomian, he feels. Colonel F.C. de Saram was his coach and he recalls how de Saram reprimanded him after a match when he had been run out.

He was told that when he was about to take a run, the signal should be either yes or no, whereas Pasqual had signalled, "shall we?". "Shall we" de Saram had told him was only for his wedding day. He adds that henceforth it has always been 'yes' or 'no' in his life and not 'shall we?' even with his wife!

Michael Tissera, reminisced that there was much conviviality between the Thomian and Royalist cricketers. After the match, they would have dinner and meet up at the CR & FC, sometimes go for a dance and end up at the Galle Face. Violence was unheard of among the spectators even on the grounds during matches.

As a schoolboy playing his first Royal Thomian, he remembers how unnerving it was to face a crowd of 10,000. But after some time one gets accustomed to the noise and 'you learn to concentrate and play'. In his day he says the two schools produced most of the All Ceylon players unlike today.

So there is the seriousness of the game for the cricketers and fun and frolic for the rest- this is the way the Royal Thomian has been played for a century and a quarter. Long live the two schools, their traditions, and culture that has come to be the Royal-Thomian.

Not just for the boys
Whoever said the Royal-Thomian was fun only for the schoolboys and old boys? Mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, and of course, girl friends of any of the boys connected have always been part and parcel of the match.

I, for one come from a very strong Thomian family. My grand-uncle who was a Royalist - Edmund de Livera ( Proctor & Editor of the Times of Ceylon at that time) composed the Thomian College Song. My father, uncles, brothers, cousins from both paternal and maternal sides were all Thomians with a few Royalists cousins as well.

Match fever affected not just the two schools involved but their sister schools as well, Bishop's College (S. Thomas) and Ladies' College (Royal). Thomian Head Prefect of 1947, Derek Samarasinha (former Director, John Keells Holdings) recalls that as the Head Prefect and Tent Secretary of the organizing committee of the Royal Thomian for S. Thomas' he arranged for the Bishop's College girls to come for the match and be in the Thomian tent. The Bishopians were given free tickets (which included refreshments) and it was arranged through Derek's sister at Bishop's who was the head girl at the time.

Meanwhile, Tent Secretary on the Royal side Upali Amerasinghe had come to meet him and appealed to him that the Ladies College girls too should be brought in the same manner and so it was done.

Sunday Times 2004/03/07.
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