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Royal Thomian Match Stories and memories of the greatest match ever

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Old 12-03-13, 01:11 PM
sriyanjay sriyanjay is offline
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Default Royal - Thomian : A foreigner�s view By Emma Levine

Royal - Thomian : A foreigner�s view

By Emma Levine
If I were to be asked what I thought was the best example of audience participation in sports, it would be a close-run finish between a Calcutta Test match (an occasion I had the pleasure of witnessing in 1993, and provided the nearest feeling to a religious experience 1 have had) and school cricket in Sri Lanka.

Two years ago I had the good fortune to learn of the unique and mad world of the Royal-Thomian (the most notorious and best known match in the country) and during England�s tour of Sri Lanka I broke off from their Test match to go and see it. It was beyond my wildest expectations, and I made sure that the next time I went I would be better prepared for it. It was one of the highlights when I returned for a grand tour of Sri Lanka�s end of year big matches. It was a tour that took me to many of the school matches, which were usually between rival colleges playing a highly competitive and celebrated two- or three-day match. My first taste of these matches was at the Royal Thomian, which is the most famous cricket match in the country. For this reason it is also the match responsible for the greatest number of hangovers that a cricket match could ever be responsible for! This is because the whole occasion is one great drunken tradition. This should have come as no surprise, as the very nature of cricket is conducive to tradition, whichever country it is played in.

However, for me its ambience had been more in the nature of a genteel summer�s afternoon relaxation, nibbling on cucumber sandwiches and sipping warm beer, with a polite round of applause to mark a rather splendid boundary, and an embarrassing silence to accompany the batsmen back to the pavilion after they were out first ball. Or maybe I was being too English.
In Sri Lanka, tradition demanded that the annual matches be enjoyed in the form of riotous celebration. School cricket, I learned extremely quickly, was a different kind of sporting experience in this country, one which bore no relation at all to the game in the land of its origin. The main way of integrating oneself into the melee was to unashamedly consume as much alcohol as possible, and preferably a mix of arrack (a potent spirit made from palm toddy and positively addictive with ginger ale), vodka, beer and whisky. Start in the late morning as the first ball is being delivered and progress throughout the day, increasing meanwhile the vocal support, dancing, and frequency of pitch invasions. It is difficult to explain the phenomenon of a match like the Royal Thomian.

This annual three-day match is played by two of the premier institutions in Colombo: Royal and St Thomas� colleges. It has the significance of being the second longest continuous school�s cricket match in the world, and is beaten only by an annual Adelaide college match which bowled its first delivery in 1878. That is between Prince Alfred�s-where the Chappell brothers were educated-and St Peter�s. The Eton-Harrow encounter, which is the only schools event remotely comparable in England, was interrupted during World War I. There is something absurdly incongruous about the main reason for these celebrations. After all, the reason for the Royal Thomian match is to celebrate the rivalry between the two most respected and prestigious schools in the country, and yet the behaviour displayed by most of the crowd is anything but respectable. But there is much more to the event than the cricket.

The match is really a vehicle for an annual reunion and celebration where all ages of people, from 20 to 95, can act like schoolboys again. People return year after year to see the match, and I spoke to many ex-pupils who now living overseas, make it a great excuse to come back to visit. As with most cricket scenes in the subcontinent, this one was a male-dominated affair, which, as many spectators would defend, is the charm to it. Female spectators were so few that it was difficult to spot them. Many of the young women I spoke to said that it would be easy to be discouraged by the �eve-teasing�. They were referring to the male spectators� desire to taunt them unmercifully whenever the women came into their vicinity. However, attempts to overcome such ungentlemanly behaviour were emphasised in the match programme produced by St. Thomas� by stating rather nobly, �Ladies, we Thomians appreciate your presence as you add colour to the game and it should be known that the Thomians deserve your cheering since it was our effort that disproved the Royalists� statement �Cricket should be an all male affair�. My sentiments exactly.

Even the most prestigious gathering of the Sri Lankan elite (MPs, company directors, lawyers and what were considered to be �respectable professionals�) revealed their true souls to be nothing more than that of rumbustious schoolboys. There was a constant background of music coming from small brass bands playing funky tunes that got everyone on their feet. Most of the chairs were discarded as people danced in the aisles, swigging out of bottles and spilling food down their shirts as the sweat poured down their faces. The people I felt the most sympathy for were the food and drink sellers, who, in spite of the congestion of the stands, had to spend the entire day winding their way through the throng, precariously balancing crates of soft-drinks bottles on their heads, or trays of sandwiches and snacks. It was not a job I would have undertaken.

And the match? There was indeed a cricket match going on for three days which actually received some attention and appreciation for the players� sporting abilities. In fact the players on the pitch were probably the only sober people in the ground, and took the game seriously. Many international players started their cricket careers from this match, and the schoolboys knew that it could be their chance of glory in front of the biggest sporting crowd in the country. However, looking at the results over the last few decades, most of the games have ended in a draw. This may be because of the higher level of the game, or else because each side is being more defensive, playing to avoid losing rather than to win. It was surprising to see people fiercely defending the honour of their old schools, even after leaving some ten, twenty or fifty years earlier. The fans were actually segregated, although this was not so much to prevent trouble as to give a little more unity to the supporting groups. The strong sentiments behind the theory of the �old school tie�, that most English of concepts were expressed with relish, and allegiances still remained loyal and true. The stadium - which was filled with an amazing 15,000 people on the final day - was awash with flags of blue and gold for Royal College, and blue and black for St Thomas� (giving the other known name for the encounter, �Battle of the Blues�).

I wandered around the boundary and sampled the music being played by the bands. The best way of enjoying that was undoubtedly to join the assembled ranks on chairs, on benches and on walls - and dance. Discarding the camera bag in a safe place, I joined the revellers and we partied continuously, which of course delighted everyone since I was entering into the swing of things. I had to reluctantly avoid the plentiful and insistent offers of vodka, arrack, and in fact most varieties of alcohol that came from all directions. It was tempting to accept, but there was no way I would be able to focus the camera adequately after a few drinks, especially in such overbearing heat. Still, as the adage goes, you don�t need alcohol to have a good time - and I was certainly enjoying every second.

A cricketing fiesta such as this is my idea of nirvana, and it seems to me that the Sri Lankans have combined play with pleasure to perfection. For that they have my deepest respect. I just wish that they could teach the �old dog� a trick or two and bring a little more partying into the staid English scene.

I joined the prestigious and exclusive Mustangs tent, which is a members-only club consisting of the higher echelons of Sri Lankan society. It is a traditional male-only enclave, and special permission had to be obtained from the Tent Secretary. That decision received some highly disapproving looks, and remarks such as �If we let her come in, they�ll all want to�. The members were as bucolic as the rest of the crowd. I danced with a distinguished company director to a Latin American tune, and my sobriety was definitely more conducive to keeping my feet than his swaying efforts to remain vertical. He confided that he had given his 16 -year-old son, a pupil of Royal College, strict instructions to �get drunk, tease the girls and behave badly�. �Why do you encourage your son to do that?� I asked with surprise as he attempted to swing me round. He gave a long and hearty chuckle. �Because I did when I was his age!� he replied. (Although not much had changed as far as his behaviour was concerned.) It seemed that fathers passed on more by way of tradition than simply sending sons to their old schools - and the bad behaviour was a compulsory custom!

The national press reported the match with relish and every newspaper devoted its back pages to it, usually demoting an international match to the inside pages. The Press Box was filled with most of Colombo�s sporting journalists, and they followed every ball closer than anyone in the stadium. One of the journalists told me that no ex-pupil from either college is allowed to report on the match for his paper, in case emotions run too high and the match account becomes too biased.
Taken from the book � �Into the Passionate Soul of Sub-Continental Cricket�


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Old 12-03-13, 01:14 PM
sriyanjay sriyanjay is offline
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Default Those glorious sixties and seventies By Pelham Juriansz

Those glorious sixties and seventies

By Pelham Juriansz
I must admit that before 1965/66 I have no recollection of seeing the Thomian team in action. The closest that I could get to knowing anything about them is from articles and various stories that have been circulating about the exploits, for instance of the late Premalal Gunasekera�s 1964 side that defeated JD (Shaw) Wilson�s Royalists. For 24 long years Thomians spoke about this match as �the last time we beat Royal�, and poor �Shaw� Wilson, whom I got to know in later years as my coach at S. Thomas� Prep School, Kollupitiya would have been praying for another loss as Royalists would have referred to 1964 as the last time they lost the �Big Match�.

Anyway it was in 1966 that I first saw Anura Tennekoon in action when he played against the Peterites that year. �Big Cousin� Denham played in that game for the Petes and if my memory serves me correct the Petes were sent in for innings and Peter de Niese played a glorious innings to save the game.

When one considers some of the exciting players of the sixties the ones that come readily to mind are of course, Anura Tennekoon, David Ponniah, Ajit Jayasekera, Prabodha Kariyawasam (who captained in 1970 as well), the effervescent Dennis Chanmugam, Sarath Seneviartne (who missed scoring centuries at the �Big Match� by a whisker on two occasions), the late Premalal Gunasekera, Mevan Pieris, the Reid brothers, Barney and J.H (Tiny), Kumar Boralessa, and the centurion of 1966, Sriyantha Rajapakse.

The year 1970 saw fifth year coloursman Prabodha Kariyawasam skipper the Thomians and none other than the �wily� off-spinner Asitha Jayaweera, the Royalists (Asitha was to skipper the Royalists two years later as well). It was my first Royal-Thomian and wasn�t I thrilled. �Kari� (as I got to know him later when representing Mackwoods) was a skilful bowler as well as a more than useful middle order bat. Duleep Mendis was a fresher in the Thomian side having crossed over from St. Sebastian�s and was yet to prove himself at the Mount School.

The Thomian batting that year was nothing much to write home about and the only redeeming factor for the blue and blacks was the bowling of skipper Kariyawasam who captured 5 for 59. So ended my first �Roy-Tho� without much incident.

1971 was a different proposition altogether and both Royal and S. Thomas� had superb batting sides and it was Royal who set the Oval alight with Jagath Fernando leading the way with a magnificent undefeated 160 and Gajan Pathmanathan chipping in with an elegant 97. The Thomian bowlers toiled hard on a placid pitch.

The Thomians not to be outdone replied to Royal�s 295 for 2 with a sound opening partnership and contributions from the elegant Ravi Sathasivam(54), Kamal Samarasinghe(60), and of course the inimitable Duleep Mendis with a crackerjack 103.
The two second innings� of both teams were entertaining to say the least.

In 1972 I saw what I would term the innings of the decade. I was just 13 years of age and what I witnessed that year would be etched in my memory forever. The Thomians were led by none other than Duleep Mendis. I still remember reading the morning papers and being thrilled to read and observe the pictures of our Thomian heroes. Further, this was my first �Big Match� after joining the Mount Lavinia School after being 8 years at S. Thomas� Prep School, Kollupitiya, or Colpetty as it was called then.

Asitha Jayaweera was leading Royal yet again and the Thomians took first lease of the wicket. The second best bat in the Thomian side Kamal Samarasinghe was out caught behind by Ray de Silva off S. A. de Silva with the score reading 1 for 1. The Royalists would have thought that if they got Duleep early the match would be wide open. But they were disappointed, for Duleep Mendis was in no mood for jokes. With ADH Samaranayake at the other end Duleep put the Royalists to the sword and bludgeoned his way to 184 which broke the highest individual score at the match set up only the previous year by Jagath Fernando. It was an innings worth watching and one that I consider to be the best that I have seen at the �Big Match�. Former Thomian coach Ranil Abeynaike contributed 27 but it was Duleep�s match and after that champagne knock the Thomians cared little else for the outcome because defeat was far from coming.

The following year S. Thomas� was led by, to my mind, one of the best schoolboy bowlers to come from the �school by the sea� - Ranil G. Abeynaike. Going into the �Big �un� Ranil had captured close to 90 wickets, if my memory serves me correct, and the Royalists were out to tame him.

If one has to pick a team from the 1960�s and 70�s to represent S. Thomas in battle against the foe, it might be as follows:
David Ponniah, Ajit Jayasekera, Anura Tennekoon(c), Duleep Mendis, Sarath Seneviratne, Prabodha Kariyawasam, Ajit Ganeshan, Guy de Alwis(wk), Ranil Abeynaike, Saliya Ahangama and Barney Reid. 12th man: Sriyantha Rajapakse. Reserves: Ravi Sathasivam, HSM Peiris and Mahinda Halangoda.

It�s an awesome batting and bowling line-up. In case Ajit can�t open and keep wickets we have a Sri Lankan �keeper in Guy, Barney Reid can open the batting. Ahangama and Reid can open the bowling with an �offie� in Kari and two left-arm leggies in Ranil and Ajit Ganeshan. I just couldn�t pick a good enough right arm �leggie� to join this squad. This team has batting right up to number 11. Reid has opened batting in the �Big Match�.

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Old 12-03-13, 01:15 PM
sriyanjay sriyanjay is offline
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Default Memories are made of this By Sanjeev Mendis*

Memories are made of this

By Sanjeev Mendis*
Ever since I played my first match in the under-11 cricket team of S. Thomas� College as a mere 10-year-old, my ultimate dream had been to one day play for College in the traditional �Big Match�. I had the fortune to play in three of them between 2003 and 2005, capping it off with a win in my final year when I was vice-captain to Vidyesh Balasubramaniam.

The �Big Match� is the biggest encounter of all sports events in College and it has such a long history. For the three days of the match the whole College comes together to see us play. Expectations are high from everyone. It is basically the biggest match of our lives. For any cricketer in College, the ultimate dream is to play in the �Big Match�. I can still remember we fielded first and coming down the huge flight of stairs from the SSC dressing room, the pressure kept on building with each step that I took. But once on the ground, the pressure simply disappeared as the spectators� roar greeted us. We bundled Royal out for 219 thanks to an excellent bowling spell by Tharindu Fernando who managed to get 7 wickets for 56. By stumps we were three down and I was to bat next. I still remember how I was so nervous before the end of day�s play; so much so that I just couldn�t even sit down. I was standing with my pads on doing a few stretches whilst wishing I could turn back time and go to one of my very early under 11 matches when life was so much easier! It was then that our 2nd XI coach N.I.C. Silva came up to me and motivated me whilst also saying to treat this match as just another game. Anyway, I was to bat the next day and within the first 10 overs we lost the wicket of our captain, Arjuna Rajawasan who played an explosive knock of 67. I went out to bat with the score on 116-4. We lost two further wickets and soon it became 128-6.

We were under tremendous pressure but I managed to put on a partnership of 113 with Tharindu Fernando. Tharindu was the vice-captain of the team and at the end of the over in which we reached the 50-run partnership, he came up to me and said �I guess we were always meant to do this.� I found it quite surprising that he, after his 4 years spent in playing 1st XI cricket, still remembered how both of us shared many excellent partnerships when we last played together in the Under-15 team for College.
When I was dismissed for 69, the score was 241. I was happy that I had helped in getting the team out of trouble with this innings. We had entered the match as underdogs but we finished on top of the drawn match.

My father Duleep Mendis holds the Thomian record for the series with an explosive innings of 184 which he scored in 1972. I went into this match under pressure to perform well because apart from my father, my cousin Manoj Mendis and uncles Lakmaal de Zoysa and Anuk de Zoysa were good cricketers who had represented College with distinction. It will not be fair if I do not also mention here that my uncle, Lakmaal, was my number one fan. He came to watch all my 1st XI matches and after each match he would even call me in the night and speak endlessly about the match itself while I listened to him almost falling asleep. However, throughout my 1st XI cricket career, the most amount of advice on how to bat and bowl was given to me by my two favourite female supporters; my mother and my sister!

In my first ever Royal-Thomian encounter, I managed to do something which my mentor, my father, could not - score a fifty on debut. Up-to-date I make sure he never forgets this fact since that is the only thing I did better than him.

My second �Big Match� was horrible! I did not take any wickets nor did I score much runs. I fared very poorly in that encounter. I was so embarrassed and disappointed with myself that at the end of the match I skipped the traditional visit to the Old Boys� tents by both teams. At the end of it all, Kaushal Silva, the skipper of that year, came up to me and said that no matter how I performed, I was still a valuable player to his team. To this day, I very much appreciate the fact that he did come and speak to me.

My third �Big Match� is one I would always treasure, simply because we won it. We went in as favourites and the whole team was determined to win it. I didn�t put any pressure on myself but I decided that I should go out and do my best and make sure the team ultimately wins. We bowled first and our main target was getting rid of Dimitiri Siriwardena who had been Royal�s prolific scorer that season with over 1000 runs. We knew Royal depended a lot on him. I managed to prise him out before he could get into double figures. Off the next delivery I also got rid of the next batsman and suddenly I was on a hat-trick. But the next man in managed to avoid the hat-trick ball. I eventually took three wickets in the innings and we managed to dismiss Royal for 94. When it came to batting I fared poorly, but in the Royal second innings I managed to get one more wicket. But more than that, we managed to beat our arch rivals by an innings and 28 runs. It was ultimately the excellent team effort that paved the way to this victory. The memory of that win was so much better than everything I had ever achieved in college. I would always chide my father and say that he never played in a winning team whereas I had. One of the key factors for our success that year was that we made sure the freshers mixed well with the coloursmen and did not feel inferior with their inexperience. All the members of the team, including the reserves, were like one family and to this day, we still meet regularly for dinner at Queen�s Cafe, just as we did after each match in the season.

It has been 4 years since I played my last match for college and even now if I could turn back time, I wouldn�t change a single thing, for the years between 2003 and 2005 when I represented S. Thomas� in cricket, were simply the best three years of my life.
*Sanjeev Mendis was the vice-captain of the S.Thomas� College cricket team in 2004.

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