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Old 17-03-15, 09:33 AM
sriyanj sriyanj is offline
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Default For Sri Lanka’s Elite, High-School Cricket Match Is More Than a Game

For Sri Lanka’s Elite, High-School Cricket Match Is More Than a Game
Three-day match between storied Royal, S. Thomas’ schools is social event of season
Play underway on Saturday, the final day, at the Royal-Thomian cricket match in Colombo. ENLARGE
Play underway on Saturday, the final day, at the Royal-Thomian cricket match in Colombo.
Junho Kim for The Wall Street Journal
Gordon Fairclough
Updated March 16, 2015 2:32 a.m. ET

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka—The new government here is racing to carry out an ambitious 100-day plan to overhaul the constitution and reinvigorate the economy as it girds for elections likely within the next few months.

But on Saturday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe took a break from affairs of state—to watch a high-school cricket match.

It isn’t just any game. Known as the Battle of the Blues, it has been played annually for 136 years between two of Sri Lanka’s oldest and toniest all-boys schools, Royal College and S. Thomas’ College.

The three-day match is among the most important social events for members of the Colombo elite, who gather in grandstands and tents festooned with bunting to party, schmooze and watch cricket.

“It’s like an annual pilgrimage. You come to meet your old friends,” said Dilshan Jayasuriya, a lawyer who graduated from S. Thomas’ in 1994. Luckily play ends on a Saturday, he said, since “it takes one full day to recover.”

About 30,000 people turned out to watch, according to organizers. Alumni, known as Old Royalists and Old Thomians, flew in from around the world.

This year the celebrations also had political overtones, because the prime minister and a dozen other cabinet ministers and deputy ministers are graduates of Royal College. The new government led by President Maithripala Sirisena took office in January after voters ousted former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose main base of support has been in rural areas.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, prime minister of Sri Lanka, at the Royal-Thomian cricket match. ENLARGE
Ranil Wickremesinghe, prime minister of Sri Lanka, at the Royal-Thomian cricket match. Photo: Junho Kim for The Wall Street Journal

On Saturday morning, Mr. Wickremesinghe turned up in his trademark yellow shirt (Royal’s colors are blue and gold) and stopped in at the Mustang tent, his usual match haunt and one of the most exclusive venues for watching the game.

“He always goes,” said a spokesman. “He considers it his duty as a Royalist.”

Royal College traces its origins to the 1830s in what was then British-ruled Ceylon. S. Thomas’—which uses the initial S. instead of the more common abbreviation St. for saint—was founded by an Anglican bishop more than 160 years ago.

Modeled on British public schools, they have long produced an outsize number of Sri Lanka’s political and business leaders and professionals. Their athletic rivalry is interwoven with national history. The teams vie for the D.S. Senanayake Memorial Shield, named after Sri Lanka’s first post-independence prime minister, who played in the Royal-Thomian cricket match as a S. Thomas’ student at the start of the 20th century.

On Wednesday, the day before the match, students from both schools paraded through Colombo. An elephant strode ahead of a red double-decker bus carrying members of the Royal team, resplendent in their school ties and striped blazers on the open upper deck.

Play started on Thursday. And for many in the capital, serious business ground almost to a halt. Turnover on the Colombo Stock Exchange hit its lowest level in nearly a year on Friday.

‘Even when the match stopped for rain today, the partying went on for six more hours.’
—Prasanna Chandrasekara, director at a Sri Lanka brokerage

“A lot of Royalists and Thomians are employed at the bigger brokering firms,” said Prasanna Chandrasekara, a director at Softlogic Stockbrokers. He put in 90 minutes at the office Thursday before heading to the match and took all of Friday off.

“When you are at the match, it’s like going back in time” to your school days, said Mr. Chandrasekara, who attended S. Thomas’ and hasn’t missed a match in 20 years. “Even when the match stopped for rain today, the partying went on for six more hours.”

Indeed, the downpour that halted play shortly after noon on Saturday did little to dampen spirits. As teenagers in white uniforms and straw hats decorated with cockades in their school colors roughhoused on the muddy grounds, Old Boys sipped drinks and listened to music.

Live bands in some tents, many with equine names such as Thoroughbreds, Broncos and Cavalry, competed with high-decibel dance music pumping out of others. In some, dancers provided entertainment. One had disco lights.
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Among the Colombo elite, where you studied matters. “When you meet someone, it’s one of the first questions you ask,” said Harini Amarasuriya, a sociologist at the Open University of Sri Lanka. “It’s not just a sentimental attachment. It can determine your job, who you marry, what clubs you belong to.”

Eran Wickramaratne, an Old Royalist who is now deputy minister for investment and highways, said Sri Lankans make too much of where they went to high school.

Still, he said, playing cricket was transformational for him. He played in Royal-Thomian matches in 1976 and 1977. “Sports taught me discipline,” he said. “Leadership isn’t something you learn from books or in the classroom. You learn it on the field.”

Both schools say they try to transcend the ethnic and religious divisions that have bedeviled their country, accepting students from all communities. And they seek to build character.

“We send men into the world with integrity and courage. That’s our main objective,” said the Rev. Marc Billimoria, the Anglican priest who is warden of S. Thomas.’

At Royal, boarding students are supposed to rise at 5 a.m. and start their day with calisthenics before heading to class at 7. On weekends they can sleep in—until 6.

Sports are a big part of life at both schools, and the Royal-Thomian cricket match is the biggest event of the year.
Sri Lanka: Battle of the Blues
Government officials took a break from state affairs to see a three-day traditional high-school cricket match between two of Sri Lanka’s oldest and toniest all-boys schools.
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Old 18-05-15, 01:09 PM
sriyanj sriyanj is offline
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Default Royal Thomian


Life Online brings you a bit of history, tradition and views about the second-longest uninterrupted cricket match series in THE WORLD..!

The Royal-Thomian big match, or the Battle of the Blues, is a three day test match played between two prestigious schools in Colombo. The big match brings people all across the globe to one stadium; those in Sri Lanka will try hard extricating themselves from work on these days and those overseas, would fly across oceans to witness the Battle of the Blues. During those three days every Royalist and Thomian gathered at the stadium, becomes a school boy again. Forgetting age, race and religion, they unite as one school under their respective flags. It’s three endless days of screaming your guts out trying to drown the papare band with your vocal skills, dancing like you never danced before, consuming countless hot dogs and ‘soft’ drinks and most importantly reliving fond memories of being part of a great school.

As you see the flags of both schools coming out of school vans during the latter part of February, you know the big match season has begun. Whilst some start making arrangements as to which tent to go to, others plan the best maneuver to flick flags of the opposing team and cause a bitter pill to the owner.

Those still in school during this time plan and prepare for the risky yet artful tradition of ‘trucking’! Gone are the days when the students hire trucks for this venture. Now buses or private vehicles are used to go around Colombo cheering for their school and of course, paying a visit to a few girls’ schools while they are at it.

If you are lucky, the gates of these schools would be opened for you, if you are not, you are welcomed to pay a visit to the police station instead! During the week of the big match, another event to anticipate would be the cycle parades hosted by the two schools. You’ll find many bikes decorated in their respective school colours with flags, riding along the Galle Road causing excitement to some and bitter frustration to those caught in the resulting traffic jams.

In the words of a present Thomian (Sandesh Bartlett), “To me (and I understand many other people) the match means much more than any cricket game. It is the epitome of friendly rivalry that has lasted for more than a century, survived two world wars and a civil war and will continue to stand the test of time.The beauty of it is that it doesn't just cater to die hard cricket fans. It offers much more than cricket and the build up to it makes the students of both schools literally "sick" resorting to trucking, parades and mini matches to control their fever. In fact I believe if anyone came to the cricket match just to watch cricket they'd have to be quite mad”.

All this is lead-up to the main event – The Battle of the Blues at the SSC Grounds. As you step into SSC and walk towards the ground, you’ll find the oh-so-familiar sounds of papare bands playing, boys cheering, flags waving, girls dressed in colours supporting their school of preference and the hardworking stewards who come behind you begging you to buy a copy of the souvenir. However, some stewards find this to be a good opportunity to interact with ‘friends’ and likewise to make ‘new friends’.

As the players take to the field, the party begins! Some will start remembering all the good times they had during the previous encounters while new memories are gradually topped up with time.

As said by a Royalist “Growing up at Royal, the Roy-Tho was where my childhood heroes played. While in school, I could remember all the names of all the players who played the game from 1990 up until I left Royal in 2003. It’s equivalent to knowing who plays for the national team. You look up to them in amazement and hope to one day be like them! … It is a carnival atmosphere and you don't get anything like it in Sri Lanka. It is a place to meet people whose names you don't remember but from who you stole sandwiches while in school, and probably the only place in Sri Lanka where you can offer a policeman a drink and get away with it. It is just one big party”.

Mingled with all the fun activities, there have been a few incidents that have occurred during the play, some more intense than others. There have been reports of times when prefects of the opposing team passes one’s tent and plastic chairs and bottles would start flying, resulting in clashes between the supporters. A conspicuous scene to witness at the big match is when a hardcore supporter of a team, runs to the ground to give a pat on the back to the players while being chased by security. All things considered, no one would ever dispute that the good times have always outweighed the bad.

The Battle of the Blues is not to be missed. If you are still not convinced, here’s a notable fact: The Royal-Thomian Big match is the second-longest uninterrupted cricket match series in THE WORLD!!! Being older than the Ashes, it is to be played for the 134th year this year (2013)!
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