The "Battle of the Blues" and its reminiscences

by Renu Manamendra (Royal College Group of ‘76)
The most looked forward to event in the calendar of every Royalist and Thomian the 123rd "Battle of the Blues" between Royal vs. S. Thomas’ will be played from March 7 to 9 at the SSC grounds in Maitland Place. The time honoured encounter which was graced even by the Head of State, is the biggest social event in the country and the only schools match to be played over 3 days since its Centenary Year in 1979. The Royal-Thomian is also the oldest unbroken schools cricket series in the world.

In the mid 1870s S. Thomas’ College (Mutwal, later Mount Lavinia) played cricket matches against the clubs. From 1873 to 1877 S. Thomas’ was captained by the Cambridge ‘blue’ Rev. Felton Falkner. Subsequently, cricket was introduced to the Colombo Academy (in the Pettah, later Royal College at Reid Avenue) and led in 1877 by another Cambridge "blue" Ashley Walker, who arrived in the island that same year. Mr. Walker himself captained the first two academy teams in 1878 and 1879. The first college vs. The Academy match, as it was then known, was played in 1878. Since then the masters represented both the schools in 1878 and the second match in 1879 and these two matches are not accepted as part of the series. So the first schoolboys’ encounter in 1880 was the beginning of the College vs. The Academy series which later came to be known as the famous Royal-Thomian after the Colombo Academy changed its name to Royal College.

Royal and S. Thomas’ were the two leading nurseries of Ceylon cricket from the 1880s until about the 1970s. Both schools have produced many outstanding cricketers, some of whom later played in the national team and also captained with distinction and success against powerful Test playing nations both here and abroad. Two past Thomian captains Michael Tissera and Duleep Mendis captained Sri Lanka to her first unofficial Test victory in 1964 and to her first official Test win in 1985, respectively. Another past Thomian Captain Anura Tennekoon captained Sri Lanka at the first World Cup in England in 1975 and the Second World Cup also in England in 1979.

Ten Royalists and Thomians have played for Sri Lanka in official Tests since 1982, the year Sri Lanka played its first official Test. Five of them are Royalists: past Royal and Sri Lanka captain Ranjan Madugalle, Asantha de Mel, Jayantha Amerasinghe, Rohan Jayasekera and Roshan Jurangpathy. The five Thomians are: Duleep Mendis, Saliya Ahangama, Guy de Alwis, Kausheek Amalean and Kapila Wijegunawardene. Since 1982 two Thomians Nisal Fernando and Aruna Gunewardene have represented Sri Lanka in One Day Internationals.

The apex body which governs the game of cricket around the world, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has two Sri Lankans currently serving it as officials. Ranjan Madugalle is the Chief Match Referee of the Test and One Day International panel of referees. He also refereed the 1999 World Cup final at Lords in London. Former Thomian allrounder and Sri Lanka poolist Jerome Lee Jayaratne recently took up duties at the ICC as Projects Officer for Coaching and Education. Meanwhile, Duleep Mendis is currently the Chairman of the Asian Cricket Council Development Committee.

There are 35 Royalists and Thomians who belong to the "Roy-Tho Centurian Club". 16 of them are Royalists of which Sumithra "Charlie" Warnakulasuriya’s marathon 197 spanning a full four and a half sessions spread over two days and scored in 1980, is the highest score for a 3-day match. The other 19 centurions are Thomians of which Duleep Mendis’ swashbulkling 184 scored in 1972 remains as the record for a 2-day match. Royalist N. S. Joseph and Thomians Duleep Mendis and Manoj Mendis have each scored centuries twice in the series. The record best bowling performance in an innings — 8 for 3-in 1884 is held by F. Thomasz of S. Thomas’. The best bowling performance in a match — 14 for 55 — in 1906 is also held by a Thomian L. H. Arndt. Although Royalist J. W. de Silva has taken 14 wickets in the first match in 1880, his bowling analysis is inconclusive as the runs given away by him don’t appear in any of the score cards. Another Thomian Ernest Wanduragala has also taken 14 for 76 in the 1907 match.

Royal last won the traditional "battle" in successive years 1990 and 1991 under Udaya Lakmal Wijesena and Rohan Iriyagolla respectively. The last Royal team to win by an innings was led by Pat McCarthy way back in 1938. S. Thomas’ last won in 1999 under Naren Ratwatte and the last Thomian team to win by an innings was captained by Anura Bulankulame in 1988. This year Royal will be captained by Ganganath Ratnayake and S. Thomas’ by Dilshan Gunewardene. But the cynosure of all eyes in the 123rd "Battle of the Blues" will be Thomian allrounder Jeevan Mendis, who besides scoring 79 runs for the Sri Lanka Board Presidents team in a first class match against the Zimbabwe Test team, created a new bowling record by claiming 7 for 19 in the recently concluded 2002 Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand.

The series tally according to the Royalists is 32 wins each. But according to the Thomians is 32 wins to Royal College and 33 wins to S. Thomas’. The apparent disagreement is the contentious result of the 9-run match played in 1885. Whatever the result of this particular match, the connosseurs of the Royal-Thomian believe that the 9-run match has added much fun and good humour in the true spirit of the game to build a healthy Royal-Thomian tradition over the years since this controversial match in 1885.