Battles from North to South

Yet again, we are getting closer to the climax of the First XI cricket season and the traditional Big Matches will be the focal point come March. The month of March is the time for the cricket loving public to revisit the good old days of school cricket. Stories of cricket heroics and the game’s nostalgic memories re-emerge. While the youngsters take it to the field keeping the good old tradition and take on their arch rivals, some call it ‘cricket fever or Big match fever’.

This ‘fever’ is said to have started to spread when two distinguished educational institutions, Royal College and S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia started a cricket rivalry called the ‘Battle of the Blues’ which is often played close to the ides of March every year, uninterrupted since 1880. The word ‘uninterrupted’ seems to be ever associated with this big match. Every article, a speech or address on this Big Match is sure to have this word as it is the uniqueness in this match. While most of the other big matches had been interrupted during the World Wars and for other reasons, this has never been.

During the crucial stages of the war here in 2008, the ministry of education, through a circular informed all school sports associations to stop conducting matches and tournaments putting into jeopardy the holding of every Big Match which were to be played that year. And it is now argued that the Education Ministry had to revoke the cancellation under pressure from the organizers of the Royal-Thomian Big Match, who did not want to interrupt the series. It will be the 131st edition of the Battle of the Blues this year and when the two teams come to the middle they are poles apart in their strengths, although that doesn’t mean that it will be a one sided affair as the Thominas, the relatively weaker side this year, have often shown a lot of grit when they have been down and out to force a draw. Last year’s episode is a testimony to this as the Thomians prevailed, leaving a story for decades to remember with Fahim Saleem being the hero of the match.

Following the tradition started by the Royal-Thomian combination, lots of other schools started theirs. And there are a number of other prominent big matches played from the northern most point to the southern most point in the country. The ‘Battle of the Blues’ in Matara, which is played between St. Thomas’ College, Matara and St. Servatius’ College, Matara is the second oldest Big Match in the country, as they will celebrate the 110th anniversary this year. It is notable that despite nurturing a rich cricket culture which has lasted for over a century, both these schools remain in a lower division. The ‘Battle of the Blues’ is the second big match series to play the match for three days.

There is only one other big match in the country which is played over three days. Two distinguished educational institutions in the Jaffna Peninsula, Central College and St. John’s College conduct their annual ‘Battle of the North’ for three days. This year it will be their 104th Big Match. They also have something to be proud of when they play the match. They have been able to see a result in the past several years while most of the other big matches have ended in draws in recent times. But St. John’s College will not be as happy as their counterparts regarding the results in recent years as they were at the receiving end during the last three years. Incidentally, it is the Battle of the North that ushers in the Big Match season in the country when they play it on February 25, 26 and 27.

There are only two other matches that have passed the century mark. Kingswood and Dharmaraja have been battling it out since 1893 and it will be their 104th ‘Battle of the Maroons’ this year. Although they have passed the 100 match milestone, they continue to play a two day encounter for reasons best known to them. They have advanced their match date to March 5 and 6 this year.

While almost all Big Matches carry the prefix ‘Battle’, Richmond and Mahinda Colleges have coined quite contradictory words to name theirs. They call their annual big match the ‘Lovers’ Quarrel’. They are the only other schools to have crossed the century mark and they will play their 105th encounter on March 19 and 20. They too are conducting it as a two day encounter.

Colombo’s Big match season is ushered in with the encounter between Thurstan and Isipatana who clash on February 26 and 27. It is followed by two other important matches, the ‘Battle of the Maroons’ between Ananda and Nalanda and the ‘Battle of the Saints’between St. Joseph’s and St. Peter’s Colleges. Both Big Matches have passed 70 editions and many consider that they should be playing three day encounters instead of two day big matches. The dates of these two encounters clash every year and they don’t seem to care much about that. This year, the ‘Battle of the Saints’ will be played on March 5 and 6 while the ‘Battle of the Maroons’ commences on March 6.

The ‘Battle of the Golds’ between St. Sebastian’s and Prince of Wales attracts huge spectator interest in Moratuwa. But for decades now, the spectators have returned wondering when they would see an end to the long standing stalemate.

There are other big matches that have passed the 90 edition mark. The ‘Battle of the Blues’ in the hill capital between St. Anthony’s College and Trinity and the ‘Battle of the Golds’ between St. Patrick’s College, Jaffna and Jaffna College, Vaddukoddai, are getting close to the century mark. Trinity and St. Anthony’s will play their 95th edition on March 12 and 13. Jaffna Colleges will commence their match on February 26.

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