The Royal-Thomian Battle of the Blues will soon see its 139th iteration. Being an undeclared holiday for the young and old of both schools, its clear to say that this is one of the most anticipated events in the school calendar. Countless expatriates plan their holidays around this time of the year just to return to Sri Lanka to witness this match. This is the second longest uninterrupted cricket series in the world (the longest being the series between St. Peter’s College and Prince Alfred College, South Australia). Even two world wars haven’t been able to halt this rivalry, all in the name of good sportsmanship.
The colorful history that is associated with this battle dates back to 1879 when the original match was played between the Colombo Academy and S. Thomas’ College, Mutwal. Even though the Colombo Academy won this first encounter, it isn’t accepted as the first Battle of the Blues as Masters were allowed to play alongside the students. A year later, only students took part and it was crowned the first official encounter between the two schools. This match took place at Galle Face, in the area where the Taj Samudra stands today.
For over a century, the two schools have been toiling on the field to take home the prestigious Senanayake Memorial Shield. Incidentally, Rt. Hon. D. S. Senanayake, who became independent Ceylon’s first Prime Minister, was a member of the Thomian Cricket team from 1901 and 1902. The D.S. Senanayake shield was first presented in 1928. If a match is ever drawn, the school that already holds the shield retains it. After winning the 137th Battle in 2016, and drawing the 138th battle, Royal College is the current holder of the shield. At present the overall tally between the two schools stands at 35 wins for Royal and 34 wins for S. Thomas’… But then, again, this depends on which school is your Alma Mater. In 1885, Royal College was all out for 9 runs, and with no play on the second day, S. Thomas’ considers it a win. Royal however, stands firm that it was a draw.
The encounter became a three-day event from its centenary match in 1979, when Ranjan Madugalle, who was to captain Sri Lanka national team later, led the Royalists and the Thomians were led by Johan Peiris. This encounter ended in a draw.
This year, the Thomians will be led by the all-rounder Dellon Peiris, who will yearn to take the trophy away from the Royalists, who will be captained by batsman Pasindu Sooriyabandara. Needless to say, the atmosphere at the matches can be described as pageantry. Tents dotted with school decor, flags waving in the breeze and baila singing groups of old boys and current students alike flood the grounds on match days. Overloaded cars full of cheerful supporters going on their traditional Cycle Parades through the city on the days leading up to the match are a familiar sight. The Royalists have a rather amusing tradition of their own; during the parade, a coffin draped in the Thomian Flag is taken around the city. Both schools put up with callous jokes and comments, all in the name of fun.
This year, the ‘Mustangs Tent Club’ will celebrate its centenary. Featuring some of the elite and senior individuals in the Roy-Tho community, it is an exclusive, invite only enclosure. Even our current Prime Minister leaves politics outside to have a good time. In the old days, inviting the Governor on the second day of the match to this exclusive tent was a custom. The Mustangs Trophy, given out to the winners of the Limited Overs encounter was named after this tent.
Speaking to the popularity of this match, many Prime Ministers, a former President, Ministers, and leading citizens in Colombo have represented both schools in this Big Match. Some players have even captained the national team with much acceptance from the public. Thus Royalists and Thomians, both young and old, will continue to enjoy this friendly rivalry while upholding their respective traditions. These schools have really understood that winning is not everything, but making the effort to win is.
Cover Image courtesy thepapare.com
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