March 2019


The March Carnival Of Cricket
March 2019




Ananda-Nalanda cricket teams in 1926

Even as March scorches in the pot-boiling blaze of the noon day sun, schoolboy cricket's big match heat rises to fever pitch. The curtain is raised to unveil a month long carnival of cricket where old boys from around the globe gather in a spirit of camaraderie to cheer their alma mater to victory. The history of the schools' big match dates back centuries and is an integral part of the culture of this island nation.

Words: Manu Gunasena

It is a celebration of cricket when the school cricket season climaxes. The respective first 11 team of each school plays - after weekly cricketing encounters with other schools that spans for over six months - their final big match with their traditional rival team.


It all started in 1879 when Royal College, Colombo - then called Colombo Academy - met S. Thomas' College Mount Lavinia and held the first big match. 140 years later, this encounter has entered the world's record books as being the second big match and the longest encounter to be played annually without a break. The honour of being the oldest and the longest big match in the world belongs to St Peter's College and St Alfred College in South Australia who sneaked a quick run between history's wickets in 1878 and beat the Royal Thomian encounter by just one run of a year. Both the Australians and the Sri Lankans are still at the turf playing their unbroken innings and scoring an unbeaten 141 and 140 respectively in cricket history's annals.


In the 1950s, the Big Match saw a transformation from being merely a cricketing encounter to one of an annual festival beyond the arena. The spectators became active participants to create and add a new jollity to the event. An unstoppable transformation had started and nothing seemed to be able to stop it. A new culture was born which gave pride of place to the enjoyment of the thousands and an atmosphere was thus created that turned the traditional Big Match season into the nation's March Carnival of Cricket.


The distinction of creating this transformation in Sri Lanka lies on the two schools, Royal and S. Thomas'. In the early fifties the Royal schoolboys began a new tradition, the Royal cycle parade on the eve of the big match to pedal their way to the home of their captain. It was followed, simultaneously by the Thomian truck parade, an impressive convoy draped in blue, black and blue that started from their college in Mount Lavinia to the venue of the match. It indeed brought the crowds from their homes out onto the streets to witness the cycle parades accompanied by the baila music played by the ‘papare' bands aboard the vehicles. The music set the tone to give the air of a carnival fare. This was soon followed by other Big Match playing schools as well.


The Big Match rapidly spread to all major schools in the country; from the northern tip of Point Pedro in Jaffna to the Southern toe of Matara's Dondra Head. The Royal Thomian match came to be known as the Battle of the Blues. In 1893, 14 years later in the hills of Kandy Dharmaraja began its big match encounter with its neighbour Kingswood College, they called it the Battle of the Maroons.


In 1905, the Big Match bug journeyed down south to Galle when Richmond and Mahinda began to play their first big match, called the ‘Lover's Quarrel'. It flew to the north when Jaffna Central College began their big match with St Johns College in 1906 called the Battle of the North.


Then it returned to Kandy again when Trinity played with St Anthony in 1907, known as the Hill Country Battle of the Blues. Two prominent Buddhist schools in Colombo, namely Ananda College and Nalanda College started their annual cricket encounter known since 1924 as the Battle of the Maroons. Not to be outdone, St Joseph's and St Peters entered the fray like a prayer in 1933 in an encounter named the Battle of the Saints.


Kurunegala's turn was next when Maliyadeva met St Anne's in their first big match encounter in 1959 in the Battle of the Rocks. In 1964, Thurstan met its arch rival Isipathana in their first big match encounter known as the Battle of the Brothers.


What started at the Galle Face Green when the Thomians first met their Royal rivals in the 1880's has taken root in almost every major city in Sri Lanka. The event has become more than cricket. Apart from being the breeding ground for Sri Lanka's future cricketing talents, it also serves to create the schoolboys' faith and fervour and undying loyalty to their Alma Mater and the importance of a friendly competition. It is also an occasion for old boys of the school to meet in a grand reunion and revive old ties and emotions whilst reminiscing in good cheer of the old school days of their youth.


It is a time of great fun and excitement on and off field. If you are in Sri Lanka in March join in and be a part of the Big Match Season.

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    Royal and S. Thomas' teams in the Big Match 1907 (one of the oldest photographic records)

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    Jaffna Central College and St Johns College played at the Jaffna Central College grounds in 1965

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    The big match between Richmond College and Mahinda College in the south is known as the ‘Lover’s Quarrel'

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