The most anticipated event of the year in the Sri Lankan school calendar is probably the Royal – Thomian ‘Big match’. The match is looked forward to by both young and old, male and female and even those who has no connection with either school would turn up and enjoy the celebrations.
The Royal versus S. Thomas’ Cricket Match or better known as the Royal–Thomian, is the second-longest uninterrupted cricket match series in the world, the oldest being the series between St. Peters College and Prince Alfred College, South Australia. The match is even older than the Ashes, having been played for 136 years continuously.
The colourful history that comes hand in hand with the match dates back to 1879, when the original match was played between the Colombo Academy and S. Thomas’ College with schoolmasters participating as well as schoolboys. From 1880 onwards, only schoolboys were allowed to play in the match. It is the only school boy cricket match in Sri Lanka to be played over three days.
This match is played for the prestigious Senanayake Memorial Shield. Incidentally, Rt. Hon. D. S. Senanayake, who became independent Ceylon’s (as Sri Lanka was known at the time) first Prime Minister, was a member of the Thomian Cricket team from 1901 and 1902. This shield was first presented in 1928.
The “Battle of the Blues” is all about pageantry. Decorated tents, flags, Baila singing and dancing groups dominate the city and the ground itself during the match days and in the days leading up to it. Overloaded cars with supporters singing and careering along the Colombo streets are a familiar sight during match days. More daring supporters are known to enter the grounds of girls’ schools and sing and chant raucously. This is frowned upon by the school authorities and police are sometimes brought in for protection.
The match is always held on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. By tradition, the schools are closed on these days to allow students to attend the Big Match. Souvenirs published by both schools are sold on all three days as a memento, the duty of distribution entrusted to the Stewards.
On the day before the match, the students of each school take a walk around the city in what they call a “cycle parade” with bands and decorations showing support for their team. The Royalists have a most amusing tradition that they carry out each year in this parade; carrying a coffin draped in the Thomian flag during the cycle parade. Callous jokes and comments are taken in by both schools all in the name of fun and sportsmanship.
The match is more of an occasion for the old boys and present students of both schools coming together for 3 days of fun and revelry. It is quite normal to see old boys of 70 and 80 years of age coming to the “Big Match” to relive old times and meet old friends. Also, many expatriates choose this time of year to return to Sri Lanka just to witness the match.