Monday, 8 March 2010

Royalists, Thomians and Stallions

The 131st Royal-Thomian

When IPL 3 gets underway this weekend, most of the cricket world will be on Youtube, watching the site's live webcasts of the goings on in Mumbai and Mohali. Over in Sri Lanka, however, virtually all cricket lovers will be following the climax of a different match. Saturday is the final day of the Royal-Thomian, the biggest event in Colombo's cricketing calendar. The annual schoolboy contest between Royal College and St Thomas' is older than the Ashes and unlike Eton vs Harrow has never been interrupted by war. This is 131st consecutive year in which the game has been played, with St Thomas' ahead 34-33 in the overall tally. Christopher Martin-Jenkins conveyed a sense of the atmosphere at the event in a Wisden Special Report in 1994, entitled "Sri Lanka's great game:"

"Before the game began at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium, the atmosphere was that of a university rag week, with bicycle parades of students carrying either the blue and gold colours of Royal (motto: Disce aut Discede - Learn or Leave) or the blue and black of St Thomas's (motto: Esto Perpetua - Let the School be forever [sic]). The atmosphere inside was pure carnival, reminding me of St. John's, Antigua, when West Indies are winning a Test match. While the players, who all had to have been under-19 the previous September, went about their game with intense keenness, the social event whirled around them. A live band blasted out from the Mustang tent, where the most successful old boys of both schools mix merrily and the tipple is Scotch. Current pupils - and Royal has almost 7,000 boys ranging from six to nineteen - yelled themselves hoarse from their designated tents, actually tin-roofed, single-storey stands."
I must confess that - having spent most of my cricket-watching life in the UK - I have never been to the Royal-Thomian, and it still boggles my mind that this schoolboy match attracts such a massive crowd (these days 30,000-40,000 people) as well as nationwide radio and television coverage. Equally mind-boggling is the thought that my cousin, who has been selected for the Royal XI this year, will be playing a three-day match at the age of just fourteen. He's a left-arm spinner; I'm tempted to tell him to give it some air but he's clearly got a far better idea of what he's doing than I do. I hope his skipper, Sri Lanka Under-19 star Bhanuka Rakapaksa, gives him a decent bowl.

The champions in a league of their own

The flood of IPL hype has also drowned out the news that the Sialkot Stallions won Pakistan's domestic Twenty20 tournament for the fifth time in a row. The Stallions, who have won 25 of the 27 games they have played over the last five years, are quite clearly the most successful domestic Twenty20 side in the world. No tournament without them in it can ever claim to be a real Champion's League.

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