Wednesday, 23rd July 2014

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Name of the game

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With the Big Match season arrives complex issues of “brotherhood”, “glory”, “prestige”, “tradition” and the like. Perhaps, things are a bit less intense than they were fifteen or twenty years back, but the fixture with your “traditional rival” is to this day the most important appointment for any Cricket playing school. The fetish of history, the much-stuffed tales and anecdotes collected and propped up by the college annals all contribute to the “solemnity” which neutralizes the “festive spirit” of the Big Match. Statistics show us that the Big Match is not expected to be won – its two day structure (except in those Big Matches that exceed a hundred meetings), the extra care you put into the game, the crowd expectation: even the best of schools have won lesser Big Matches that they’d care for. The acid test, however, is not to lose out. A loss is what is unpardoned. A draw, on the contrary, is the ideal result.

Among the more prominent Big Matches set to be worked out in the next fortnight or so, we have the Ananda-Nalanda “Battle of the Maroons”. This encounter is now 84-years-old, with only 20 decisions, 14-6 in favour of Ananda. Their next-halt neighbour St. Joseph’s is also set to engage their traditional rival St. Peter’s in their annual “Battle of the Saints” for the 79th year. In previous outings, there have been 21 results: 12-9 in favour of the Joes. The result, therefore, is a secondary outcome in these “traditional events” which are meant to breed goodwill and inter-community play. However, the Big Match has also gone down in our school culture for colour, vivacity, the spirit of enjoyment and plenty of mischief. It is also a breeding ground for (intentional and accidental) humour and the denominations given to some of these encounters can be a mouthful to the tongue and the cheek.

The Battle of the “Blues” (Royal-St. Thomas’) and that of the “Maroons” (Ananda-Nalanda) are straightforward enough. Bland and unimaginative as they may appear, those colours can be traced back to the flags of the respective schools. What is more unimaginative, however, is when the Trinity-St. Anthony’s Big Match in Kandy is tagged as the Battle of the “Hill Country Blues”. The oldest such annual cricket fixture in Kandy is that between Kingswood and Dharmaraja. Into its 107th year, this match is referred to as the Battle of the “Hill Country Maroons”. The irony, however, is that the Ananda-Nalanda fixture is at least twenty matches short of the Kandy game, which is still qualified (as a derivation) with the “hill country” adjective. The simple answer, here, most probably lies in the fact that most of these referents are of later coinage. Besides, in the heat of the season, these would not appear as abnormal as they may to a laid back columnist.

Among other memorable stylizations, we have the “Battle of the Mangoosteens” in Kalutara, between Kalutara Vidyalaya and Tissa College. The seasonal fruit is an icon for that district in which it is found in abundant – hence, a predictable, yet exotic and effective choice for the baptizer. Equally predictable is the “Ethugalpura Hatana” (the Battle in the City of the Elephant Rock), played between St. Anne’s and Maliyadeva in Kurunegala. The implications of the “Battle of the Lovers”, perhaps, have enough mystery and enigma to draw even a non-follower of the game to the Richmond-Mahinda Big Match. Whatever the reasons may be for such a curiosity-evoking tag, this match very rarely leaves any space for lost love. The St. Sylvester’s encounter with their rivals Vidyartha College, Kandy is baptized as the “Battle of the Babes”. Whether the good looks of the studentship or any other reason caused this curious label is not clear. But, this 55 year old Big Match is often a heated exchange, with very little room for child’s play.  “The Battle of the Golds” in Moratuwa is annually held between St. Sebastian’s and Prince of Wales Colleges. Being the most prominent match in Cricket-crazy Moratuwa, again, the colors of the school insignia seem to have influenced the title.

At times, the solemnity sought by these Cricket match referents leaves a ludicrous taste; especially so, in this, our age of over-information and triviality. For instance, the very notion of the Big Match – a largely drawn encounter, with frequent lukewarm results – being given the status of a “battle” (Battles of Trafalgar, Waterloo and Mulleriya being of greater significances in the shaping of history) by itself is a bit out of the spirit of the times, I would say. The “battle” which I follow (for the bloodlines of old school ties) has last been won by my alma mater in 1958. During my thirteen year stay at school, there was not a single result in that “eternally drawn” rubber, until a 30 year draught was broken in 2011 – that, too, by the rival team, Dharmaraja. Even the legendary battlers – like in that of Troy – were able to make a break after a 10 year siege and poor Homer thought that was epic!

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