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Articles | S. Thomas' College | Souvenir 2004

THE ROYAL THOMIAN - 125 YEARS 01 HISTORY & TRADITION......

I begin by stating unequivocally that I am not a fan of cricket -1 never have been. I presume that I have been asked to contribute an article to the Thomian souvenir only because I am student of the history of S. Thomas' College in general. I write this to draw from the history of S. Thomas' some vignettes that would perhaps contribute something to the celebrations connected with the 125th Royal - Thomian Encounter.

'It takes an endless amount of history to make even a little;

tradition' wrote Henry James. Certainly 125 years of unbroken history has resulted in a glorious tradition for the annual cricket encounter between Royal College, Colombo and S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia.

The game began when S. Thomas' was still the College of St. Thomas the Apostle in Mutwal, the elite centre of Colombo at that time and Royal was still the Colombo Academy. The history of the game has been well documented, particularly in the Centenary Volume of 1979 and in the various souvenirs published over the years. The more recent volume, although it incorporates the 1979 volume, is valuable for the new articles and the statistics it provides.

How fortunate indeed are the two teams that will 'battle' it out at the 125th encounter in March this year. Fortunate and privileged to be part of the continuing tradition of probably the oldest cricket fixture between two schools. It is a recorded fact that this annual encounter, known affectionately as 'the Battle of the Blues' is the longest running cricket encounter with an unbroken record in the world. Even two World Wars and numerous domestic Sri Lankan crises did not interrupt the Royal Thomian. It is acknowledged that the Royal - Thomian is akin to the traditional game between Eton and Harrow in England. It is certainly steeped in as much, or more, tradition than even that match. The Royal - Thomian may now be just one among many 'Big Matches' between traditionally 'rival' schools, but it will always be the 'original' and no other can match it for the atmosphere and the spirit, with their accompanying fanfare, 'Match fever' and unique features looked forward to by all past and present scions of the two premier boys' schools in the country.

The late Warden Neville de Alwis, a great patron of the game of cricket used to say that Cricket was a game synonymous with S. Thomas' College, more than any other. Indeed from its inception Cricket has been an integral part of the Thomian way of life, sometimes perhaps rather excessively so!

Cricket came to S. Thomas' College in 1851 from our revered Founder himself. Dr James Chapman, the first Anglican Bishop of Colombo and Founder ofS. Thomas' College, was an Etonian where Cricket was a favoured game. In the Memorials of James Chapman there is mention of a letter our Founder wrote while at Eton in which he describes his great passion for Cricket. The record further states that he was part of the Eton Cricket 'Eleven' (Memorials of James Chapman, p.6.) and played for the School before his departure as a King's Scholar for King's College, Cambridge. Leonard Arndt, writing in the Centenary Volume of 1951 observes with a sense of pride thus, "One hundred years ago it was with the speed of thought that while Edward Thring joined his boys at Uppingham School in games frowned upon not long ago, his old teacher at Eton, Bishop Chapman, gave S. Thomas' -Cricket." (Centenary Volume, pg. 134). The game thus received much impetus and encouragement from the Founder and caught on until it was firmly rooted and became an integral part of Thomian life at Mutwal. "Cricket was already in their blood" by the time Warden the Revd Dr. C. W. Wood retired in 1853. The game received a further imprimatur from Bishop Piers C. Claughton, the 2nd Bishop of Colombo who writing about S. Thomas' College in 1869 as its Visitor observed the following, "I am interested in watching the effects of games in the playground of this institution in a degree only second to those of the actual instruction imparted. Indeed so important is it to encourage manly exercises in the young men of this country (as improving their moral tone, as well as developing their bodily strength and activity), that I consider cricket and football to be of the highest service, as part of our education." (A History of St. Thomas' College, Colombo by W. T. Keble, pg. 30).

According to the histories of the College, although the 1st Royal-Thomian Cricket Match was played in 1880, Cricket encounters between the two schools had received impetus from 1878, when the new Sub-Warden, the Revd T. F. Faulkner had begun to foster Cricket at STC as a good team game and together with his counterpart at the Colombo Academy, Mr. Ashley Walker arranged a collegiate match in which masters, including those two gentlemen were also part of the team. Thus the match of 1880 was the first in which the teams comprised only of boys of the 2 schools. This first 'official' Big Match was played on the Fort Cricket Club Grounds, with F. W. McDonnell captaining the Thomian XI. Unfortunately for the Thomians, the Academy won that first encounter, as they did the second in 1881. The two consecutive defeats were avenged in 1883,1884 and 1885 under the captaincy off. W. McDonnell and W. B. de Saram. A perusal ' of the souvenirs and the books published to commemorate the centenary match and the 125th encounter will give an idea of the many great encounters over the past 125 years. The Nine Runs Match however is probably the most famous of the early encounters. As it is written, from the Thomian point of view of course, "The Royalists gave up the game in spite of umpires, principal and Warden ... and it has been talking point ever since!" (Centenary Volume, pg. 135). Of course the more recent Centenary match of 1979 is probably more famous for the present generation if only for the valiant defence put up by Mahinda Halangoda and C. R Richards to save the honour of S. Thomas 'College and avert a defeat.

The advent of F. Stephen (whose portrait now hangs in the Thomian Pavilion and whose name is immortalised by a famous trophy for Batting and Bowling) in 1880 had a great impact on Thomian cricket. He was among the first great coaches that S. Thomas' has been privileged to have had over the past 125 years.

The Golden Jubilee Royal Thomian encounter was played in 1929 at the SSC grounds and was won by Royal College. Roy Hermon led the Thomian XI. After two consecutive victories for S. Thomas' under Conrad Barrow in 1952 and P. I. Peiris in 1953 there was a lull until the 'jinx' was broken in 1964 when the Thomians led by Premalal Goonesekera pulled off a brilliant victory. The Centenary match of 1979 that has already been mentioned saw the introduction of a three day game and ended in the thrilling draw that has been a talking point ever since. In 1988, the Thomian XI led byAnura Bulankulame - son and grandson of Thomian cricket legends Patchy and P. B. Bulankulame (Captain in 1919 and 1920) - secured a magnificent victory with Royal being dismissed for scores less than hundred in both innings. The match was over by 11 a.m. on the 3rd day and the Thomians had secured victory after 24 years.

The 118th encounter of 1997 witnessed another victory, after a spell of 9 years when the Thomians led by Nilanka Peiris Jr.' secured a convincing win. History was created by young Roshan Mahapatuna who took a 'hat trick'. His was only the third 'hat trick' in the 118 year series and he became the second Thomian to take one. The first 'hat trick' was taken in the 1901 match by G P. Keuneman of Royal College and the second by Eddie Elapatha for the Thomians at the 1945 game. Significantly S. Thomas' lost both those matches, which made Mahapatuna's achievement all the more historic. As a reward for their achievements the victorious Thomian XI were sent on a tour of England, the first Thomian Cricket team to be given such an opportunity. This historic tour saw the Thomian boys excelling against nearly all
the teams they played against in England, including some county < teams. 1999 witnessed the Thomians win yet again to secure the D. S. Senanayake Shield at the 120th encounter led by Naren Ratwatte.

Those who know Cricket better than I do would probably agree that the game has changed over the years. In an article written for the 1979 Centenary Match History C. E. L. (Kalla) de Silva ofS. Thomas' (part of the 1919 team) writes "Change - the good Order changes - even the game of cricket. The changes may not be many but there are little ones - the inevitable rules." (A History of a Hundred Years of the Royal - Thomian Cricket Match 1879 -1979, pg. 83). However, there are some things about the Royal -Thomian that will probably never change. The spirit of the game being the most important. Royal and S. Thomas' have preserved the spirit and traditions of the game. In an era driven by harsh competitiveness in school sports and saturated by the luring of sponsorships and money, it is hoped that cricketers at S. Thomas' & Royal still maintain the spirit of the game. For how long one can never be sure.

At significant milestones in history we must not forget those who have helped to make history. In this case the history of Thomian Cricket and the Royal - Thomian. Cricket at S. Thomas' has been blessed over the years not only with exceptional players too numerous to mention but also by a number of benefactors and coaches who have made a great difference. Among them are the Revd H. Meyrick, the Revd T. F. Faulkner, Mr. F. Stephens, Sir Stewart Schneider, Julian Heyzer, F. L Gunawardene, A. J. R. Scharenguival, Leonard Amdt, Canon B. E. T. Jansz, CanonA. J. Foster, Messrs. V. R Cooke, Lassie W. Abeywardene, L. Shelton Gauder, George Ponniah, Orville A. Abeynaike, Col. F. C. de Saram, Messrs. R. Bertie Wijesinghe, T. C. T. Edwards, Nihal Kodituwakku, Jerome Jayaratne and Dinesh Kumarasinghe. Their services are remembered with gratitude

In recent times cricket at S. Thomas' received great patronage^ from two men who had a great impact on the formation of young players namely the late Warden Neville de Alwis and that most loyal of benefactors Kumar Boralessa. Kumar Boralessa's contribution to Cricket at S. Thomas' was assessed thus by the late Warden de Alwis: "I can without hesitation say that he was probably the greatest benefactor of Thomian Cricket this century. He never counted the cost and asked for nothing in return, save the satisfaction of seeing the advancement and development of cricket at S. Thomas'." (From the Thomian Cricket Tour Souvenir of 1997) One who was as committed to the cause was of course Warden Neville himself. He was a veritable storehouse of Cricket facts with a prodigious memory for every detail. In fact Pelham Juriansz and Kumar Boralessa in an article contributed to the Felicitation Volume published on the Warden's retirement in 1998 described him as 'The Walking Wisden of Thomian Cricket'. From 1983 right up to his retirement in 1998, Warden Neville laboured to develop cricket to the ultimate levels of excellence. For him. Cricket was 'King of Sports' at STC and he did everything possible and necessary to produce good cricket in the finest traditions of the game. Cricket was his passion and at times his obsession. His contribution to the game at S. Thomas* and as President of the Schools' Cricket Association for many years can never be measured in words and the role he played in the development of Thomian Cricket cannot and must never be forgotten. The Indoor Cricket nets and other facilities provided for the enhancement of the game are but memorials to his numerous contributions to Thomian Cricket. Even more significant are the number ofThomian cricketers of the de Alwis era at S. Thomas' who owe their many successes after leaving school to his wisdom and far sightedness. For him Cricket was a way of life. He firmly believed that Cricket could teach the players some valuable lessons for life. The many wayward ones he handpicked for a career in cricket at STC will testify to this. He taught them to always remember that “When the great scorer comes he will not ask if you won or lost but how you played the game". The examples are too numerous to mention in a short article. He not only helped young players with talent to excel but he also chose the officials well. For example, he handpicked young Dinesh Kumarasinghe to coach Cricket and Dinesh produced the results in good measure, contributing in no small way to two Royal-Thomian victories and a number of wins at other national tournaments in spite of not being a reputed coach. Dinesh inspired the respect of the boys and instilled in them a quality necessary for success - discipline.

A number of records exist for Thomian cricket in general and the Royal-Thomian in particular. A number of Thomian families have proved themselves on the pitch both while at College and afterwards in Club and National and International Cricket. However, one such family that in my view merits mention is that which had seven of its products, over three generations, represent the College at the Royal-Thomian encounter - The Saravanamuttu Family of whom no less than 18 passed through the portals of the College. 7 of them played for the Thomian XI and 5 of the 7 won the F. L. Goonewardene Batting Shield seven times between them! That is quite a feat. A further achievement is that ofS. Saravanamuttu who played his first Royal-Thomian at the age of 13 years and scored the fastest school boy century to date (122 runs in 38 minutes) in a match against St. Anthony's College at Mount Lavinia in 1918, the first year ofS. Thomas' College in Mount Lavinia. For most of the 18 who passed through the portals of the College Cricket was what appears to have inspired them. Both Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu (P. Sara) and his younger brother S. Saravanamuttu were Presidents of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka in succession. P. Saravanamuttu was the first President of the Board, serving it for 13 years, and before that had been the uncontested head of the Ceylon Cricket Association. Any study of the Saravanamuttu Family history will show that the contribution they made to Sri Lanka in general and S. Thomas' in particular was beyond parallel.

Thus Cricket has had a great impact on Thomian life and no doubt will continue to do so. Other sports abound, but Cricket appears to still be in control. The Royal-Thomian encounter will ensure that this will remain so. Cricket, if recognised as a way of life, in one sense, will greatly help those who play the game to do so with fairplay and sportsmanship to the fore. In turn when these Thomians go out into the world of men they will no doubt be able to contribute positively to society and nation in keeping with the claim of the College Song

We rejoice in victory,
When our foes we beat,
We have learnt, when fortune frowns
How to take defeat.
All unfriendly rivalry
From our lives we bar,
To the College therefore sing,
For all we have and are.

So here we are at the 125th 'Battle of the Blues'. We Thomians can be justly proud of the past 125 years, but, may Thomians cricketers of today and tomorrow be truly faithful to the revered memory of their Founder, to the example of all past coaches and players and true to the spirit and traditions of The Game introduced to us by Bishop Chapman, thereby contributing to the fulfillment of that Etonian legend, our motto:

ESTO PERPETUA!

NMPB