March 25, 2019

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    Battle of the Maroons - Nostalgia

    February 23, 2019

    On 2nd March 2019, the cricketers of Sri Lanka’s two premier educational institutions walk into the middle of a Colombo’s leading cricket ground for the 90th time. Hey... It is the ‘Battle of the Maroons’, once again! During the two days the city of Colombo will witness the glamour of Maroon and Gold and Maroon and Silver colours.

    The big match fever has already started with the ‘Battle of the Brothers’ taking place this weekend. The ambiance of the ground and the electric atmosphere it presents will enthral any spectator, old boy, parent and student. The Battle of the Maroons is said to have the highest number of ‘Papare’ bands, the raucous rhythms of these bands, makes everyone at the grounds dance. The fun atmosphere and the loud music entices any onlooker at least to step to the beat of ‘Papare’. The big match fun has evolved over times.

    Big match at Oval

    The first big match was played at Campbell Place (present Nalanda grounds, shared by both schools at that time) in 1925, the same year Nalanda was born. It continued at this venue for a few years. With the increasing number of spectators, authorities decided to move it to the Colombo Oval. It was an ideal venue for big matches, the structure of the stadium gives a perfect environment for entertainment. Many interesting episodes happened at the Oval. Nalanda recorded their last victory in 1953 off the last ball of the match. Many Nalandians including my uncle Colvin Karunaratne who witnessed this victory off the last ball would have echoed Henry Newbolt’s poem “Play up, Play up, Play the Game’. Since then Nalandians have not been able to witness a Nalanda victory. The writer sincerely hopes that this being the 90th battle, the Nalanda captain will reward their supporters with a much deserved big match win! The 44 year old batting record was broken by schoolboy batting dynamo Bandula Warnapura in 1972. In 1975 two bowling records were broken by Anura Ranasinghe, the best schoolboy cricketer during that time and the first schoolboy to play in the cricket World Cup. One of his bowling records was improved by Yohan Gunasekera, the very next year in 1976. Ananda recorded two wins in 1965 and 1982.

    The batting record for the first time in the series went to Ananda in 1978, when Prassanna Amarasinghe improved it to 126 and in 1984 Roshan Mahanama raised it to 145 and was not out on that score.

    Moving to Khettarama International Stadium

    The Big Match was played at the Khettarama International Stadium from 1986 to 1996. The significant contributions during this period were from Anandians Nilan de Silva and Thusira de Silva (brothers who played for Ananda) establishing the highest partnership for any wicket in 1988. No winning decisions were recorded at this venue. The crowd participation dropped and many old boys were reluctant to come to this venue to watch the match. A decision was taken in 1997 to shift the big match to a different venue; many old boys from both Ananda and Nalanda were involved in convincing the authorities in doing so, the writer being one, representing Nalanda Junior OBA as its president at that time.

    Moved to SSC

    The 68th Battle was played at the SSC. The batting record was broken after 13 years, Shantha Kalavitigoda of Nalanda improved it to 149. This was almost broken by Anandian Thilina Kandamby in 1999 who scored a magnificent 144. Crowd participation improved and things started changing at this great venue, old boys came in numbers. The old boys of these premier institutions came together forming a committee to organize this grand encounter in 2008. It was hitherto organized by the school authorities. The sponsorship started coming in, a separate web site (www.battleofthemaroons.lk) was dedicated to the Battle of Maroons. Surplus funds were donated to both schools for development of sports. Hats off to the joint committee for adding colour and glamour to this great encounter. The packed crowd at the grounds during both days of the match during the last few years was ample testimony to the success of their efforts.

    Nostalgia of 5 Decades

    I have completed watching my fiftieth big match last year. I have not been lucky enough to witness a Nalanda win so far. During these 50 years there had been some great memories both within and outside the grounds.

    First- In 1968, I was a grade 3 student watching the big match with my brother and my father who was a great a fan of cricket. Suddenly Nalanda flags went up and I saw a tiny player holding his hand right up at the boundary line. It was the dismissal of Sunil Wettimuny for a well-made 96. It was 16 year old Leslie Narangoda who held that powerful pull over midwicket leaning backwards when the ball was in the air and over the boundary line.

    Second – In 1975, Anura Ranasinghe, the Nalanda and Sri Lanka schools captain, National player was playing in his last big match. Despite doctor’s advice Anura came straight from the hospital to the Oval grounds and broke a 22 year old bowling record on the first day claiming 8 Ananda wickets for 39 runs. On the second he was well on course for the batting record massacring the Ananda attack, pulled one powerfully and the crowd was cheering for a well completed half century, but the ball never reached the boundary alas! He was well caught by Kushil Gunasekera. What a marvellous catch it was. The next day the sports page of a weekend paper head lined ‘sporty Anura Ranasinghe clapped all the way to the pavilion’. That was the sportsmanship of Anura Ranasinghe – my hero in cricket. I am sure Anura has etched his name in the minds of every Nalandian schoolboy of late 70’s for his unorthodox batting and cunning left-arm cutters. His career was cut short due to unfortunate circumstances, if he was allowed to continue playing cricket Sri Lanka would have won many trophies under his astute leadership.

    Third – In 1980, Arjuna Ranatunga the gifted left handed batting prodigy of Ananda, grabbed runs at ease, giving every Nalandian bowler a headache and was aiming for the batting record. Young Arjuna was one of the best schoolboy cricketers at that time. It was a matter of another half an hour for Arjuna to break the record. He was on 75 when he pulled one on the leg side. It was a powerful Arjuna Ranatunga stroke. Gihan Weerasinghe superbly caught him on the leg side, thus saving the batting record of Prassanna Amarasinghe.

    Reminiscences of 49th& 50th encounters 49th Battle

    Nalanda had a star studded side in 1978 compared to Ananda. Nalanda was captained by Susantha Karunaratne, a ferocious pace man, deputised by Aruna Ranasinghe, stylish Sri Lanka schools middle order batsman fresh after playing against the mighty Australians, Hemantha Devapriya Sri Lanka schools’ best wicket keeper. Ananda captained by Gihan Karunaratne, had Prassanna Amarasinghe and Brendon Kuruppu and many good young players. Much to the surprise of everyone, Nalanda bowling was opened by the wicket keeper Hemantha Devapriya while Keerthi Ranasinghe kept wickets. Anandians took full advantage of this and Prassanna Amarasinghe broke the batting record held by Bandula Warnapura. Hemantha donned his gloves and Prassanna was caught by him off an off spin delivery of Aruna Ranasinghe at 126. Aruna Ranasinghe went on to take 5 for 78 and ink his name in the bowling records. He made his mark in the batting records too with a stylish 54 in 1977, a feat that his elder brother Anura Ranasinghe could not achieve.

    50th battle – The Golden Jubilee encounter

    It was more of a carnival than a game of cricket for schoolboys of both schools. The preparations started long before, probably from end February. The first encounter between prefects of both schools followed with a match between teachers played at Campbell Place. The attractive Nalanda cycle parade covering a distance of over 15 km reached the school around 5.30pm for the captain’s feed. Ananda was led by the stylish Thilan Wijesinghe and Nalanda was led by handsome Upul Gamage - a heart throb of many girls at that time. Ananda had players in the calibre of Rohitha Perera, Arjuna Ranatunga, Brendon Kuruppu, Charith Senanayake, Senaka Ekanayake, OshadieWeerasinghe, Kamal Dharmasiri, Lalith Hewawitharana, Janak Hewagama, Deepal Dharmasekera, Nishantha Gunaratne and Dhammika Ranatunga. Nalanda team comprised Shammi Silva, Bandula de Silva, Sanath Kaluperuma, Keerthi Ranasinghe, Roshan Gunaratne, Devaka Mahanama, Nihal Pitigala, Hasitha Caldera, Dushan Zoysa, Samantha Guruge and Ajith Wickramasinghe. The match became yet another boring affair except for one incident where the Nalanda captain from whom much was expected, having already completed 1000 runs during the season, skied the first ball he faced and offered Ananda his priced wicket for a duck. However the old boys and the schoolboys had great fun despite the outcome of the match. The writer was on duty as a Prefect and had to miss this fun during both these encounters.

    Ninety years is a long journey. Playing the game and maintaining the spirit of the game at the highest level is certainly an achievement for both these schools. This encounter has rich traditions, hoodoos will be broken, both schools will ensure fair play and Battle of the Maroons will continue to build comradeship. The game of cricket played by these schools will maintain the niceties and good cricketing etiquettes at all times. Let’s have two days of positive play!

     

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