Can Nalanda break the hoodoo? | Daily News


 

Can Nalanda break the hoodoo?

The Maroons Battle was started in 1925, the year in which Nalanda was registered as a separate school. The first Big Match was played at Campbell Place (school grounds). Since then the Battle of the Maroons continued uninterrupted till the war years. It was not held for a few years during the Second World War and the series continued after the end of the war.

Both schools have been producing players who reached national level from the beginning of this encounter with Ananda producing players who represented the Ceylon team even before that. Both teams have recorded victories in the series until 1953. Since then Nalanda was unable to record a single victory in a Big Match. The majority of living ex-Nalandians have not witnessed a big match victory. Is it their ill-luck? Can Nalandians, break this hoodoo this year?

Nalandians have been waiting for 67 years to witness a Nalanda victory. Sixty-seven out of 90 years is more than 2/3 of the series. It is a long time. Can this be a hoodoo? Already 726 players over six and half decades (as presented by my good friend Gihan de Saram) tried to break it, but had not been successful so far.

Nalanda’s win in 1953 was an exciting one off the last ball. It was a match of the type of ‘Sir Henry Newbolt’s poem’ - the last man in, last ball to bowl and two runs to get. Crowd cheering ‘Ara Soyza Ara’ and Soyza honoured the crowd by hammering the ball to the fence, thus recording the last Nalandian victory in the century. The lucky Nalandian supporters and schoolboys including my uncle Colvin Karunaratne would have enjoyed the victory late into the night.

Nalanda had a good chance of winning in 1973, when Ananda were struggling at 15 for 5, at 2.pm on the second day. Half of the powerful Ananda batters were already back in the pavilion. Ananda had players in the calibre of Priyanka Seneviratne, Lalith Ranatunga, Sidath Wettimuny, Channa de Silva, Ruwan Perera, Piyal Perera and Aruna Seneviratne. Nalanda team comprised Dhammika Samarawickrama, Nalin Jayasinghe, Sunil Jayasinghe, Anura Ranasinghe, Lal Peiris, Madura Wijewickrama, Wasantha Chandrasekera and Palitha Amarasekera. Nalandian pacies Palitha Amarasekera and Wasantha Chandrasekera were in a fiery mood and destroyed half of the Ananda side claiming 2 and 3 wickets respectively. Then the rain gods took over the proceedings, with a heavy downpour at the Colombo Oval and the match was called off and Nalanda was once again unfortunate in their victory bid.

GOING DOWN MEMORY LANE

Although there were no Nalanda victories since 1953, there were great performances. The best was Bandula Warnapura’s batting in 1972 breaking another hoodoo of a batting record of 42 years. This record of Nalandian PM Jayathilake established in 1928 was equalled by another Nalandian Carl Obeysekera in 1950. The schoolboy prodigy Warnapura was the cynosure of all eyes when he went into bat for his last innings in the Ananda-Nalanda series. It was Bandula’s right composure of technique, patience and intelligence that got him past 111 (the record). Bandula achieved the record score batting against the Anandian spin attack which was the best for a school team during that season. He was ably supported by the other opener Nalin Jayasinghe who was involved in a partnership of 134.

The other great performance was from the first schoolboy to play in a cricket World Cup (yet another record by a Sri Lankan) - Nalanda skipper Anura Ranasinghe who broke another hoodoo the 35-year-old bowling record of Anandian P.W. Perera established in 1940. This naturally gifted cricketer was in hospital the previous day after a rising ball had hit his right jaw during team practices with the national side. Despite doctors’ advice he got himself discharged walked straight to the Colombo Oval to play in the 46th Battle of the Maroons. Anura took the cherry after initial, customary fast bowling overs and accounted for 8 Ananda scalps for 39 runs thus improving on the previous record of 8 for 51 held by P.W. Perera. He was on course for the batting record too but was well caught at 47 by Kushil Gunasekera. Sporty Anura Ranasinghe acknowledged Kushil Gunasekera’s superb fielding by clapping with his bat all the way to the pavilion. This left-arm bowler and right-hand batsman captured 6 more wickets to break another hoodoo of a 45-year-old bowling record established in 1930 by another Anandian P.D.H de Silva who had a match bag of 10 for 36 which is still a record - 14 wickets for 67 runs. Anura’s bowling record of 8 for 39 was improved by another Nalandian, Sri Lanka cricketer Yohan Gunasekera who captured 8 wickets for 32 runs in the very next big match in 1976.

Yet another record-breaking performance was from Anandian opener Prasanna Amarasinghe who eclipsed Warnapura’s record by improving it to 126. Nalanda made a lot of mistakes in this match. The wicket-keeper Hemantha Devapriya opened bowling for the first time in his career, many catches were dropped, finally Devapriya had to don his gloves to dismiss fast scoring Amarasinghe off an off-spin delivery of Aruna Ranasinghe, the younger brother of Anura, went on to take 5 wickets for 74 runs in the match.

In 1979 the Maroons played their Golden Jubilee Big Match at the Colombo Oval in a carnival atmosphere. Thilan Wijesinghe led Ananda and Upul Gamage (the current president of Nalanda Past Cricketers Association) led Nalanda and this match too, like many other encounters, ended in a draw.

Nalandians Roshan Mahanama’s innings of 145 in 1984 and Shantha Kalavitagoda’s 149 not out (the current batting record) were other great performances. Anandian Thilina Kandamby’s 144 was another noteworthy knock in the series.

NALANDA HAS THE EDGE

On paper Nalanda has the edge over the Anandians this year. Nalanda skipper Avishka Perera has already warned the rivals by scoring 1000 runs each in two successive school cricket seasons. He already has a century under his name in the series. The strong Nalanda bowling attack spearheaded by Sri Lanka under 19 player Chamindu Wijesinghe is a threat to any opposition. With a positive approach and timely declarations, we hope Nalanda can turn tables this time by recording the first Nalanda victory in the century.

MARCH MADNESS

Colombo and suburbs will notice the March Madness and the Battle of Maroons on 7 and 8 of March this year commences the madness with their pre-Big Match ritual of ‘Parade of Maroons’. The magnitude in which the Maroons battle is now organized bear ample testimony to the organizing abilities of the Big Match Committee. It is organised in the true spirit of camaraderie and these encounters have inspired the “Maroons community” throughout. The result of the game has no bearing on the brotherhood of those who hail from these two great educational institutions. Whether you win or lose the friendship and the brotherhood continues and that is why this Big Match, “The Battle of Maroons” takes pride of place in the school cricket arena.


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