Season of Big matches | Daily News

Season of Big matches

March is on us and so are “big matches”. Not all schools can afford to engage in big matches. A majority are played over two days with one going on for three. In 2019 a big match in Kandy concluded in a day! The 3 day match between Royal and S. Thomas was first played a two day in 1878 on the Slave Island Green. The players had gone across the Beira Lake in canoes with their gear and lunch baskets. “Both innings were over in a single afternoon and the results had not been recorded,” states the compilers. Hence the Centenary match fell in 1979. Halangode and Richards kept Royal at bay at the centenary match with Madugalle the Royal Captain with his hands stuck in his back pockets the whole time waiting for a wicket to fall.

The Eton vs. Harrow game began way back in 1805. But WW1 and WW2 interrupted their continuity. However, it is on record that St. Peter’s College and Prince Alfred College from Adelaide had begun their tussle since 1878. It appears this game is a year older. However, the difference is that these games are restricted to a weekend and continued in the next whereas the Royal–Thomian has been planned for two successive days from 1879, but from 1979 it has been extended for 3 days.

Cycle parades

Several of the schools organise cycle parades. Over time it’s mixed with cycles and vehicles. In intervening years the pride of a parade was to hire old rickety trucks to join the parade. It follows the drivers able to handle old engines were also old. They may not necessarily have known the cargo they would carry when hired. Hence seeing some of these trucks parked in front of Police stations was not unusual for offences committed by passengers in the cargo section of trucks. Nor was it unusual for parts and wheels to fall off and roll down the road from the really old trucks. Another offence was trucks emanating so much smoke as to attract the police to stop its movements. It’s nearly impossible to find such old trucks now. A few maybe still plying the roads in the Northern peninsula.

Organising Big Matches

A venue costs. Tents as they are euphemistically termed need to be rigged, tickets sold, sponsors found, service providers contracted, media sponsors found, security arranged and umpires allocated. The big match with a higher profile sees old boys working for a minimum of seven months to organise a match every year. School perfects, house prefects and stewards are deployed. Souvenirs are produced by some schools. The match days entail exhausting work for those deployed. Most are volunteers spending time and energy to set up events which provide much entertainment. The more successful matches with history have acquired an unmistakable brand name drawing handsome revenue.

The revelry

Match days produce pulsating sounds, rhythm and dance sustained by generous portions of solids and liquids. Brass bands or papare bands to more sophisticated bands with bandsmen and women and are found displaying their musical talents. The papare bands have an unmistakable beat which loosen limbs. Most playing with these brass bands are broadly speaking “high” at times. The enclosures have plain fans to, water misty vapour to air conditioners to stewards to serve food. Hotdogs to lamprais, ginger beer to more sterner stuff can be found served with licences. Each enclosure has some with strange name organised by dedicated old boys. Some tents offer family fare.

Amidst the bedlam, cricket is also played. Listening to the sound from the centre one wonders how any snick can ever heard. Some fixtures have the benefit of off field officials with access to TV replays etc. There was a time when being seen at the match had a connotation mixed with a fashion statement. The fashions becoming bolder and chic with time.

The cricket

A focus on results masks skills and performances. It’s no different at big matches. Cricket requires eleven for a team performance. A tail ender who scores two whilst his partner contributes the winning runs in an hours play contributes equally to the win. Leadership and leaders within teams are another prerequisite. Laws and regulations around cricket have become more exacting. It’s not a game played by white flannelled fools! We not only have on - field umpires, we have a third umpire and match referee. Standards of conduct and playing styles are regulated. The Big match is ultimately a cricket match. There is a notion the hype around big matches is bigger than the cricket. It is not and must not be.

Serving kids wanting to play cricket

Cricket as we all know is popular across the country. It’s expensive. A ground to practice and play is a luxury for many. A matting wicket is a basic need. A turf even more. Knowledgeable coaches, physiotherapists, physical trainers are not easy to find and come with a price attached. A school excelling has to build up teams from the junior years to enable a sustainable cricketing regime.

A successful cricket programme attracts interest from parents and boys. Principals and staff of public schools have to manage within budgets allocated by the Ministry whilst being subject to service based transfers. Old boys become involved if they were successful themselves in school and after. Once a cricket programme is established top up funding is required through sponsorship. Sponsors invest if it gives visibility for their identity and products or services. Each child requires cricketing gear which does not come cheap. Last but not least there is an element of nutrition for sports which entails some expenses.

Sporting Ambassadors

It’s no longer the norm to find products of schools playing big matches monopolisiing slots in either the longer, ODI and T20 format teams. In fact a large crop of youth from lesser celebrated schools from outside Colombo are producing cricketers who are doing well nationally. The message here being youth have a thirst for cricket and we must reach out, support and nurture such talent. But what’s the link with Big matches?

The link is, where schools have had long running annual fixtures classified as big matches, they would have produced talented cricketers. Many fade away after their school years.

What would prevent schools with substantial cricketing infrastructure, current and past human resources from sharing their riches with less fortunate schools, regions and kids?

Cannot mixed teams promote the game, cannot Sporting Ambassadors from the cream of cricket playing schools not hold coaching camps in remote areas during vacation time as their “social responsibility” programme for cricket in Sri Lanka? Can cricket gear starting from bats, balls, pads, gloves, guards which are kept aside by affluent kids not be recycled and provided to other kids? Can’t those better endowed become mentor and hub schools for less well endowed but talented schools who become spokes to the hubs? Why can’t the elite, ex-cricketers and old boys of the richer schools not make this a sustainable enterprise of giving back to cricket in Sri Lanka? 

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