Kandy looks all set for a washout this weekend, with hit-and-run evening rains persisting all week, as Kingswood and Dharmaraja take a hike to Pallekele on the 17th and 18th – Friday and Saturday – to which has been their Big Match spot for the past seven years. If the Trinity-Anthonian last week is an indicator, the Man of the Match is set to be the weathercock; but, let us not be too cynical and pessimistic; as Cricket has always proven, and amply too, that it is an unpredictable game where bookies don’t operate.
Clearly, no bookie would dare operate too lightly, as Avishka Chandrasiri will lead the Kingswoodians against Deshan Gunasinghe’s Dharmaraja for the 111th time of the series that runs way back to 1893. There has been a lot of talk about “healthy rivalry” in an age of “enforced sportsmanship”, but Kingswood and Dharmaraja would love to resume business from where the party was left off last year, at this same venue; where Kingswood playing as a badly badgered underdog pulled out a sensational “first innings win” even after the media had earlier written them off as easy meat. To prove a point, they then staged one of the most scintillating run chases a Kingswood-Dharmaraja Limited Overs encounter had seen in the past 30 years, upsetting all cards in the game by snatching a last ball win against their fancied opponent.
When the two teams hit the deck tomorrow (17th), Gunasinghe’s Rajan XI will be playing to regain the tainted pride, and Kingswood will be padding themselves up to move from strength to strength on the foundation they had laid last year. The atmosphere off the field is equally energized, with boosted spectator interest and various parallel showcasing like customized profile picture engineers to “support your team”, theme songs and such. The vehicle parade — something we on principle oppose and condemn — planned to coincide with the Limited Overs game will also add to the side-thrills of the game, for people interested in that kind of inconvenience.
Kingswood is returning into reasonable and competitive Cricket after 5 long years in the kitchen of Hell. Between 2011 and 2015, Kingswood Cricket had nothing to show but a pathetic Zimbabwean record, and was trounced by the Rajans in 4 out of 5 Big Matches. In fact, the Dharmaraja attitude was always too competitive and fierce for the Kingswoodians, who were intimidated at every level of the game. The Rajan game plan in every match they won was to put a score on the board by batting two sessions, and to get Kingswood out twice in the remaining four sessions of play. This plan succeeded, except once, indicating how feeble Kingswood was as an opposition. Ruwantha Hathurusinghe’s team last year, not only upset this script with which the Rajans entered the game, but also managed to hold their nerve to outwit their more stronger opponent on all 3 days of Cricket. Surely, coach Indika Fernando had done the right mental and attitudinal adjustments along with other matters of technique and skill.
The Kingswood-Rajan encounter is bandied as the “Battle of the Hill Country Maroons”, and it is also considered the oldest of Big Matches in the Hill Capital. In numbers, it is also considered by many as the third oldest of Big Matches, after the Roy-Tho, and the “Battle of Ruhuna”, between St. Thomas’ and St. Servatius’ Colleges, Matara. The series has been a Dharmaraja-dominated one, with a 35-19 lead in 110 outings. According to the Ancients, the first game between the two teams has been in 1893, the Rajans being led by their then Head Master D.B (later, Sir D.B) Jayathilake. Kingswood had been skippered by Louis Blaze’s confidante and deputy, Ernest Handscombe Spencer: a livewire in many of Kingswood’s early activities, complete with his handle-bar musto (In many articles, and news reports – which seem to copy one another virally – Spencer is referred to as “A.E Spencer”; whereas, the initials should stand as “E.H”). Regular “boys only” games had commenced in 1899, and there have been interruptions by wars, floods and famines (unlike, they say, the Royal-Thomian that had gone on uninterrupted irrespective of politics and global plight, which is frankly a bit disturbing).
For Kingswood, the Big Match has been an El Dorado since 1958, when they for the last time in the series managed to, under the captaincy of Maurice Fernando, defeat the Rajans. Dharmaraja’s last win was in 2015; the last of those fatal five years for Kingswood Cricket. With the teams being more even, the Rajans can enter the game with a level-headed approach, deviod of the hype and banter which was sky high in 2016, where Facebook culture had already declared the Rajans victors even before a single ball had been bowled. Even the generally Dharmaraja-biased sportswriter from Kandy, Dharmaraja’s former Cricketer Upananda Jayasundara, was felt to be a bit more biased than usual in writing ahead of last year’s Big Match, as the smacking Kingswood has been getting for 5 years had made their players, supporters and news reporters giddy alike. With that monkey off the back, the Rajans can tackle the “old foe” on merit, and without unnecessarily undermining him.
On another not entirely unrelated note, this year, both teams go into the game under two new heralds at the top — Dharmaraja’s D.M.T.P Wanasinghe, and Kingswood’s R.D.M.P Weerathunga, who are both settling down into their offices as Principals of their respective institutes. The Principals’ attitudes will be very crucial and will be reflected by the schools’ approach to the game, both on and off the field. Since late, there has been brought into the Kingswood- Dharmaraja encounter an “imitation culture”, where Prefects – specially – move about in their “cowboy hats”, taking time off from their traditional duties to “sizzle the dance floor”, swaying to the DJ and so on. While some schools have Prefects who wear hats and jive, Kingswood’s Prefects Court culture has often known to have their duty dared not flee, at the risk of heavy cost. The present Senior Prefect and Scribes come across as critical-minded chaps, and one has to see whether some of these “ugly scenes” from previous years will be trashed, and dignity restored to the office of Prefect.
Except for the odd incident, the Kingswood-Dharmaraja encounter, in recent years, is an event-free two days of sportsmanship both on and off the field. With the generosity of that great spoiler – Rain – what is on the cards is a gripping contest between what on paper is the most evenly poised Kingswood and Dharmaraja XIs in, maybe, 7 or 8 years. Everything falling into place, it would by all means be for Kingswood a matter of fide et virtute; and for Dharmaraja, two adrenaline pumping days of අත්තාහි අත්තනෝ නාථෝ.