Battle of the Maroons

Ananda vs Nalanda

A Cricket match without boundary lines

By Varuna Ratnaweera | 01st March 2011

The 10th Cricket World cup is here and what better times for us Sri Lankans to reminisce the glory of our triumph in 1996 and savour the good things that this noble game of cricket teaches us.

While joining the millions of Sri Lankans who fervently hope that we would repeat the feat, a sincere wish that goes across my mind is - that our team will remind the world the true spirit in which this game should be played.

Amidst all the euphoria of the world cup that is taking centre stage, we in Sri Lanka will get a rare opportunity of witnessing another great cricketing encounter that has enlivened this spirit and continued in all its splendour year after year for over 8 decades – when Ananda takes on Nalanda in their 82nd Maroons encounter at the SSC on 5th and 6th of March.

Way back in the early 1920's a few class rooms for Ananda College were set up at the far end of their play ground to house their primary section. The founding father of Nalanda - Mr P de S Kularatne - had the intention of turning this unit into a separate educational entity and thus transferred a set of “bright sparks” to these new classes. A few years from then saw the birth of a new educational entity which was named Nalanda with Mr Gunapala Malalasekera as its first Principal.

Thus Nalanda sprung in to existence as a part of Ananda – like when a father builds another house for a younger brother in a family to stay in – Ananda and Nalanda are just two components of one family.

As two giants in the educational sphere in the country today, Ananda and Nalanda have produced a vast array of illustrious sons whom we can all be proud of as Sri Lankans and most importantly the brotherly spirit that continues to exist among the two schools is something that is unique in any part of the world.

It was in 1924 that they started the rich tradition of a friendly cricketing encounter – now called “the Battle of the Maroons”, just to signify the competitive nature in which the game is played - though its more of a “festival” of the maroons than a “battle”.

Over the years there have been many significant and noteworthy performances that this series of cricket matches has produced and the number of national cricketers – including 5 Sri Lanka captains – emerging out of this series is much testimony to the contribution that they have made to our motherland.

Cricket, certainly has come a long way since the laws of the game were introduced way back in the 17th century and we are now in an era in which even the umpires decisions are reviewed with the help of advanced technology. Despite all these developments, don’t we still see the likes of Mahela Jayawardena walking off the field without waiting for the umpire's decision when he knows that he is out. And one may not be surprised to see such spirit being displayed in its full glow at this year's Maroons encounter too.

What makes this so different from other Big matches is this spirit in which the game is played and enjoyed on and off the field and across the boundaries. In fact there are no boundary lines for this game – at least nothing beyond the edge of the ground – as all those who gather year after year on this great occasion are free to stroll across from one camp to another greeting and interacting with all their colleagues from different eras whether they be from Ananda or Nalanda.

A match meant more to renew friendly ties and camaraderie and reminisce in the memories of their past for thousands every year, while providing the atmosphere for the players and the spectators alike to learn many great lessons that this game of cricket offers us with.

Unlike in the past when Ananda or Nalanda separately played the lead role in organising this Maroons Big match in alternate years, since 2008 this responsibility has been entrusted with a joint committee of past students from the two schools.

And how well this joint committee , under the leadership of M/s Upali Dharmadasa and Ravi Ahangama, has performed this task is seen from the huge enthusiasm that has now evolved in witnessing and being a part of this occasion – as new features are being introduced to this cricket fiesta each year.

A specially dedicated website - has been launched last year and gives the complete history and a plethora of information about this cricket series - am sure it is one of the first of its kind in any part of the world – and the team led by Manjula Fernando deserves a special word of appreciation for this noteworthy initiative.

It is now possible to book tickets online and the RFID enabled ticket that is being issued for the Maroons encounter enables the organisers to keep a tab on all the statistics of the spectators' arrivals and departures during the two days.

The Maroons cricket fiesta that takes pride of place in the Sri Lankan school cricket calendar in March is preceded by a friendly cricket match between the prefects of the two schools, a match between the staff members and many other fun events that are held every year to coincide with it.

And significant to say the least is the initiative of the joint organising committee to invoke blessings to both teams in a common religious (pirith) ceremony, on the day before the match -in the shrine rooms of one of the institutions in alternate years.

In an era where people are divided on cast creed and religion and even so many sects and factions within the same religion there lies a very important lesson for all of us in this act which instils the feeling of camaraderie in those young cricketers before they get on the field to display their competitive cricketing talents

A lesson for all Sri Lankans, I believe, to remind all of us that we are part of one big family though we are now divided in to many sectors based on that we have created for ourselves.

One recalls the sentiments that were echoed at the time we won the world cup - how it didn’t matter to us that our spin king Murali belonged to a different race or the two openers Sanath and Kalu - who turned the game of cricket upside down - were from two different religions etc Shouldn’t we remember that all along, and spread that camaraderie that we learn from this great game of cricket to every sphere of life.

That, I think is the message and the lesson that will spring from the “Maroons' Cricket Fiesta” - to the entire nation when its 82nd edition is worked off over the first weekend of March 2011.

After all this is a cricketing encounter that does not have boundaries for your friendships and good deeds.