Approximately 2456 km from Kuala Lumpur, where I now reside is Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka, my home country. Something happens in Colombo over three consecutive days in early March that tugs at my heartstrings.

It’s a cricket game between two schools, Royal College, and St Thomas’ College. They are both and are among the oldest educational institutions in Sri Lanka, but that’s not reason enough to get excited. After all, there are annual encounters, ‘big matches’ in common parlance, that are held all over the island in what are called ‘The Mad March Days.’ But, the Royal-Thomian aka ‘Roy-Tho’ is different.


There’s history and nostalgia, reunion and camaraderie, memories and reminiscing, festivity that resists description, singing and dancing, and invariable delights, unplanned and unexpected. Indeed, what happens in the middle is almost incidental to the carnival outside the boundary line.

Sure, people do cheer the exploits of the cricketers sweating it out in the unforgiving heat of March. The elegant stroke play is applauded. Fast bowlers beating batters with pace and swing draw ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from spectators as do the wily tricks of a spinner who wrecks the batting line up of the opposition. The spectacular catches and run outs are cheered. None of it hardly interrupts the animated conversations in the tents, however.

The Roy-Tho is iconic in that way. Old boys, from those who’ve just left school to those who are infirm of step, are there just to relive the merriment of school days. They come to meet old friends and even former teachers. They come from near and far, carefully accumulating leave and saving money for the airfare and of course the endless revelry. It’s a three-day part, after all.

There is the odd tourist, maybe a cricket enthusiast or someone who is simply curious about the fuss, the transformation of Colombo into a riot of flags, the blue and gold as well as the blue and black of the two schools, the cycle parades, the music from dozens of vehicles again decorated in those colours, and dancing on the streets. I’ve met many first-timers who have been duly mesmerised.


They should be. The Roy-Tho is being played for the 145th consecutive year. The only annual encounter that has a longer uninterrupted history is the Cricket ‘Intercol’ played between Prince Alfred College and St. Peter's College, in Adelaide. That series began in 1878, just two years before the inaugural Royal-Thomian encounter. The Roy-Tho is unmatched, however, in terms of atmosphere and festivity that complements the no-holds-barred cricket which has seen the coming of age of countless stars who went on to play for their country.

A century and a half, almost, is long enough for tradition to be made, nurtured and treated almost like articles of faith. The Roy-Tho is full of them. There is the traditional cycle parade, two in fact, where present and former students visit the homes of their respective captains the day before the match to demonstrate their absolute conviction that the skipper and his men will do the school proud in the three days to follow.


The schoolboys have their own tent from where they cheer their heroes almost non-stop for three whole days. Other enclosures such as the Mustangs, Colts, Stallions, Thoroughbreds, Stables, Taverners and quite a few run by particular ‘batches’ of the two schools are veritable mini-carnivals. Remarkably, for all the bitter rivalry on the field, it’s all sweet off-field. Royalists and Thomians, young and old, share these tents year after year after year. There’s banter of course but the back and forth is in good spirit that mimics the spirit of sportsmanship that has been the signature of the encounter.

There’s food and drink of course and merriment accompanied by live bands. It is like a musical extravaganza; a 360 degree affair which makes sure that no one can be laid low for too long by the reverses that can and do take place out in the middle of the ground.


The revelry spills out of the tents during lunch and tea breaks with the spectators sporting the colours of the school they support parade around the grounds, singing and cheering. They get back and resume their merry-making once play starts.

It’s not exclusively a boys’ thing though. The Roy-Tho is THE place to be and be seen during those three days. It’s almost like Sunday-Best has been replaced by Roy-Tho-Best. It is a veritable fashion parade that has become part and parcel of the event over the course of a century or more. Old friendships are renewed and new ones wrought during the match.

And so, like an annual pilgrimage, schoolboys, old boys, their spouses and children, troop to the SSC which has hosted the encounter in recent times. Those who live abroad, make a special trip. Those who cannot make it, like me, check the livestream or the scores on one app or another while rushing from one meeting to the next or in the intervals between important transactions.

It’s a poor substitute to being there, but it’s the best we can do. We complement it with frequent trips down memory lane, remembering a moment or a friend, and our senses get flooded by the atmosphere that, as we know intimately, has become part of who we are and has shaped the way we do things in our respective lives. We are nothing as big as the spectacle, but we are not footnotes either. We have in our own way, helped make the Roy-Tho what it is. We know and that’s good enough, even if it is happening 2,456 kilometres away.


Krishantha Prasad Cooray

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