In her book, Galle, as quiet as a sleep, Nora Roberts walks the reader through the streets of beauty and quiescence that define this somnolent southern municipality.
Protected by the majestic Dutch fort, Galle, the sleeping beauty of Sri Lanka, lays in the bosom of the Indian Ocean, only to be woken every year by a procession of princelings adorned in crimson and blue, or black and gold. It is the Richmond vs Mahinda big match, a more than a century old cricketing tradition that enlivens the sleepy city every March. This year will be no different.
Unlike the more publicized (but perhaps not as illustrious) big-matches in bustling Colombo, that are as much a nuisance as they are a delight to a tired traveler to the city, Richmond-Mahinda big match is a much awaited sacrament to every Southerner. As the big match season starts, Galle is embraced with a peck on every cheek by current and old boys alike. Both schools out act, sing, and dance each other in their battle to impress the ‘Gall-ians’. If the boulders that fortify the Galle fort could speak, each one of them would tell a story about a mischievous Richmondite or frolicsome Mahindian.
The Richmond-Mahinda big match stirs up memories of the past in every living Galle city dweller, even if they did not attend these schools. Those who followed the game closely would reminisce the record breaking 155 by famed Richmondite Prasad Kariyawasam, and how he held the title for the highest big match score for less than twenty four hours, before being outscored by Mahinda’s P.H.K.H Ranasinghe. Mahindians proudly irk the Richmondites by reminding them of the all-round performance of fifteen wickets and a century by Somasiri Ambawatte or the nine Amendra brothers who all played for Mahinda over a span of twelve years.
In yesteryears, these stories were told in huts built by the old boys who worked in city government offices. This tradition then morphed into each school taking charge of one side of the ground to build an elaborate stadium for the followers of either team. Leading up to the games various student groups spend sleepless nights on palm trees and telephone poles hoisting flags or adding color to usually pale city. Anyone who took part leave the big match season with several cuts and bruises, a lifetime of memories and pride.
Although Mahinda has had many years of glory compared to Richmond in the early days, Richmond has surpassed their brother in arms with their recent U19 performances and contributions to the national cricket scene. A Mahindian would quickly respond to such a claim by reminding the greatness of Lasith Malinga or Upul Chandana. But the arrival of Richmond flavored Suranga Lakmal and Dhananjaya De Silva as pillars of bowling and batting in the national team, together with the likes of Charith Asalanka, Sithara Gimhana, Wanidu Hasaranaga, Pabasara Waduge and Yashodha Lanka joining the island cricketing fraternity, suggest a superior Richmond camp. With the ambidextrous Sri Lankan national cap Kamnidu Mendis leading the team, Richmond appears to hold the upper hand in this year’s contest and will look to force a victory.
Then there are peripheral battles before the big day. From the bicycle parade that has become a show of decorated cars, boats and even helicopters to the big debate that brings the two schools onto one stage for a game of wits, mount the anticipation for the high-octane event at the Galle stadium. On match day, it is not unusual to find a Richmondite in the Mahinda tent, or a Mahindian causing raucous in the Richmond tent. More often than not, the cacophony caused by a visiting fellow is drowned in the drumbeats and the trumpet toots.
The Richmond Mahinda battle will ensue later this month and will be no different from the past 111 encounters. Galle has already woken to the dancing fans and the admirers from surrounding girls’ and boys’ schools. The shoe-menders, teashop owners, fried food vendors and the three-wheel drivers have joined the frenzy that comes once a year. The lover’s quarrel has started even before the first ball is bowled. True to its name, Richmond-Mahinda big match remains a battle between brothers, since on any other day, they are simply southern boys meandering in the sleepiness of Galle.