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Group Chief Marketing Officer Dialog Axiata PLC Amali Nanayakkara ( Fourth from right) hands over the sponsorship documents as the main sponsor of the 138th Battle of the Blues cricket encounter to the Warden S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia Marc Billimoria (second from right) and Principal Royal College Colombo B. A Abeyratne at a press conference held in connection with the sporting event at Race Course pavilion in Colombo. Also in the picture are Royal Captain Helitha Vithanage (Extreme left), S.Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia Captain Romesh Nallaperuma (Extreme right) and Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara (fourth from left) (Pic by Sassanda Liyanarachchi)

The annual ‘Battle of the Blues’ cricket match produces enough excitement on the field during the three days of cricket, but the press conference held in connection with this year’s event turned out to be a big bore. Media representatives assigned to cover the briefing on February 22 (Wednesday) were kept waiting for over an hour at the Sports Ministry Auditorium in Colombo 7 with the organizer of the event caring little or nothing about the precious time invitees were wasting, being in their seats.

Cricket is a game played by gentlemen and whatever courtesy and camaraderie that’s exhibited on the field is expected to be shown in functions held off the field and associated with the game. The scheduled time for the briefing to begin was 5.30pm and the auditorium was almost full by that time, given that the invitees were enthusiastic to witness a grand press conference. But what invitees experienced was a long-drawn-out wait and just for nothing!

Before 6pm in the evening both teams had arrived, the Thomians arriving late and taking their seats along with the Royal team which was already present. Going by what the master of ceremonies, a schoolboy in uniform, said, the Thomians were late due a commitment they had to honour  in completing an inter-school cricket fixture at Mount Lavinia the same day. Sadly, no apologies were made by the organizer even for that!
The press conference staggered on to a start around 7pm and didn’t really offer anything of entertainment value because the speeches of the two school principals began only after 8pm. Much of the delay was caused due to the late arrival of Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara.

This cricket big match is played by two schools which honour tradition. We’ve seen over the years that these two academic institutions have produced men who have excelled in studies and sport. It would be safe to say that nothing of that would have been achieved if punctuality wasn’t observed. Those who have studied in either school will vouch that punctuality not only ruled the day during school hours, but helped build their futures when they stepped into the corporate world. Past records reveal that invitees at the last year’s press briefing held in connection with this cricket big match faced a similar experience.

The press, especially the mainstream media, has played a huge role in building the hype for this cricket big match and eventually covering the three days of cricket. Sadly, despite the invitation mentioning it was a press conference, the media were allocated seats as far back as the middle rows of the auditorium. It would have greatly inconvenienced representatives of the media to ask questions from where they were seated.

The media is present to add something to a sporting event. This should be clearly understood. Photographers assigned to cover the event have a specific role to play at press conferences which are a prelude to the big match. Schoolchildren carrying sophisticated cameras were seen walking around with authority and capturing moments which they believed were pretty important. It seemed the organizer of the event had a choice of getting whatever photographs of the event from the shutterbugs who were operating their cameras. They didn’t seem to care two hoots about the presence of professional media personnel covering the event. Where their seats were allocated confirms this.

Some of the media representative left the scene after 8pm because they believed this ‘mega press briefing’ would never conclude. It is understood that for so many years, the Royal-Thomian cricket match has been organized by a joint committee. Joint committees must take extra caution when organizing events of this nature because more than one culture is in play. A lot had gone wrong where the schedule was concerned. The buck has to stop at someone’s table!

This year, too, the main sponsor of the Royal-Thomian will be Dialog Axiata PLC, coming forward to honour its third year in a four-year sponsorship deal.

The three-day encounter will take place at the SSC Grounds from March 9-11. This will be the 138th encounter between the two teams. The Battle of the Blues is the world’s oldest continuing cricket match having begun in 1879.  Royal College won the big match last year.