St. Joseph’s College captain Harin Cooray (left) and St. Peter’s College captain Lakshina Rodrigo hold the Fr. Maurice Legoc Cup for which they will play at a media launch at the Jetwing Hotel in Colombo. The match is sponsored by Dialog for another year running (Pic by Eshan Dasanayake)

Stalemated draws, negative tactics and a rare crowd invasion have embroiled cricket’s big match between St. Joseph’s College and St. Peter’s College to the point that 83 years down the line, the two schools have now realized it’s time to turn a new page.

When the match gets underway at the P Sara Oval in Colombo on March 3 and 4 all players, the two captains in particular, will come under intense scrutiny to play with a positive mindset while in the spectator stands a monitoring system will be in place to ensure nothing demonic will get in the way of the outcome of this year’s Battle of the Saints match which was disrupted last year by an unruly group to thwart a Peterite win.
But despite the matter being spontaneously settled and the Peterites awarded victory by a no-nonsense St. Joseph’s College rector Fr Travis Gabriel, the hierarchy of both schools have decided to go a step further and appoint a former First Class cricketer Nalliah Devarajan as an independent match referee just in case a group attempts to pull the plug again.

“Winning and losing is all part and parcel of the game, but what is more important is that the game is played in the true spirit of sportsmanship which has been a hallmark of this big match over the years”, said Fr Trevor Martin, the rector of St. Peter’s College as he launched a countdown to the match while addressing the media.

Last year’s crowd disruption, although claimed as an isolated incident by former players, is still fresh in the minds of match organisers who are determined to have the incident left where it can be best forgotten-in limbo.

Spearheading the drive to ensure nothing of the past returns to haunt the contest is an old Peterite Dr Nirmal de Silva who is rallying old boys of both schools in a joint organizing committee that was setup last year.

“The issue of security is still under discussion, and we want to make certain there won’t be a repeat of last year. We have already done the ground work for this. We like to think that what happened last year was an isolated event”, said Dr De Silva.

Sporting rivalry between two schools have on occasions reached boiling point in recent times in view of what is at stake in a highly volatile set-up in the country where nothing short of winning will fall in line with high expectations by followers.

But the two Christian academies also contend that despite last year’s disruption, they are still in the forefront of showcasing discipline and virtues that other youth institutions have come to admire.

“We have been teaching many lessons to non-Joes and non-Peterites and this is our tradition”, declared the vice rector of St. Joseph’s College Fr. Anton Ranjith while deputizing for Fr. Travis.

The match has also moved onto a new phase where a minimum of 15 overs will have to be bowled in an hour, while the umpires will be stern on negative or leg-side bowling in accordance with the changes.

But imposing the new changes may also be a tough call for match organisers who say they can only expect ethics and fair-play to have a big say in the match.

“We want these new methods to work and we leave it to the players, captains and coaches to believe in this system and the traditions of this match”, said Dr De Silva.
Player-wise, the Peterites have more to prove than the Joes with skipper Lakshina Rodrigo (over 850), Manelker de Silva (over 600), Santhush Gunatilleke (over 850), Shalith Fernando (over 700) and Anishka Perera (over 500) being the leading run-getters and Mohamed Ameen (100 wickets) and Chathura Obesekera (over 70 wickets) as the pick of the bowlers that gave them five wins.

The Joes have had mixed fortunes with skipper Harin Cooray standing out as their only leading wicket-taker with over 75 scalps from 17 matches while a fortnight ago Nipun Samarasinghe (957 runs), Dineth Madurawela (794 runs) and Shevon Fonseka (638 runs) stood out as the best with the bat. Madurawela remains the pick with four hundreds.

The squads:
St. Peter’s College: Lakshina Rodrigo (Captain), Manelker de Silva, Santhush Gunatilleke, Shalith Fernando, Vinul Gunawardena, Anishka Perera, Ranmith Jayasena, Sulakshan Fernando, Shivan Perera, Prabasara Herath, Nipunaka Fonseka, Chathura Obesekere, Sachin Silva, Dinith Anjula, Laseh Rodrigo, Ravindu Silva, Banuka de Silva, Mohammed Ameen.

St. Joseph’s College: Harin Cooray (Captain), Dario Dassanayake, Revan Kelley, Nipun Sumanasinghe, Dineth Madurawala, Jehan Daniel, Shevon Fonseka, Pahan Perera, Thashan Perera, Havin Perera, Ruchira Ekanayake, Jehan Fernandopulle, Dineth Jayakody, Sachitha Mahindasinhe, Kavindu Jayatissa, Cameron Durage, Lakshan Gamage, Sheran Rassool, Avishka Fernando, Sachitha de Silva.