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Sunday, 15 March 2009

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ĎBattle of the Northí with a difference

The serenity of the Jaffna Peninsula had been devastated by deadly battles over the past three decades.

Players looking forward to the Big Match

However, the `Battle of the Northí, the biggest and oldest cricket encounter in the region between Central College and St. Johnís College, Jaffna remains a mega sporting event for the Jaffna civilians to come out of their worries and fears created by the violence in the region.

The 103rd `Battle of the Northí cricket big match played between Jaffna Central and St. Johnís colleges from February 26 to 28 this year was first staged in 1901. The encounter is considered as the third oldest big match after Royal-Thomian in Colombo and the match between St. Thomas and St. Servatius in Matara.

The Royal-Thomian big match enters its 130th year this time and the battle between St. Thomaís and St. Servatius, Matara will be completing 109 years.

Central College, Jaffna was established in 1816 and is now 193 years old. St. Johnís College, Jaffna is 183 years old with its beginning in 1823. Both schools were started by Christian Missionaries and they have been contributing immensely to the fields of education and sports since their inception.

Jaffna Central and St. Johnís, along with other educational institutions such as Jaffna College, Hartley, St. Patrick and Union College started by the Christian Missionaries in the Peninsula, not only had an unblemished record in the fields of education and sports, but also remained unique in preserving the unity and integrity of the entire country.

Students from South

A large number of students from Sinhala, Muslim and Burgher communities from various parts of southern Sri Lanka had their schooling in these Jaffna schools established by the missionaries and excelled in education as well as in sports.

Some of the students from the South played in the Central-St. Johnís big matches and went to the extent of captaining their respective teams, like the students of Jaffna origin took part in sports in Colombo schools.

R.K.V. Premaratne, a Sinhala student from Central College, captained the school cricket team for two consecutive years, in 1955 and 1956. After leaving school, he joined the Police and ended his career as Superintendent of Police.

In 1957, a Burger student called Bonnie Vantwest captained the Central College cricket team.

The Central and St. Johnís students not only did well in sports at school level; some of them even went to excel at National level as at international level.

Nagalingam Ediriweerasingam, a product of Central College Jaffna, won a gold in high jump for Sri Lanka in the late fifties at the Asian Games held in Tokyo, Japan.

Late V.T. Mahalingam, M. Seevaratnam and Donald Ganeshakumar of the Sri Lanka Police Force were also proud products of Central College. They did extremely well not only during their school days, but went on to shine at national level, representing the Police.

Late M. Seevaratnam was also a good soccerite and rose to the position as Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police.

The St. Johnís College had also produced marvellous cricketers such as the Devendra-Surendra brothers who were known as the Chapel Brothers of Jaffna. The College had also produced key figures in the armed forces such as Majors General Balaratnaraja, Perinpanayagam and Siva Shunmugam.

Major Gen. Balaratnaraja retired as the Chief of Staff of the Army a few years ago.

Several players, who played for Central and St. Johnís had joined the Police and Armed Forces, soon after leaving school.

Illustrious students

Other Jaffna sportsmen were absorbed into leading private sector establishments in the South and they were happily serving in their chosen professions until the turbulent days started in the North.

It is also important to mention that the Sri Lanka Freedom Party stalwart, late Maithripala Senanayake was also an illustrious Old boy of St. Johnís College, Jaffna.

Another political stalwart, late Speaker K.B. Ratnayake had his education at Hartley College Point Pedro, which is another prestigious Jaffna school.

Ratnayake excelled in soccer and athletics at Hartley and it was interesting to note that he was able to speak Tamil with a typical Jaffna accent until his demise, a couple of years ago.

The surrounding area of the St. Johnís cricket ground with the trees of Old Park, Jaffna and the College Chapel will create an impression of watching cricket in an English countryside.

However, the big match between Central and St. Johnís is always played at the Central College grounds as itís situated in the heart of Jaffna.

The `Battle of the Northí had been the biggest crowd puller during the `Yal Devií days in Jaffna. Former students and their families from various parts of the country would travel to Jaffna by train to be in Jaffna for the big match while several students residing abroad would also make it a point to be there for the `Battle of the Northí.

Fans gearing for the big occasion

Chundikuli Girls High School and Vembadi Girls High School, the sister schools of St. Johnís and Central, also prepared themselves in a big way to cheer their brothers during the big match days.

The whole of Jaffna turned into a festive mood as the `Battle of the Northí was the only big match played in the North. It was only later, during the mid-sixties and seventies that they began to play their big matches.

The Jaffna Peninsula is known as the region of temples, as places of worship are found in every nook and corner in the North.

Therefore, throughout the year, Jaffna experiences religious festivals. However, the Central-St. Johnís big match is the mega sports festival which attracts all residents irrespective of religion, social status and gender differences from all parts of the Peninsula and outside.

In the 103-year history of `Battle of the Northí cricket encounter, Jaffna St. Johnís had won 33 matches and Central 24. Thirty seven matches had ended in draws with seven matches ending without any result. One match was abandoned due to unavoidable circumstances.

This year, the 103rd `Battle of the Northí was won by Central College, which had also won the one - day limited overs match which is the latest addition against its arch rival.

With Jaffna hardly experiencing any untoward incidents of late, the spirit of the `Battle of the Northí was very high this year, with the sound of bands and trumpets echoing around the grounds of Central College and the streets of Jaffna.

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