The 80th annual “Battle of the Saints”, a cricket match between rival schools in Sri Lanka’s Colombo archdiocese, ended in a draw this weekend.
Cricket, a bat-and-ball game popular in the U.K. and its former colonies, is the most popular sport in Sri Lanka. Each March and April, historically rival secondary schools play games for the “Big Match” season.
St. Peter’s College and St. Joseph’s College, both located in Colombo, played March 7-8 at P. Sara Oval Stadium in the “Battle of the Saints” for the Friar Maurice Legoc Trophy; but the match ended in a draw due to heavy rains which limited play.
“Both renowned institutions have a historical Catholic legacy and are acclaimed for their academic excellence and Christian discipline,” Fr. Gamini Fernando, episcopal vicar of the Archdiocese of Colombo, told CNA Mar 5.
“Sport plays an important role in the formation of students’ mental and physical discipline, and forms them to be responsible citizens of the country,” he added.
In a Feb. 26 news conference ahead of the match, Fr. Trevis Gabriel, rector of St. Joseph’s, said, “we follow the historic tradition that the two school teams play in a friendly manner.”
“It is showing our unity, fellowship, and our oneness to all those around us, because we all belong to one Catholic family,” he said.
Fr. Gabriel added that while each team strives to win the trophy, the larger point is to come together to see a good cricket match, and to display unity and friendship between the schools.
Cricket is played with teams of 11 on an oval field, at the center of which is a “pitch.” Each team takes turn at batting, attempting to score runs, while the other team fields.
The Battle of the Saints is a “limited overs” match: the set of deliveries from the bowler (pitcher) is limited. This match limits the first inning to 60 overs, and each day may have only 105 overs. This special rule is meant to encourage a result in the game, which can often end in a draw.
In the 80 years of the Battle of the Saints, St. Joseph’s has won 20 matches, to the Peterites’ 17, according to The Times of Sri Lanka.
The Battle of the Saints was begun in 1933 by Fr. Maurice Legoc, who rectored both St. Joseph’s and St. Peter’s. Many of the national and international Sri Lankan cricketers are alumni of the two schools.
Fr. Fernando commented that the teams “are not exclusively Catholic, having members of different religions. But in play they forget their differences, and concentrate on play.”
He highlighted that this contributes to a national integration of the players and spectators, creating a harmonious interreligious dialogue and unity, spreading Catholic values imbibed in their academic formation.
Fr. Fernando noted that the matches are also relayed live on television and radio, bringing excitement and “uniting the nation.”
Sri Lanka suffered a civil war for nearly 30 years, which ended in 2009. Cricket’s ability to unite Sri Lankans across geographical and religious divides has been important for the nation in recent years.