India and Pakistan faced off on Sunday before a stadium packed to the rafters, and Sri Lanka's games have been well attended too at the World Twenty20. But for those watching half-vacant stadiums, it will be news when they are told that the most popular cricket game in the island is a school game!
Former Sri Lankan swimming ace, Julien Bolling, who competed in the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Olympics, is a busy man, managing his academy and helping out in the Swim Lanka project set up after the tsunami calamity in 2004. But he testifies to the special school game that brings everything to a standstill in Colombo every summer. Bolling's annual leave in March is dictated by that special weekend when his alma mater, Royal College, take on fierce city rivals St Thomas College in a three-day tie.
The Royal-Thomian Derby is 133 years old, the longest-running annual cricket fixture in the subcontinent. And the three-day game played at the Sinhalese Sports Club is a sell-out every year.
"For the 125th fixture, many old boys flew down in chartered flights from England, United States, Canada and Australia," says Bolling. Colombo's elite go to these two schools, and take pride in demonstrating their loyalties. "There is a huge waiting list for tickets. We have separate tents for various age groups. You need to be a member to get a ticket."
At lunchtime, spectators, led by the bands of their respective school boys, take a lap around the ground, holding aloft their school flags. And girls add glamour to the event. Some of the girl schools in Colombo used to stay closed on match days.