12 November 2014

When the 'boys' of '83 and '89 turned on the freshness

TEAM 83 with their die-hard fans
They were the oldest among the Old Boys of Royal College who had gathered at the CR&FC grounds.  They had gathered to play rugby.  That’s six-a-side rugby.  Inter-batch.  Organized by the Group of ’91.  Three categories: Over 40, Between 30 and 40, and Below 30.  The members of the Group of 83 or ’83 Batch’ will be hitting 50 next year.  Just being there, even if only as spectators, would have been creditable, many would argue.

They didn’t come to watch, though.  They came to play.  They came to win.  Now that’s something.  Sure, they wouldn’t have to play the batch that had just left school, but competing against men who had just turned forty was no easy task. 

Sampath Agalawatte --
hasn't lost a move since 1984
They were short of a couple of players.  Maheel Kuragama and Sisila Indraratne had in previous years helped the team secure 11 out of 12 titles on offer. They had the skill and the speed.  And the heart.  Just like the other ‘regulars’, led by the Bradby-winning skipper of 1984 Sampath Agalawatte, Ajith ‘Hard As Nails’ Weeratunga (this year’s captain), Hiran Doranegama (better known in rowing circles), Krishan George (former basketball captain of Sri Lanka, winger in ’84 and also the anchor of the 4x800 relay that won at the Public Schools Athletics Meet the same year) and Aruna Jayasekera (rugby referee and easily the fastest in the team).  Jayantha and Hiran’s older brother Kamal made up the ‘six’.  Kamal was several years senior and therefore an ‘import,’ but no one complained.  How could they when age is seen as handicap and not unfair edge? 

INTENSITY (Aruna Jayasekera)
So they took the field, these old men, on a balmy Saturday afternoon.  They were drawn to play the Batch of ’93.  That’s a ten year gap.  They were nothing like they had been 30 years ago, but were still quite fast.  ‘Agale’ had lost nothing of his moves as the play-making skipper of ’84.  He sold dummies as easily as he always had, made a break, score and earn a semi-final spot.  The organizers announced, ‘We have a surprise result – the 84 Batch beat the 93 Batch’.   

The Semi-Final was against the 87 Batch.  The younger ‘boys’ were 1 short and requested that the 83 Batch play one short as well.  Granted.  It’s all about the spirit of the event, after all.   It was a keen contest right up to the end when Ajith made a break on the right wing and ‘scored’.  Technically, he didn’t, he went past the goal area.  The 87 ‘men’ said ‘It’s a try’.  All about the spirit of the game.   After all, they were playing against the oldest men on the ground in fading light. 

TEAM 89  Worthy Opponents, worthy joint champs
The toughest was the final.  The 89 Batch was led by Roshan Noah and included Sri Lanka colorsman Alfred Hensman.  Agale, who picked up a hamstring injury in the first game, played only a few minutes.   Both teams threatened at times only to be foiled by good defense from the faster men on the ground.  Ajith probably had the best chance but was ‘touched’ (‘barely,’ he later conceded) just before ‘scoring’.  Disallowed, correctly. 

The game went into extra time but neither side could score.  ‘Toss of coin,’ the organizers said.  ‘Let’s share it,’ both teams agreed that a toss would not do justice to a contest between equally matched teams that played their hearts out in the dark, fighting age, fitness and fatigue.  And so they were declared ‘Joint Champs’. 

Just before the first game a team photo was taken.  The 83 Batch standing in front of a ‘Lemonade’ hoarding that had the following legend:  ‘Turn on the freshness’.  They certainly did.  As did the Group of 89, most worthy joint-champions.  As did the 87 Batch, sportsmen to the core.  And of course the 93 Batch, who were certainly no ‘passengers’ or were just making up the numbers.  They were all quite young that evening.  Thanks also due to the 91 Batch for enabling youthful freshness.  The old men, however, were the youngest.  They turned on unbelievable volumes of freshness.  Take a bow, the Batch of 83.