21 March 2016

A little something about the Mustangs Trophy

This year Royal and S Thomas’  battled each other for the Mustangs Trophy for the 41st time.  Forty years?  Has it really been that long?  How did the years creep up on all of us like one of those Arjuna Ranatunga or Mohammad Azharuddin fifties in either a Test or an ODI?  

Forty one years is a long time.  Long enough for a lot of exceptional performances.  But how many people would know the Mustangs Trophy equivalent of Sumithra (Charlie) Warnakulasuriya’s epic 197 in 1980 and Duleep Mendis’ swashbuckling knock of 184 in 1972?   Who is the Rochana Jayawardena of the Mustangs Trophy encounters during the eighties?  When last did ANY Royalist or Thomian domiciled abroad come to Sri Lanka ‘Just to see the Mustangs Trophy’?

It is quite possible that there are people who remember the names of all those who scored 50 or more in a Roy-Tho limited over game, all those who took 5 wickets (if there are any!), the names of the respective captains, those who won the Man of the Match awards, the series tally and so on, but I am willing to wager that compared to the Roy-Tho proper (is the Mustangs ‘improper’ then, one might ask!) knowledge of Mustangs history, if you will, is abysmal, not just the stats but those special moments that resist quantification. 

This is a real conversation that took place during the second session of the third day of the Royal-Thomian, i.e. the ‘longer version’ or the ‘real thing’ if you want to call it that.  As an Old Royalist, I was of course excited by the possibility of a win and anxious about the much talk of ‘glorious uncertainties’ producing ‘another twist in the tale’ and one that might stump the Royal camp.  

A part of me, the one that is not too fond of tight-finishes because the inevitable tension is near-insufferable, prefers a dull draw.  After all, I had been with a bunch of batchmates who, twenty four hours earlier when Royal were tottering at 122 for 5, were hoping that the lads would hold on to force play on the third day.  Just so we wouldn’t be robbed of a third day at the carnival that is the Royal Thomian.  Young Sooriyabandara had gotten Royal out of jail and considering how the Thomians had dominated proceedings for more than four sessions a draw seemed just.  There’s a part of me that wants everyone to be happy or rather does not want anyone to be sad.  A draw seemed fair, except to the ‘College Must Win’ part of me. 

I can’t put my finger on the reason.  Perhaps it was a quiet move against saying something that might jinx the boys, but the above thought process must have played a part in yielding the following:

“It should rain now.  It should rain or else the STC tail must stretch the lead to a point that’s not gettable!”  That was yours truly in a jinx-the-jinx effort. 

“Are you crazy?  We are going to win this!”

“But isn’t the Royal-Thomian about everyone being happy?  The Thomians will be sad.  That won’t do!”

“Alright, let’s settle for a consolation prize: our boys win this one and the Thomians can win the 50 over match!”  (they did, by the way!).

And that, folks, sums up the general worth given to the Mustangs Trophy.  To some, it is an opportunity to stretch the revelry, even though there’s a 7-day wait.  In the seventies and early eighties when even mismatched teams could not yield a result, the Mustangs was ‘something’ for those who thirsted for ‘decision’.  And in ‘result-years’ it was an opportunity for the losing side to secure consolation. 

We all try to make it to the Big Match.  For the Mustangs? Well, even if we were to go strictly by the spectator turnout, it is pretty clear that it is not a must-go affair for most.  Those who do turn up have their fun, I’m sure.  I can speak for myself on that.   We enjoy the extra-day of the Roy-Tho carnival.  If your team wins, great.  If not, well, it’s no big deal.  

Ask someone the next day what happened and the ‘match summary’ would be blurted out.  Ask a year later, and chances are that there would be a response along the following lines: ‘Royal won…wait..wait..no, I think it was a Thora win…..yes, S Thomas’ won!’  And to ‘so who was the Man of the Match?’ or ‘What was the score?’  there would probably be a long pause, a laugh and something like ‘Damn it, I can’t remember!’

I haven’t attended all 40 of the Mustangs Trophy encounters.  I think I went to all the games from 1975 to 1983.  And since then?  Well, maybe a dozen at most.  That’s how it is. 

But I remember what I believe was the first 50-over match between the two schools.  I turned up at the Oval (if I remember the venue right) late.  The scoreboard read ‘80 (something) for 8’.  That was Royal.  The truth was that the 9th wicket had already fallen, only the scoreboard hadn’t been updated!  So all that I saw of Royal’s batting display was the last man offering a simple catch to Silly Mid Off!  I think STC overhauled Royal’s score for the loss of just two wickets. 

This was in 1974 and it was not a Mustangs Trophy match.  I am not sure if it was called the Exide Trophy, but it was the final of the schools’ 50-over tournament.

[Actually it happened in 1973, a member of the Royal team of that year, Sarath Weerakoon, told me.  Here's his comment: "In 1973 and 1974 the 50 over knockout tourney was played for the Vaseline Trophy.  In 1973 we beat a strong Nalanda team in the semi-finals but lost to theThomians n the finals. Put into bat on a rain-affected wicket, we were all out for a modest score and the Thomians captained by the late Ranil Abeynaike reached the target for the lass of two wickets."  Royal, for the record was captained by Ajitha Pasqual].

The ‘maiden match’ was in 1975.  I remember it as a rain-affected game and therefore a ‘no-decision’ but the records (which I checked just now) show that Royal had won ‘on a technical point’.   

I remember the two captains, Prasanna Kariyawasam (Royal) and Mohan de Silva (S Thomas’, who interestingly, graced the awards ceremony at the end of this year’s Big Match, an event marred by a not-so-graceful presence which we shall not elaborate on here), together with some officials, burning the stumps and bails (reports indicate that they had one stump each and nothing else) and enshrining the ashes in the trophy.  Looking back it’s just old-school colonial stuff, but for a 10 year old boy who knew nothing about such things but had heard the history of ‘The Ashes’ it seemed a neat thing to do. 

What else do I remember about the Mustangs Trophy, I asked myself.  I remember watching an amazing last over hat-trick by the Thomian Sahan Wijesinghe two year ago.  I know that S Thomas’ won that game and last year’s encounter too.  I remember the Mustangs’ getting a miss in 1984, my last year in school.  That’s about it, really. 

So what do we say about the Mustangs Trophy by way of conclusion?  Certainly not a must-go and yet it is certainly not easy to get a solid answer to the question ‘why not?’  This is, for me, a must-go year.  Got to see things evening out.  Justice being done.  Those little things that make everyone happy or at least less unhappy.