School-boy cricket in Sri Lanka – 140 years of RoyTho

RoyTho – a legendary urban tale from Colombo, Sri Lanka. Two secondary boys’ schools playing an extraordinary game of cricket against each other. What’s at stake? The D. S. Senanayake Memorial Shield. Many refer to it as the Battle of the Blues in honour of the team flags. The gentlemen’s game, fought to death, with a showmanship worthy of Roman gladiators. And as it was in the glory days of Rome so it is in Colombo. There’s drinking and feasting but most of all, there’s tradition and brotherhood. Fraternal ties sealed with, a 140 year old, uninterrupted game. Even as Sri Lanka endured 29 years of civil war the two schools in question continued to play against the island’s backdrop of anarchy.

The teams

The teams that battle? Royal College (1835), part of Royal Academy established earlier, and the first secondary state school for boys in Sri Lanka. It’s the alma mater of the last Prime Minister, past Presidents and thinkers. The second is S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia (1851), a private boys’ primary and secondary school boasting four former Prime Ministers of the nation. Hence the portmanteau word RoyTho.

Where heroes are made

Cricket is the life blood of the Sri Lankan nation. Yet no other cricketing event, in Colombo, garners as much interest as this – The Big Match. Schoolboy cricket is Sri Lanka’s own theatre of dreams where stars are made. Many national players who’ve reached pinnacles of their international careers have done so by rising up the ranks of school cricket. Arjuna Ranatunga, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Ranjan Madugalla and Muttiah Muralitharan are just some of the modern greats who owe their gratitude to it; an honour they would never deny.

The old boy network

The old boy network plays an integral role in the traditions of RoyTho. It’s widely acknowledged that old boys of neither school will be present at any significant event if it’s Big Match weekend. The two schools’ current combined enrolment exceeds 13000 pupils; a simple indication of the enormity of the old boy network; many of whom disappear beyond the gates of Sinhalese Sports Club stadium over the second weekend of March every year. The last Prime Minister publicly expressed dissatisfaction at a state visit by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the most powerful politician on the Asian continent, during RoyTho. Such is what it means to the old boy network. Attendance at the match exceeds that of national games.


Leading up to the game parades and marches of bravado gridlock the streets of the city. The school buildings are draped in giant roof to floor flags covering windows, walls and no doubt blocking all sunlight if you’re inside them. No expense is spared as the spirit of the Big Match reaches fever pitch. Each school parades on busy roads but they never meet. It’s a show of strength in numbers and school pride rather than an exercise to intimidate the opponent. A metaphorical dance led by current pupils dictated by tradition.

The Royal College cycle parade, for example, is based on the tradition where pupils would ride to the Captain’s home to wish him well the day before the match. On the first day of the match old boys would visit S. Thomas’ Preparatory School to ring the school bell and lead the school to the cricket grounds. This tradition has been discontinued but the spirit has not died.

Today, the parades have grown beyond comprehension and are joined by cars, jeeps, British Routemaster buses and even helicopters filled with flag-waving old boys, parents and supporters.

Cheer leaders of S. Thomas’ College

Game Day

On game day academic excellence, professional and personal obligations are left outside the gates. Alcohol runs free and live papare bands play non-stop. The deafening crescendo of hopes and dreams threaten to escape the boundaries of the stadium and fill the city.

The cricket kicks off to the echoes of 30,000 spectators, Papare bands, djs, and tv crews. Live coverage on local tv networks and radio stations carry the sound of The Big Match on the airwaves. Inside, the rallying cry of each team is repeated continuously, led by pupils in pristine white uniforms and straw hats, waving flags larger than life. “The scores are a blur by evening and the only way to know what happened is to read the newspapers the following day, depending on the severity of the hangover”, says Kithsiri Almeida an old boy of Royal College.

With the eyes and ears of the entire city on the game it’s easy to forget that the average age of a player is around 16 years. In 1988 Royal College played a team with five 15 year olds. Yet, it’s all taken in their stride as the teams battle for three days.

As evening looms Colombo braces itself for the onslaught of inebriated old boys that inevitably find their way to the bars and clubs. It’s not uncommon to find CEOs, doctors, lawyers and other high profile figures in business passed out at bus stops, taxi stands or outside the stadium. They are soon identified and returned to their families.

Traditional Sri Lankan papare band

Mustangs, Colts and Thoroughbreds

Mustangs, Brumbles, Rangers, Stables, Colts, Stallions, Broncos, OTSC and Thoroughbreds. These words may mean little to those on the outside. Within the stadium however, these are the names of the enclosures known as tents. They form a hierarchical viewing gallery and are as much a part of RoyTho as the game itself. Colts, Stallions and Mustangs were originally created to host old boys of both schools by age group and each tent still follows a set of unbroken traditions. The hospitality of alcohol, food and entertainment are included in the membership and covers all three days of the game. Mustangs celebrated 101 years and Colts 45 years in 2019. Membership of the tents are by nomination only via tent-specific committees. No women are allowed within any tent other than the Stables. “It’s a crucible of male entitlement”, says Hans Billimoria, a past pupil of S. Thomas’.

The result

This March S. Thomas’ College took home the shield after 12 years. The current Warden, Rev. Marc Billimoria, declaring a two day holiday immediately to mark the occasion. The winning score was 296/10 (78.5) & 124/3 (20) by S. Thomas’ against Royal’s 158/10 (48.3) & 259/10 (108.2). Currently the overall wins stand at a tally of 35 to 35 excluding draws. It’s disputed by S. Thomas’ College and defended by Royal College.

Where stars are born

The 140th year’s breakout star was Kalana Perera of S. Thomas’ College. His place in RoyTho history cemented when he took six wickets for 54 runs and went on to score 62 runs. Kalana’s star shining as bright as the Royalist Vijaya Malalasekara who, in 1963, walked on to score a century when Royal College was facing a batting collapse with three wickets down for 39 runs. Pundits consider his century one of the best ever in school cricketing history.

Thus is the nature of school cricket in Sri Lanka. “You walk on to the pitch a boy and walk out a man”, someone once told me. It’s a sentiment staunchly held by many. The sense of RoyTho being an unconventional rite of passage may go some way in explaining how The Big Match was kept alive for 140 years.

The strength of this network of boys and men bound by loyalty, above all else, provides an escape to simpler times for many. What I sensed, on my one-time attendance at RoyTho, was a tangible sense of solidarity and reconnection that seemed important to those who walked out of the school gates over fifty years ago. All around the stadium groups of men, of varying ages, gathered as they might have done in their respective school playgrounds. Ties were being invigorated, old scores settled but quickly forgotten and a great deal of alcohol consumed.

School boys in uniform hurried around being the cogs of responsibility that keep the three-day event moving forward. Their duties range from sitting in the media boxes to identify players on the field, conducting interviews or simply guiding people around. It’s simple, heart-warming stuff.

Whilst there are rumours of private male-only after-hours debauchery I had no access to any of it; my only isolated invitation to a tent based on arriving as part of the entertainment. An invitation which I politely declined. Despite this I found The Big Match endearing in many ways.There are family tents filled with happy children playing in the safety of the stadium’s boundaries. It’s as raucous and vibrant as any carnival around the world I have experienced and far less excessive. But mostly it’s fun, immensely so, if you let your guards down and enter in to its spirit.

Royal Spirit
St. Thomas' College cricket team celebrating their victory.
Thomian Grit

RoyTho takes place on the second week of March each year and attendance is by invitation only. It takes place on SSC Cricket Ground, Colombo 7, Sri Lanka.

Botanik Bistro and Bar – Colombo, Sri Lanka

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Colombo, Sri Lanka is beginning to make a name for itself in more ways than one. Of course the coastal city has the weather, beachfront and history on its side. All of this however, seems predictable given its emerging gourmet food movement which is inaudibly making Colombo a serious contender in the arena.

Botanik Bistro and Bar

Botanik Bistro and Bar has thrown its hat into the ring with a menu curated by Michelin starred chef Rishi Naleendra. It sits on the 6th floor rooftop of Fairway Colombo Hotel in the commercial district of Fort. The restaurant and bar signals a fearless departure from the failsafe palm trees and elephants school of thought prevalent on the island. It’s an elegant, ethereal space capturing the magnificent rise and fall of Fort’s skyline. The terrace, served by a striking 34-foot Moroccan tiled bar, faces the World Trade Centre dominating the view. As I sat under the dark sky on the bar’s terrace I felt the unmistakable scent of the sea glide past me in a warm caress of a breeze. Botanik evidently is here to entice a new breed of patronage; the free-spirited with a taste for luxury. The relaxed atmosphere by no means indicating a laissez-faire attitude to dining.

The Food


I enjoyed a surreal evening of cocktails and dinner at Botanik. A starter of Sri Lankan buffalo mozzarella, green house tomato and anchovies served with basil was an utter delight. I was unsure of what to expect of the mozzarella as I’d only previously tasted its Italian counterpart. In terms of colour, texture and porosity it was faultless. Coupled with salty anchovies and basil the dish was a joy.


My main of 12 hour lamb shoulder was served on roasted carrots, watercress and mint. This sure-fire crowd-pleaser didn’t disappoint. The tender lamb pulled away gently against my fork with the watercress and mint adding a feisty flavour to the palette. The star of the night for me however, was the chickpeas and feta salad served as a side. It was a fine balance of taste and texture which is not always achieved in basic dishes. This was a Mediterranean classic perfectly conquered at Botanik.


I wrapped up my evening with lemon cheesecake served with the unsung hero of chocolate; chocolate crumb. It was clever use of a basic ingredient which added interest to a heavenly dessert contributing the perfect ending to an exquisite meal.

The genius in this menu lay in its simplicity. At any given point there were no more than three to four main ingredients on my plate. Yet their combination was so well accomplished that the results delivered an unforgettably refined dining experience. Proof that well sourced ingredients cooked with passion need no gimmicks. I followed my meal with a night-cap at the bar as I sat overlooking the bright lights of the city at night. It was as perfect a Colombo night as I could have ever wished for.

Botanik is located at 7, Hospital Street, Colombo 10, Sri Lanka. For more information visit:



The Best Rooftop Pool in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is enjoying unprecedented levels of tourism as Asia’s leading tourist destination at present. Colombo, the commercial capital, is relishing the best part of this new influx of visitors. Luxury hotel chains have taken over the coast line and there is an air of jubilance as Colombo enjoys what has eluded many – the end of a war. In fact, hardly anyone mentions the war any more as there is too much to look forward to in what is arguably one of the most exciting times in its history.

This is the city I was born and raised in for 13 years. As such, returning here feels akin to a pilgrimage. I celebrate new Colombo’s ever-evolving landscape as a tapestry which unfolds at each visit.

ON14 Rooftop Bar and Lounge


Ozo, Colombo remains one of my favourite places in the city. The hotel sits on scenic Marine Drive which runs 3.6km along Colombo’s coast. The rooftop pool here offers views across the ocean on one side and the Colombo skyline on the other. Sit here from sun rise to sun set and you will still never be bored. With striking views across Colombo, a roof top lounge and bar serving perfect breakfast, brunch, lunch AND dinner accompanied by phenomenal cocktails you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere more suited for watching over the city.

Food and Drink


As the sun goes down ON14 Rooftop Bar and Lounge serves palatial cocktails and rich, exquisite food. I spent a wonderful evening here and enjoyed the most delightful chicken and barracuda dish. It was sublime on the tongue. Served with a perfectly chilled rose´ from the bar’s extensive wine list I couldn’t think of a better way to round-up my evening.


However, I couldn’t leave without ON14’s traditional chocolate biscuit pudding. It was a wonderful nod to Sri Lankan cuisine. This childhood favourite was served with an adult twist of strawberries, white chocolate and fresh mint leaves and  I could have easily eaten one more.


Five Things You Must See Around Ozo, Colombo.

Ozo, Colombo is perfectly located for exploring one of the most authentic parts of Colombo. A 10 minute taxi journey will take you to Colombo Fort which is an area of the city fraught with history. Its proximity to Colombo Harbour which has served as a port for over 2000 years carries a colossal bearing to the way Colombo Fort has evolved over centuries.

Here are my top five picks of things to see in Colombo Fort.

Fort Railway Station

Fort Railway Station connects the capital’s rail network to the rest of the country. Even if you have no intention of taking a train from here the station itself is worth a visit. It opened in 1917 and has retained most of its original charm from wooden counters and ceiling beams to quaint purple train tickets. I bought a platform ticket for Rs. 15 which allowed me to walk on to any platform (but not board trains) and see inside the station. It’s an exceptional place to experience an unadulterated insight into the cultural diversity of Colombo. It’s also undoubtedly one of the busiest places in the city.

Colombo Fort Clock Tower

Image source:

Colombo Fort Clock Tower (1857) also known as Khan Clock Tower at the entrance to Pettah Market is the starting point for measuring distances from Colombo to the rest of the country. It is effectively, km zero for Sri Lanka. When it was first constructed it was the tallest structure in Colombo and even served as a light house until 1952 and only ceased this duty after other surrounding buildings obscured its view.

In more recent times, during the civil war, the area surrounding the clock tower was a high security zone. The tower was not accessible until 2015 when roads reopened to the public.

Pettah Market

Pettah is a multi-ethnic district of Colombo within a short distance of Fort Railway Station. Pettah Market has always been here due to its proximity to Colombo Harbour. Very few tourists go to this market and it’s frequented by locals for their daily needs. So a visit here is as an authentic an experience as you could ever want.

I walked the labyrinth of streets within, each dedicated to a different trade including clothing, fruit and veg, fish and seafood, electronics and even gold jewellery. The noise, the crowds and the aromas were overwhelming and a little stray dog accompanied me everywhere. There is plenty of street food here too if you’re peckish and brave. Get here before nine o’clock in the morning before the heat of the sun hits the streets.  It’s far less crowded than too and makes walking around relatively stress free.

Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque


Travel bloggers have already made this magnificent mosque famous due to its striking red and white brickwork. It was built by the Muslim community of Pettah in 1909. Today it’s become a Colombo landmark amongst the travel community.

If you plan to visit, as with all places of worship, you will need to be dressed appropriately. I was able to walk into the corridor of the mosque but not enter any of the prayer rooms. Enjoy the stunning architecture which rises from the inner courtyard up several storeys towards the sky.

Dutch Hospital Shopping Complex

Image source: Timeout Sri Lanka

This old Dutch hospital building which dates as far back as 1600s is the oldest building in the Colombo Fort area. The hospital was set up to serve the health and well-being of the workers at the Dutch East India Company and seafarers from Colombo Harbour during the occupation of Ceylon.

Today, its architecture has been preserved and it’s a shopping and dining precinct. There are shops, restaurants and cafes served by two open courtyards. In the evenings there is live music and the many restaurants serve dinner under the stars.



In collaboration with Ozo, Colombo and Ozo Hotels. Prices for a Dream Room at OZO Colombo Sri Lanka start from approximately £76 per night (B&B) exclusive of VAT and service charge. For more information or reservations, visit

Photo credit unless otherwise stated: Kosiwick

8 Places to Eat Like a Local in Colombo.

To say that food and drink plays a big part in Sri Lankan culture would be the single  greatest understatement in the world. When you are the producer of almost all of the world’s cinnamon and  most of its spices it follows that your cuisine would be pretty darn good. Mix in the Dutch Colonial and South Indian influences with centuries of being a trading post and you have a pretty picky bunch of locals when it comes to food. So, here to help you eat like a local, is a short list of restaurants, cafes and after hours joints that I frequent with my friends whenever I am in Colombo.

1.Sunday lunch – Barefoot garden cafe (704 Galle Road, Colombo 3).

Barefoot is somewhat of an institution in Colombo. Nestled in the heart of the city it is an easily accessible, vibrant space typical of Colombo. The garden cafe here is consistently packed on  Sunday afternoons. You will need to be earlier than midday on Sunday to grab a table in the shade. Get here later and you’ll be sitting under the baking midday sun. Sunday lunch at Barefoot is extremely popular with locals. The freshly cooked food is to die for. Ask to see the specials and the waiters will bring a giant chalk board up to your table. Barefoot is renowned for it’s black pork curry if you can handle it. However, pretty much everything on the menu is scrumptious. Even on a busy Sunday afternoon the service is quick. Just to make your meal a little more special you will be treated to live music by a fantastic jazz ensemble while you eat. This is alfresco dining at it’s best.

What to eat – Chargrilled butterfly prawn salad

What to drink – Lime and mint juice

Spoil yourself – Orange cake and vanilla ice cream.

2. Mid week lunch – Dutch Burgher Union  (114 Reid Avenue, Colombo 4).

Lamprais in a banana leaf

The Dutch Burgher Union is a gem in Colombo serving great food that is far too popular for it’s own good. The Lamprais here is quite possibly the most authentic that you can buy. Consider the Lamprais a gift from the Dutch Burgher community of Sri Lanka to the rest of us. Traditionally, it consists of savoury rice, a mixed meat curry of chicken, beef and pork and vegetable accompaniments baked in a banana leaf. In recent times however, it has been adapted to chicken, mutton or fish only – a testament to it’s popularity outside the Burgher community where beef and pork maybe avoided. The aroma of the baked banana leaf and all the spices within it will have you salivating while you scramble to open it. Speaking from experience, this is also a great hangover cure.

What to order –  Chicken or Mutton Lamprais

What to drink – Lime juice

Spoil yourself – Another lamprais


3. Short Eat lunch – Fab

Lunch is considered the main meal in Sri Lanka. This is a busy old time in Colombo. Miss the lunch time rush and you will find there is no food left any where in your locality. As such, you will have to down grade to eating ”short eats” for lunch. If you find yourself in such a predicament while in Colombo, hail down the first tuk tuk you see and ask to be taken to the nearest “Fab”. You will never be too far away from a branch of Fab because they are conveniently scattered through out most of Colombo. This chain has the best offering of Sri Lankan “short eats”. Short Eats are usually served as snacks at parties before the main meal. The most popular are cutlets, patties and Chinese rolls. These are filled meat, fish or veg rolls breadcrumbed or encased in crusty pastry and deep fried. Dip your short eats in the nectar of the Gods that is Sri Lankan chillie sauce for a great alternative to a rice and curry lunch.

What to eat – Cutlets, patties, Chinese rolls.

What to drink – Water

Spoil yourself – Chocolate eclair


4. Organic Food – The Good Market (

As the name suggests The Good Market in Colombo is an offering of all things good. As well as local handicrafts, the market offers organically farmed fruit and vegetables, spices and cooked food without additives. There are also stalls representing local charities if you wish to support them. The market happens twice a week – Thursday afternoons in Diyatha Uyana, Battharamulla and Sundays at the Racecourse Grounds, Colombo 7. Both locations are easy to get to. More refreshingly, they will take you off the regular tourist hot spots. You will see people of all backgrounds buying, selling and generally mixing at The Good Market. The range of food here varies from traditional Sri Lankan to tasty cup cakes. More importantly, the food is of the “home cooked” variety. Eat small amounts and taste everything. The traditional food stalls here are as authentically Sri Lankan as you will ever find.

What to eat – Everything

What to drink – Everything

Spoil yourself – A 30 minute massage from the blind therapists at Thusare Talking Hands.


5. Dinner – Upali’s by Nawaloka (C.W.W. Kannangara Mawatha, Colombo 7)

Located in Colombo 7, Upali’s has secured it’s place in the hungry bellies of Colombo dwellers as the ”go to” for traditional Sri Lankan cuisine. Do not let the impressive building and affluent location put you off. At the heart of this establishment and it’s success is traditional cookery. Upali’s has established itself in Colombo, where there is no shortage of quality food on offer, due to it’s eye wateringly tasty “village food” menu. This is a feat that at best would be a challenge and at worst impossible to pull off on this scale. However, Upali’s succeeds where many have failed. There is an extensive menu of traditional food such as ”pittu”, ”string hoppers” and ”hoppers”. That is before I can even mention the tear jerkingly tasty lunch buffet. All of which is highly recommended. You will need to visit more than once to enjoy everything on the menu here. Due to it’s popularity, it is commonly accepted that tables are not readily available, particularly in the evenings. However, true to Sri Lankan hospitality, they will never turn a hungry person away. During peak hours, provided there’s enough space, you will be escorted to their coffee shop next door where you may order from the restaurant’s menu. I kid you not!

What to order – Hopper special which arrives with two curries and a coconut sambol.

What to drink – Papaya Juice

Spoil yourself – Watalappan


6. Sri Lankan-Chinese Fusion food – Chinese Dragon Cafe (

Hot butter cuttle fish and Kun Kung

With a considerable Chinese community, based mainly in the city, Colombo has always been spoilt with magnificent Chinese food. Chinese restaurants in Colombo have been part of the landscape since my childhood. The community has been kind enough to tweak the cuisine to suit local palettes with the use of spices and freshly caught seafood. The result is lethal! This is possibly the reason that Chinese eateries outnumber traditional Sri Lankan eateries in Colombo. They range from 5* restaurants to busy little places with plastic chairs and queues out of the door. The Chinese Dragon Cafe is a small chain and one of the best known in Colombo. Their take on seafood is not for the lighthearted. This is hardcore fusion cookery. The chillie crab, cuttle fish and prawns will sizzle on your tongue. Eat your seafood with Kun Kung – a local stir fried green which is executed to perfection. Skip the fried rice and eat them together.


What to eat – Hot Butter Cuttle fish and Kun Kung

What to drink – Lime juice

Spoil yourself – Chillie crab


7. Dinner – Flamingo House and The Love Bar (Horton Place, Colombo 7)

Flamingo House is a recent addition to Colombo’s culinary landscape. It has however, established itself fiercely amongst Colombo’s big players. With decor that is easily set to become one of the most Instagrammed spaces in Colombo, it rivals no other. An absolute credit to Flamingo House is that the same attention to detail has been extended to it’s food. The carefully curated menu is as eclectic as the decor. Order the dim sum and you will get a treat that is as light as a breath which melts on your tongue. If this is your cup of tea, get there on a Sunday for their “Sumday” special – All you can eat dim sum. All day! If you are at Flamingo House for an evening meal spend a little while admiring the space. It looks its best when the sun goes down. Once you finish your meal carry yourself upstairs to the Love Bar – the hippest venue in Colombo at present. Order yourself a Kalinga Gimlet and dance the night away.

What to eat – Dim Sum

What to drink – Kalinga Gimlet

Spoil yourself – Anything bubbly


8. Pilawoos – After hours (Galle Road, Colombo 3).

No night out is complete without a 3am Milo

Of all the places on my list there are none more typical of Colombo than the national treasure that is Pilawoos. Serving Sri Lankan street food and open 24 hours, it’s come a long way since its humble beginnings on the sidewalk of Galle Road. It has grown to become an icon of Colombo’s nightlife. Night clubs have come and gone but mighty Pilawoos survived. Arrive here by car and you need not leave it’s comfort; waiters come to your window. This unique service naturally makes it popular with clubbers and night owls (and drunks) of Colombo. Pull in to the sidewalk at 3am and you will see all of Colombo’s elite hanging out of their car windows ordering Kottu Roti and Milo. (“Kottu Roti” translates to “chopped roti” in Tamil). Kottu, as it’s commonly known, consists of chopped roti, veg and meat. Cheese is added at your request. Wash this down with an ice cold Milo and you will be more than ready for bed.

What  to eat – Chicken and Cheese Kottu

What to drink – Milo or Iced Milo

Spoil yourself – Don’t