Dr. Tilak S. Fernando
Twenty one years ago on a sunny morning, 3 of July in 1989 to be specific, thousands of Sri Lankan expatriates gathered at the Maori Club in a suburb of London, Worcester Park, Surrey, to witness and celebrate what was introduced as the Festival of Cricket (FOC) organised by Six Old Boys Associations of Sri Lankan alma mater . The main objective behind the founding was to attract a full spectrum of the Sri Lankan expatriate community in the UK, with their families, to a single rendezvous on an open day, and offer them an opportunity to relax and enjoy the day in multiple of ways from watching cricket, meeting up with old friends and renewing new friendships with a full gamut of entertainment which could be summarized as an all-embracing social intercourse.

It was during an era where a dark cloud overshadowed Sri Lanka with a terrorist war spreading from the North to East and the South experiencing the full brunt of it; The meaning of the words 'Unity' and 'Friendship' was at its lowest ebb and terrorist pressure at point tried to creep into one or two old boys associations which represented the north and eastern alma mater. However, the fundamental modus operandi started to work and the FOC started to gather momentum year on year with more and older boys associations joining the cricket tournament, while the initial crowd increased in multiples.

FOC objectives from its inception have been:
" To organise the Festival of Cricket annually
" To establish goodwill and harmony amongst the Sri Lankan OBAs in the UK.
" To raise funds towards the development of education in the participating member OBAs in the UK, and
" To raise funds and contribute such funds and equipment to a national charity.

FOC's Beneficiaries have been:
" All Participating OBAs
" National Cancer Institute of Sri Lanka
" Cancer Research UK

After two decades of its successful operation and the FOC becoming an icon on Sri Lankan expatriate calendar, twenty five OBAs of leading schools in Sri Lanka in the UK participated in the Cricket Festival in 2008.

FOC is organised annually with the assistance and cooperation of volunteer committees of each OBA working together in perfect harmony to make the event an immense success. Here, the game of cricket being the main focus, raising of funds to help individual alma mater and also running a children's charity, particularly to help the Mahargama Cancer Hospital and lately the Cancer Research in the UK has been the main agenda.

The game of cricket bolsters a number of other activities held around the grounds during the festival to keep the captive audience/visitors entertained and occupied. These activities include music, children's fun fare, a Sri Lankan bazaar, excellent international cuisine from numerous food stalls, beer tent and trade stalls representing many Sri Lankan business houses including that of airlines, freight companies, insurance, telephone, banks etc., which turns the event into a comprehensive open day for Sri Lanka.

An exclusive Hospitality Marquee caters for the elite and entrepreneurs who can afford to entertain their business clientele and British friends while watching cricket in a relaxing atmosphere. For western visitors observing the Sri Lankan culture and sampling mouth watering Sri Lankan gastronomy becomes a far-reaching Sri Lanka tourist promotion.

All proceeds of the event are divided amongst the participating schools to purchase educational materials, equipment or to set up Scholarship Funds in Sri Lanka with a separate Children's charity that always make a substantial donation to the National Cancer Institute of Sri Lanka.

This year FOC celebrated its 21st anniversary as the major annual gathering of Sri Lankans in the UK/Europe, with over 5000 Sri Lankan expatriates and their British friends attending the festival on Sunday, 12th July, 2009 at the Winchmore Hill Cricket Club Grounds, North London.

24 Sri Lankan OBAs participated on a limited-over knockout tournament on 3 pitches simultaneously, creating an atmosphere of inter-school 'Big Match' rivalry and fun as in Sri Lanka. The results of the 2009 Festival of Cricket tournament were as follows:

Challenge Trophy winners - Royal College (63-3 in 4 overs), won by a single run.
Challenge Trophy Runners-Up - Thurstan College (62-2 in 4 overs)
Plate Tournament winners - Zahira College (40-1 in 4 overs), won by 1 run
Plate Tournament Runners-Up - Mahinda College OBA (39-2 in 4 overs)
Best Batsman Award - Damith Indika of Thurstan College
Man of the Tournament - Malinda Thotiwilage of Royal College

One more thing that will go down in FOC history on its 21st birthday would be two teams scoring the same number runs for equal number of wickets with the same number of extras, resulting in a bowl out!

Dhanushka Perera (Captain), Gayan Maduranga, Malinda Thotiwilage, Sineth Withanage, Kasun Ranabahu, Samira Perera, Dulith Weeraratne, Nirosha Wijenayake, Gihan Premachandra and Shanaka Herath played for the Royal OBA's historic winning team.

The Chief Guest was His Excellency Justice Nihal Jayasinghe, High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in the UK. Among other eminent guests were the Chairman of Bank of Ceylon, Dr. Gamini Wickramasinghe, The Chief Executive Officer of SM Call Dialog, Mr Sam Seinthan, the Country Manager UK and Ireland for SriLankan Air Lines, Mr. Chanaka Olagama, and Councillor Martin Prescott, London Borough of Enfield , Winch more Hill Ward . Along with Bank of Ceylon, as the main sponsor, SM Call Dialog and Sri Lankan Airlines co-sponsored the event.

The FOC's survival and success story over this long journey of twenty one years is nothing but due to their upholding its very basic principles, collective responsibility and mutual respect for each other which they have managed to exhibit to the world as an excellent winning formula .

On its 21st anniversary, the Joint Presidents Brian Ratnayake and Jayantha Edirappuli together with the Festival of Cricket Executive Committee 2009 could be congratulated for continuing and upholding their commitment and dedication in making this year's Festival Of Cricket even more entertaining.