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Top trio toast to second coming of polo

Indian polo’s top guns this weekend saw the first signs of a second coming at the world’s oldest existing club for the ponyback pursuit.

“There was a time when we all waited eagerly for the Calcutta season, which then used to be played over a month instead of the 10 days now, and packed in the Ezra Cup, Carmichael Cup, Darbhanga Cup and the IPA Championships,” remembers Lokendra Singh, India’s first polo pro who has captained the country in two World Cups.

The four-goal-handicap Singh, back at the Calcutta Polo Club after 11 years, for the BFL Corporation Polo season 2009 presented by The Telegraph, is encouraged by what he sees. “There are quite a few young players emerging, and the club has 30-odd horses. These youngsters need to be given enough exposure and nursed through low-handicap tournaments,” says the Thakur from Udaipur.

Delhi’s Angad Kalan, who has a plus-five handicap and is the current India captain, agrees Calcutta needs home-grown players of stature to inspire a revival. “Earlier, most of the key players, like Maharaj Prem Singh, a seven-handicapper, and Col Kishen Singh, a ‘six-er’, were based in Calcutta and other leading players from elsewhere rallied round them,” says the strapping Kalan, 34, who hails from a thoroughbred polo clan and has played a lot in Calcutta.

Kalan and Singh, along with Dhruv Pal Gudara, who completed the top triumvirate at this year’s BFL Corporation Polo season, are unanimous that Calcutta Polo Club must invest in youngsters and aim at consistent activity throughout the year, getting more corporate sponsors and patrons.

Now, Delhi or Jaipur hog sponsors, patrons and the top players. The Delhi season is so packed that the ponies are dog tired by the end. “It’s a hard haul for the horses to be ferried to Calcutta in railway wagons, and at the end of an exhausting season, players also think twice about making the trip,” warns Singh.

Time was when major-generals and personages in high political office stood up in the grandstand waving their hats and shouting themselves hoarse, as the women, resplendent in their silk finery, screamed during a hearty game of polo on the Pat Williamson Ground at Calcutta’s race course.

After years of neglect the Calcutta Polo Club was put in cold storage by the army in 1998 through a resolution and the season was revived in 2006, at the initiative of Keshaav Bangur. “We are happy that the army is cooperating with us to make the season a success now, and hope to get their continued support going forward,” says the president of the polo club, well aware of the challenges ahead.

“We need more patrons to keep the sport going. For long, we didn’t have any horse base or equestrian activity in town. We are only taking baby steps towards a revival, we know there’s a long way to go,” says Bangur.

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