The other men in blue

the Indian polo team hopes to lift the cup at the World Polo Championship in Sydney later this month.

The U-17 boys may not have been able to progress to the next round in football, but the men — some of them even above 40 years old — are gearing up to lift the World Cup and we aren’t talking about football or hockey or cricket here. It’s polo, but as expected there’s no fanfare or media hype surrounding the World Polo Championship that begins from October 21 in Sydney. However, that is hardly the concern of the players, who spoke to us about making the country proud and popularising the sports, before they left for Australia.

The team will be led by Dhruv Pal Godara and talking about the preparations and performance pressure being the captain, he says, “It’s more of a sense of responsibility. As a player, you can’t be faint-hearted with all the risks involved, you need to have passion and sense of indulging in fun. Being the skipper doesn’t change all of that,” and adds, “The team constitutes the fittest set of players ever to be taking part at this level of a polo championship. And inclusion of two of the youngest players — Sawai Padmanabh Singh and Pranav Kapur — makes the team a mixed bag of experience and young blood. Possibly, it’s our best shot at playing the finals after a really long gap.” The players spent the last four months in South Africa, Iran and then Jaipur, practising rigorously under Ajay Singh to up their fitness level. The best finish India has ever had in the tourney is the fifth position and this time, the team is aiming to better that record as they go on to compete with seven more nations.

Pranav says, “Grounds, horses, conditions… it will be all new for us in Sydney. We haven’t played against those teams. The seniors guide us and we look up to them. We don’t feel any age difference because we all think alike. We all have our blinders on — we want to make the country proud.”

The team has the famous Kalaan brothers in it with Angad being a player and Uday, the elder brother, assuming the role of team coach. Pranav, who compares Uday with Shah Rukh Khan of Chak De! India, credits the player-turned-coach for keeping the team united. “Playing gives you an adrenaline rush but coaching is equally challenging,” Uday says and about what the tourney can do for the sports, he adds, “When we qualified the play-offs, we received a lot of international recognition and it paved the way for Indian Arena Polo League and now more sponsors are coming in. Winning the Cup will certainly improve the infrastructure and bring in more sponsors to support the budding talent to pursue the game.”

Though registered under the Ministry of youth affairs and sports, polo is not part of Commonwealth Games or Olympics. Also the logistics of transporting almost 30 horses per team become a cumbersome affair for the host nations to include it in the tournaments. However, the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympics will feature polo and that’s been seen as a shot in the arm for the game. The players also hope that having Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, both a sportsperson and an army man (polo is perceived as a game associated with army and royals in India), as the sports minister will help the growth of the game. “Polo needs two things mainly to grow — loads of media coverage and top notch sponsors. Maybe the game needs more PR to reach out for both. This could take the sport where it really belongs,” says the 40-year-old captain as the team requests sport lovers back home to cheer for the horse riders in blue.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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