Beyond the Ranji boundary, the men who stare at snakes
If not for an alert professional stationed at the Bandra Kurla Complex Ground during the Mumbai-Karnataka Ranji game, ‘snakes stop play’ could well have been the theme of what was the final day of the match, which finished last Sunday.
It wouldn’t have been the first time a snake held up cricket during this season of the Ranji Trophy—the start of the Andhra-Vidarbha match at the ACA Cricket Ground in Vijayawada was delayed after a serpent ventured on to the field.
But that was all of one snake in Vijayawada. On Sunday, snake-catcher Atul Kamble rescued as many as four from in and around the sports complex in suburban Mumbai.
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Even as the pitch was offering some bite for the bowlers over the weekend, a rat snake was seen meandering just beyond the boundary line on the opposite side of the pavilion. Keeping a close eye during one of his routine rounds in the sprawling club was Kamble, who was quick to spot the reptile (fact: even though the rat snake is non-venomous, it is often mistaken for a cobra) and whisk it away before panic set in.
This season, snakes are a common phenomenon at the MCA-BKC Ground, located in Bandra, which club officials as well as the snake catchers attribute to the ongoing metro construction work in the area. Hence, the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA)—which owns the BKC Ground—has employed two professional snake catchers who are stationed near the ground premises daily, in two shifts.
On Sunday, as the Mumbai-Karnataka game drew to a close, Kamble was busier than usual. He caught four snakes that day on the sidelines of the cricket field, two during play and two after it in the evening. All of them were rat snakes. However, a day earlier after stumps had been drawn, a lady on her routine jog spotted a vine snake (which has enough venom only to kill lizards and not harm humans) near the ground, and Kamble was at it too.
Kamble and his fellow snake-catcher, Nikhil Gade, have been employed at the MCA premises for over two years as snakes were always a feature in the vast complex, long before they started making their way to the cricket field. Both Kamble and Gade are part of the Maharashtra Animal Rescue Association, and also have to cater to calls outside the club area.
During their stint with the club, they have mostly encountered rat snakes or Indian rock pythons (both non-venomous) in and about the ground, but there also have been a few instances of venomous snakes—the occasional cobra or a Russell’s viper having been spotted. Once rescued, the snake is taken to the rescue association’s head office in Chembur, before it is handed over to the forest department in Thane, which releases the snake into the nearby sanctuary.
Perhaps because they are good at their job, no snake has yet managed to enter the field during play, in any of the domestic or age-group matches held at the ground over the last couple of years. “But around a year ago, a rat snake managed to enter the field and even went on to the pitch. We had to surround it from all the four sides and catch it. Luckily, it did not happen during a match or training,” said Kamble, 31, who also does electric and plumbing work for a living.
“Around a year ago, Vinod Kambli had got some kids to train here. There was a rat snake just on the edge of the field, but I was informed by the ground staff and I immediately caught it. Our job is to ensure that the players—while training or during a match—do not come to know about the presence of snakes,” he added.
On an average, they catch about 7-8 snakes every month inside the club’s premises. But the number varies depending on multiple factors, including climatic conditions. For example, Kamble remembers catching 8-10 snakes in November last year, 5-6 in December but this month so far, he has already rescued seven around the ground.
“Whenever there is a match, we have to be stationed at the ground and be on the lookout,” Gade, 29, said. “Our source is the ground staff, and whenever they inform us, we have to rush.”