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Riding the victory turf

Three Mayo College schoolboys and their Delhi captain — all under 18 — win a polo tournament in the UK: the first time that a non-England team has bagged the title, reports Nivriti Butalia.

india Updated: Jul 20, 2008 01:39 IST
Nivriti Butalia

Rounding up their holiday back home in Udaipur, three triumphant polo players are looking forward to school on Monday — especially the hero’s welcome they are likely to get at the morning assembly. All except the team captain are standard twelve students of Mayo College Ajmer; Jaideep Singh Rathore, Deo Vrat Singh Chundawat, and Dhruv Raj Singh Sisodia are an excited bunch. The fourth team player — reserve member and youngest of the lot, Shiv Dutt Singh — has extended his stay in the UK.

Clearly, there is reason to celebrate. “Nothing could have been better.” Says team captain, Gaurav Sahgal who went on to win the trophy for most valuable player. Talking about their opponents, the 17-year old first year student of Delhi’s Hansraj College maintains, “We knew it would be a challenge to take them on. They were the more experienced team, the horses were theirs, and they were playing on home turf.”

Collectively speaking, the boys say they didn’t really expect to win. In fact, they’re even modest enough to attribute their victory to Team Manager and Coach, Col Bhawani Singh (Retd). “He told us to just enjoy the experience and give it our best shot,” says Jaideep on a telecon from Rajasthan.

Col Bhawani Singh on his part sets the record right, and says it was all teamwork. “They improved after every round. After we lost the first game by only half a goal, we realised there was a possible win ahead.”

There was no cash prize – just mementos, but the honour, it seems far exceeds the worth of a cheque. This was after all the British SUPA (Schools and Universities Polo Association) international festival. And the first time an outsider team had won the event.

In spite of the odds stacked against them, intimidation had no role to play. “We just really badly wanted to win,” says Dhruv. Friend Deo Vrat adds that it seemed tough because “we were playing against some of the best England had at that handicap.”

Dhruv, also the most jocular of the lot quite enjoyed Madame Tussauds, and fondly reminisces about the “best ten days of the summer vacation.”

The win is all the more impressive because unlike India where the number of players is limited, the UK has over 1500 players at the school level. Add to which, the home team were on their own horses, while India were mounted on horses hired by the SUPA.

London-based Polo enthusiast and spectator of the event, Raghav Raj Singh says the unexpected win was applauded by even the crème de la crème of the British polo society. “The likes of Earl and Countess of Bathurst were impressed by skill displayed by this low goal, young team from India.”

Raghav, also instrumental in having the boys invited to play in the first place, says he knew the officials at SUPA well, and discussed with them the prospect of inviting India for the tournament. Raghav then urged Principal of Mayo, Pramod Sharma to discuss the matter with the board of Governors.

Chairman of the Mayo Committee, Lt Gen Aditya Singh, PVSM, AVSM** (Retd) is a man delighted. Having made the effort to put it all together, Gen Singh says, “The boys were sent out as Polo brand ambassadors of Mayo and India. They have proved their credentials and done us proud.”