India vs. Jamaica - Incredible India
From the land of the Maharajahs to the shores of Jamaica, Indian polo displays tremendous style
By Karen Kranenburg. Photos by Roger and Rachel Turner.
Though polo has its origins embedded in ancient Persia, it is in India that this “Sport of Kings” has seen its renaissance since medieval times. Babar, the founder of the Mughal Dynasty in the 15th century, firmly established its popularity. However polo almost vanished from mainland India in the period between the decline of the Mughal Dynasty and the upsurgence of British Colonial rule. Fortunately, the game survived in a few remote mountainous enclaves of the subcontinent, notably Gilgit, Chitral, Ladakh and Manipur. It is to the survival of the game in the remote north-eastern state of Manipur, that the world owes the genesis of polo, as it is universally played today. The first modern day polo club “The Retreat” in Silchar was founded in 1859 in this region.
Polo continues to change and evolve in modern India. Royalty is back with a vengeance. The army, the greatest protagonists for the development and survival of the sport in India is showing its might once again and an increasing number of world-class polo professionals are emerging on the horizon. The future of Indian polo has never looked so bright. Fostering relationships with overseas nations is a key component to the modern Indian game, and it was in such spirit that a visiting Indian team traveled to Jamaica in May this year. The squad comprised of Angad Kalaan (5), Vishal Singh (4), Vicky Nihalani (2), Ajit Singh (2) and “Om” Singh (1), led by veteran polo player and old Jamaica hand Col. Kuldeep Garcha, who first came to the Island in 1982, and in the intervening years has brought several teams to Jamaica to play, and entertained several Jamaicans at his Club in Jaipur, India.
The team was flown from India by Virgin Atlantic to participate in this inaugural 4 match First Caribbean International Bank Wealth Management Jaipur Polo Trophy. They spent the first week of their tour adapting to island life, and enjoying the hospitality at the elegant Round Hill Hotel (see report on Page 42), and being wined and dined by Montego Bay’s “in” crowd.
Their first match was at the Chukker Blue Polo Club in Sandy Bay, Hanover was against the formidable Round Hill sponsored Jamaica team of John G. Byles, Kurt Chin, Andy Vernon and Shane Chin. The event was an elegant affair, with an Indian themed Marquee for VIP guests, as the “glitterati” of Montego Bay had turned out to witness this epic Sunday afternoon showdown, a half-time sari tying competition, the winner of which won two return tickets to India compliments of Virgin Atlantic and the match opened with much pomp and circumstance, with a parade of the teams, the playing of the Indian and Jamaican national anthems and the throw in of the first ball to kick off the event by the acting High Commissioner of India, Raja Gopala Chari. The highlight of the afternoon though was still the polo, as Indians play a very classic style of polo, which for spectators is enthralling to watch. They fielded an experienced team of Angad Kalaan, Vishal Singh, Vicky Nihalani and Ajit Singh, who seemingly were, still trying to get acclimatized after their nearly 24 hour journey from Delhi and suffering the strange pony syndrome that all travelling teams experience, this combined with an overindulgence in Montego Bay hospitality saw their full potential as a team never realized, as a result they trailed for most of the match and were eventually defeated by the Round Hill Jamaica team, who had taken an early lead and never really relinquished it, as they say “to the victor goes the spoils”... 9 goals to 6 – Jamaica Victory 1.
The visitors then moved on to Ocho Rios for their next two matches. Here East would meet West at the St. Ann Polo Club, which has one of the oldest fields in the Western hemisphere, where polo has been played for over 150 years.On Thursday, May 15th they mixed in and played a friendly 3 segment round robin (2 chukkers in each segment) with the Club members, the Virgin Atlantic team won two of the three segments, making them the overall winners of the round robin. After the match, all retired to the Appleton bar to swap polo stories and strategize for the upcoming matches on the weekend.
On Saturday, May 17th “Om” Singh replaced Vishal Singh on the original Virgin Atlantic Jaipur India team to take on the Jamaica Inn sponsored St. Ann, Jamaica team of Craig Russell, Lesley Fong-Yee, Andy Vernon and Shane Chin. The match was preceded by a moments silence to acknowledge the victims of the terrorist bombing in Jaipur earlier in the week. Despite their somber mood India had hit their stride and were victorious in this rather closely contested game by 6 1⁄2 goals to 6 after which the Jamaica team rued the opportunities that they missed to put the match away. The teams were now drawn at one match a piece with one match to go. After the Trophy and Prize presentations, all retired to the Appleton bar which kept the patrons well lubricated and after dinner the Vernons, Billy, Andy and Rory, then rocked the large crowd present with live music in the Club House until late that evening.
Bearing the aforementioned in mind the next day was never going to be a good day for all concerned, as polo at the Kingston Polo Club is usually a morning affair - 11 am in this case, and there is still a small matter of the 3 hr drive from Ocho Rios to Kingston. So it was always a given that the Kingston match was going to be an “interesting” event.
The well rested Audi sponsored Kingston Polo Club, Jamaica team of Alexander Melville, The Hon. James Robertson, Paul Lalor and Marc Melville rode out against the not so well rested Indian team of Ajit Singh, Vicky Nihalani, Angad Kalaan and Vishal Singh. The Jamaicans received 2 goals on handicap, but conceded 1⁄2 a goal to the visitors for strange ponies, maybe another 1⁄2 goal should have been conceded for the festivities of the night before, with all its implications. The visitors though seemed unaffected by all this, and quickly knocked off the 1 1⁄2 goal handicap advantage of the Jamaicans as Vishal Singh scored twice in the first chukker. Paul Lalor then managed to pull one back to keep the Jamaicans in the lead by 1⁄2 goal. India took the lead in the 2nd chukker as both Angad Kalaan and Vishal Singh scored, the visitors increased their lead in the 3rd chukker as Singh and Kalaan scored again, however, Alexander Melville kept the Jamaicans in the game, scoring towards the end of the chukker. The last chukker belonged to Jamaica, as both Alexander Melville and Robertson scored while the Indians were held scoreless and the Audi Jamaica team barely stole the show by 6 1⁄2 goals to 6. Once again presentations and the ensuing festivities were an essential part of the proceedings. The representatives of FCIB Wealth Management in Jamaica Ms. Debra Lopez & Mr. Milton Brady, (who arrived to the prize giving in a convertible Audi driven by Karen Kranenburg with the victorious Audi team in the back) presented both teams with their prizes and the winning Audi Jamaica team with the Jaipur Polo Trophy. Ms. Rachel Pilgrim of Virgin Atlantic presented the Best Playing Pony blanket to The Hon. Dennis Lalor’s “Louisa” and Paul Lalor received the Most Valuable Player prize of a trip for 2 to India compliments of Virgin Atlantic. Mr. Gordon Tawani of Mall and Tropical Jewelers then presented the winning team with Movado watches. Again the substantial crowd then partied at the Appleton bar for the rest of the afternoon before heading up to Kenny Benjamin’s for dinner and what was surely the party of the week. Apart from a week of very good polo, and new friendships forged, the hospitality shown by the Jamaicans will be remembered for a long time to come... not to mention the vast quantities of Appleton consumed