Polo correspondent: Calling an Indian Open

Miles Underwood is a freelance writer who lives for polo, hunting and other equine endeavours. This week he reports on the recent chance he had to commentate on the Indian Open.

As I headed out to India to commentate on my first Indian Open. I was to spend three days in Delhi, calling the matches on the Saturday and Sunday before flying home early on the Monday morning. This was to be my first foreign assignment and the mix of excitement and nerves was potent.

A pilot friend of mine had said he might be able to get me an upgrade so I made sure I was smartly dressed but had a hoody and cargo pants on standby for when it didn’t happen ….. Sure enough it didn’t, so once on board I got stuck in to the BA red wine and went through the players names again and struggled with “George Meyrick”. Screaming children were unfortunately plentiful on the plane so I decided to drink more wine and try to sleep, but didn’t get as much as I might have wanted.  I arrived in Delhi, knackered and with a bit of a hangover and was relieved to see a small Indian chap holding a sign saying “Meyelz Unnderwad” – I assumed it was intended for me. I was led to my car past lots of menacing looking moustachioed blokes carrying high powered rifles. The experience was slightly unnerving however it was warming to see that “movember” had caught on in India too.

I arrived at my apartment and was thrilled to see a widescreen satellite TV in my room. Despite the fact it was 6.00am I switched it on and in just moments was watching an episode of Top Gear…

 “Miles wake up, there is a photo shoot at the polo ground at 1.00pm, you car will be here in half an hour” – quite a wake up call.  I went to shave and was met by an interesting reflection. My body was covered in insect bites and I had one on my eyelid that gave me the appearance of a young Sylvester Stallone. On arriving at the ground everyone was far too polite to say anything and myself and one of the guys decide to go to the clubhouse of the adjacent golf club to get a Coke. We were refused service because as the lady explained “You are foreign” – I supposed it was better than “get out of here you freak, you’re scaring my customers…”

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After the shoot, I spent the afternoon back at the apartment before being taken to a party where I swear I have never seen so many beautiful women. I stood politely sipping my drink as I was introduced to politicians, sports personalities and the odd Bollywood actor -which I found completely surreal, but of course great fun. The party stayed fairly low key until the elder members left around midnight. After that it kicked up about twenty notches: the music was pumping, the dance floor packed and it was more like LA than the Delhi I had expected. By 6.00am I was flagging so grabbed a car home and was up again around midday to commentate the afternoon match.  

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I got to the ground and had a walk around and worryingly the stands, the bars and the marquees were still not complete.  There was a lot of shouting and panicking going on not much appeared to be getting done. I took my position and called the match before heading home for an early night.

Despite having had very little sleep over the past few days, once I was back in my room I could barely sleep for nerves. The next day I was to commentate the final of India’s biggest tournament. There would be thousands in attendance at the ground and a TV audience, this was a big a deal for me. I eventually got up about 9.00am to see my picture in the paper and emailed home immediately!

I have never been great at waiting for things and the morning really dragged. My stress levels went through the roof as my car was fifteen, then twenty five and then eventually forty five minutes late. I arrived at the ground (now complete and looking fantastic) ten minutes before the first match and took my place in the commentary box. My co-commentator and all round “bon oeuf”, Sharad Sazena put me at ease immediately. “We’ll relax, have some fun and just talk about the game”. It was great advice.

As a commentator you job is to make the game easy to understand and to keep the gallery abreast of action often taking place over a hundred yards away. You attempt to engage the crowd and describe the action in an informed and entertaining way – well that’s the theory! Calling matches in England, where the players are familiar is one thing. They are recognisable by their helmet colour, their riding style and often by the ponies that they are playing. However I found myself in unfamiliar surroundings, commentating on players most of whom I had never seen.

Keen to do my homework and ever the “polo anorak” I had already accosted the local members who were able to tell me players colours and the ponies to look out for in preparation. I then made a point of watching each player during the preliminaries, first identifying him from the number on his shirt and then his helmet colour, posture on the horse, whether he had any thing else that would mark him out from his team mates, like an elbow support or a different coloured undershirt. Once you put all this together you have a much clearer picture of who’s who but you have a very limited time in which to do it! For me it’s a part of the job that I relish. Racing commentators have it much tougher though I think. They call six or seven races in an afternoon and have to learn colours as well as the background on each runner and the connections. As polo commentators we have it fairy easy…..!

After the first match presentations were completed it was time for the main event. The hairs on the back of my neck were up-on-end as the thousands assembled stood in silence for the National anthem.  The players were introduced and then it was time for business.  

The match was phronetic from the off, between The 61st Cavalry and Jindal teams. The Cavalry started well and lead 5-1 by the second chukka. Jindal, containing young Englishman George Meyrick, regrouped and by the start of the third period were back in the hunt. Passions ran high both on the field and in the stands making the game a joy to call. As commentators we reacted to the emotions of the players and the fans and calling the big games really is an extraordinary experience. For the remainder of the six chukkas there was little more than a couple of goals between the teams and however well Jindal played, they were outdone by the Cavalry. After an afternoon of mesmerising Polo, the 61st Cavalry were crowned champions of the 111th Indian Open.  

As the sun went down the presentations took place and the flashbulbs against the fading light painted a dramatic end to a wonderful afternoon’s sport.  My work was done and I headed to the bar for a few drinks with some old friends. With polo it’s amazing that wherever you go in the world you can guarantee that you will know people. It’s a small world and it was with old friends and new that we celebrated that evening.  

The post match party was a bit of an Indian who’s who, from Bollywood stars to politicians and I was also lucky enough to be introduced to the Maharajah of Jaipur, a charming man. Throughout my time in India I was struck by the friendliness and politeness of those I met and the gracious hospitality that they showed me.

As I flew home the following day I had some great memories from my short time in Delhi and I vowed that I would return, and for longer than three days….