India will be looking for polo history on Malaysian soil when they take on Indian sub-continent rivals Pakistan in the Asian-Australasian-African Championships final at the Royal Selangor Polo Ground tomorrow (4pm).
India have never won an international polo tournament outside India and they want to make it count in Malaysia. And the Indians believe they have the team to do that.
A win for India will culminate their mission of going home with an unbeaten record after registering impressive victories over Australia and Malaysia in the preliminary rounds, followed by a 9-5 win over defending champions South Africa in the semi-finals to earn the favourites tag.
India last won an international polo title way back in 2000 and this was in the FIP World Cup Qualifier in Jaipur, India when they beat Pakistan 9-6 in front of 40,000 supporters to emerge champions. The last meeting between the two rivals was during the 2007 Qualifier in New Zealand, with India coming out tops 13 ½ - 11.
Apart from bringing a wealth of experience, the Indian team is reaping the fruits of a training-cum acclimatisation stint in Indonesia before coming to Malaysia. The Indians spent three weeks at the Nusantara Polo Club in Jakarta at the invitation of its president Gen Prabowo Subianto.
“The stint in Indonesia had a huge impact on the team as we got to train with 40 horses from Argentina under hot and humid weather conditions similar to Malaysia. It was a fruitful three-week stint in Jakarta,” said India manager Vikram Singh Rathore.
“It will be a great win if we can return home with the title as it will take polo to new heights in India. As I said earlier, we have assembled the best ever Indian polo team in 20 years that is capable of writing polo history. We are gelling very well.”
Pakistan manager Abdul Qadir Mamdot admitted that India has the edge and are early favourites for the title but in the same breath added that his team will not throw in the towel meekly.
“India will certainly start as favourites as they have experienced players who have been together for about four years. We have a young team. Temur (Nadeem) is making his international debut here but has come up well so far,” said Abdul Qadir.
The India-Pakistan final has certainly attracted a lot of attention back home. Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur, the vice-president of the Indian Polo Association has been with the team since the semi-finals while Gen Issandyar Pataudi, the president of the Pakistan Polo Association arrived today to boost the morale of their respective teams.
While India will be counting on their ace Samir Suhag (Handicap 5), who has scored 16 goals in this championships so far, Pakistan will be banking on Raja Sami Ullah (Handicap 4), a fulltime professional who has played in Argentina, United Kingdom and Dubai. Sami scored three goals in the semi-final match against Australia.
Meanwhile, Australia will join India and Pakistan in this year’s FIP Polo World Cup Finals in San Luis, Argentina from Oct 11-25 after beating South Africa in the playoff for third and fourth placing today.
It was a heartbreak for South Africa as Australia staged a remarkable fight back to force a 8-8 draw in the fifth and final chukka. In the extra chukka, Australia pushed up a gear to run out 12-9 winners and qualify for their 2nd world cup finals.
Australia got their goals through by Matt Grimes scoring 5 goals, 4 by Alec White, 2 by Ed Gold and 1 by Zac Hagedoorn while South Africa scorers were Lance Watson 7 goals and one each by Johann Du Preez and Campbell Macnab.