© Getty Images (representational photo)
© Getty Images (representational photo)

On May 21, 2011, a Southern Electric Premier Cricket League Division One match was brought to an abrupt halt after a spectator alerted everyone of a white tiger. Abhishek Mukherjee narrates a most unusual story.

This is not about the Bangladesh cricket team. Neither is this about Ernest Smith, Bill O’Reilly, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Herbert Lance, or Shivnarine Chanderpaul — men who have earned tigrine nicknames. This is a far, far more serious incident.

Southern Electric Premier Cricket League Division One is not a keenly followed tournament. However, a 2011 fixture between Hampshire Cricket Academy and South Wilts at the Rose Bowl Nursery Ground, Southampton made news.

There was nothing spectacular about the match itself, though it was headed for a close finish. Hampshire CA were bowled out for 256 but reduced South Wilts to 143 for 6. Then Adam Young hit his way to a 28-ball 44 before departing.

At one point South Wilts needed 27 in 43 balls with 3 wickets in hand. With No. 3 Eddie Abel guiding the side with 80, they were slightly ahead in the match. Then something queer happened.

One of the spectators was equipped with a reasonably serious camera. He was shooting at nearby County Golf Club, where he spotted a white tiger at about four in the afternoon.

You cannot blame him for hollering in panic. The odds of a stray white tiger at large in Hampshire are admittedly very, very low, but the big cats can have that sort of impact on people.

All hell broke loose as the news spread like wildfire. The cricketers obviously rushed back to the pavilion. Things were worse at the venue, where the golfers were escorted to safety. And the authorities were informed.

The police took prompt action. Meanwhile, they called Marwell Zoo for advice. A substantial unit rushed to the scene. They were equipped with tranquiliser darts and thermal imaging cameras. A helicopter led the way, presumably to spot the creature from air. Emergency escape routes were planed close to the M27.

The tiger was spotted (both by CCTV cameras and the helicopter), but the cameras did not pick up any body heat. “After a brief stalk through the Hedge End savannah, the officer realised the tiger was not moving and the air support using their cameras realised there was a lack of heat source,” a police spokesperson later told BBC.

What kind of tiger — white or otherwise — existed but did not emit body heat? The police had no option but to advance.

Not before they got very, very close did they realise that they were approaching a stuffed toy — albeit life-size. Of all the ‘animal interruptions’ in cricket, this certainly ranks among the most bizarre.

“The CCTV footage convinced us all we were dealing with a real tiger,” confirmed the spokesperson.

As for the match, half an hour’s play was lost. South Wilts won on ‘Factored Run Rate’.

Postscript

Over six years after the incident, Bruce Grubb, a Scottish farmer made news when he spotted a tiger in his cowshed. He dialled the police, fearing the worst for himself and his pregnant cows.

As in Hampshire, it turned out to be a soft toy, though it took the police forty-five minutes to realise that.

Brief scores:

Hampshire Cricket Academy 256 in 49.2 overs (Christ Stone 63; James Hibberd 3 for 48) lost to South Wilts 229 for 7 in 42.5 overs (Eddie Abel 80*) by 3 wickets on Factored Run Rate.