By Chandraboli Mitra
Durban: Nov 15, 2011
After conquering the Alps in Switzerland, having played cricket at an altitude of 11,333ft on snow two years ago, it was time to hit the jungles in South Africa, and the experience turned out to be out of the world for former Indian and South African players.
Besides getting a chance to spot lions, cheetahs, their cubs, African elephants, giraffe, rhinoceros, etc, during the safari, the mountain lodge at the Phinda Games Reserve provided for an exotic seven-star accommodation set amidst the 23,000 acres of forest.
Stating that it was one of the most "amazing experiences" to play in the wild, former India captain Kapil Dev said that more than the fact that it is unthinkable to play cricket deep inside a forest, it sends a very deep message to the world.
"This can be greatest promotion of sports tourism where one can bring in people together and closer," said the 1983 World Cup winning skipper.
World Cricket Legends (WCL) is a pioneering sports tourism property, which brings together some of the most celebrated players for an adrenaline-rushing game of cricket, each time, in an all-new destination.
This time the Kapil Dev-led team comprised of Dilip Vengsarkar, Sandeep Patil, Roger Binny, Anshuman Gaekwad and Ajay Jadeja.
While the hosts included Mike Procter as captain, Graeme Pollock, Peter Kirsten, Andrew Hudson, Lance Klusener and Paul Adams.
It started in 2009 when it created history by hosting a cricket match on snow, where India under Kapil scored a last-ball victory against Alvin Kallicharran's All Star team.
Enjoying the extravagant lodge in between wild African jungle, Kapil said that this exhibition match also gave him and his once India teammates an opportunity to catch up and discuss things they couldn't during their playing years.
"When you stop playing, you come out with stories that you never shared before. Now that nobody is the captain or a senior, we can all come out and say whatever we want to. We are much more open with each other now than we were ever before."
To which Ajay Jadeja added that it was good to catch up with the players in an environment that is more relaxed.
"I had always looked up to Kapil paaji and all others as a very senior and respected cricketers but here I can actually mingle with them like friends and joke around with them, which is great," said Jadeja.
The three-night stay at Phinda turned out to be one big party for not only the cricketers but the media and locals as well as Sandeep Patil choose to wore a chef's cap and cook for all the guests at the Mountain Lodge last night.
Patil said cooking was something he loves to do for his teammates and friends, and the environment only adds to that.
"Cooking is my hobby and I love to do that, especially in this environment. It is just too much fun," said Patil.
Kapil, who described Patil as a comedian or the joker of the team, said that it was always fun to be with him as his jokes always helped them unwind during their playing days.
"He would always make us all laugh and unwind. He would never be serious. Moreover, he has always been fond of cooking and would never miss an opportunity to cook for us," said Kapil.
"Not that I would rate him as a brilliant cook but his efforts were always been a thing of appreciation. And the best part is we can openly criticise it and say whatever, unlike at home where we would dare to open our mouth," he added.
Patil, also an avid lover of the wildlife and who has been to a number of sanctuaries, rated this as one of the best.
"It was great to see a kill, where one Cheeta was actually teaching her cubs how to make a kill and it was a great sight," explained Patil.
Terming it as a great three-day experience, Dilip Vengsarkar said, "Fantastic to have got cricketing legends from India and South Africa and play here in such a location.
It was great to meet the players, some of whom have become even older.
"Besides, to see a kill from such a short distance when a cheeta along with her two cubs made the kill was just too good to believe."
Roger Binny said: "Both Alps and Phinda have been great. Both different experiences. This probably has been the best cricketing experience of my career."
Former South African all-rounder Mike Procter said it was "very special to play against Indian team, comprising of players like Kapil Dev" at such an exotic location.
"This is very special. Peace. Natural ways. It was quite exciting when I heard the idea. It is a challenge to play in the bushes," said Procter.
South African legend Graeme Pollock also added that "the relations between the two countries have always been great and it was nice to catch up with old players".
Hailing Beyond Boundaries for organising the event, former all-rounder Lance Klusener said, "It was great to come out here and relax and enjoy the fresh air."
There has been a debate on whose idea was it to play cricket inside a jungle, with some claiming it was Dr Ali Bacher's idea, while some saying that Late Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, who was part of the Indian team in 2009 at Alps, first thought about it.
But the idea was worth executing and Beyond Boundaries did the unthinkable.
After the conclusion of the cricket match on snow, Pataudi had apparently said, "Now that we have played on the snow, why don't we play in the wild" and that was the beginning of it all.
Unfortunately, the Nawab of Pataudi passed away about two months back. His wife Sharmila Tagore was at first reluctant to join, but agreed after much convincing.
"It is where Tiger would have wanted to be amongst friends and playing cricket, so I would join in."
Even as she graced the place with her presence, there was a minute's silence observed in the memory of Tiger before the start of the 12-over-a-side game today, and the jerseys of both the Indian and South African players had black armbands, where it was written 1941 to 2011. (PTI)