Elephant thrillers rumble the jungle
Close calls and nail-biters are the order of the day at the 32nd World Elephant Polo Championships as eight teams go head to head for golden glory.
Photo: Bhim Thanit on his way to delivering the decider that secured Tuskers and Tigresses as semi-finalists.
The second day of WEPA 2013 ended with an upset as the Ceylon Elephant Polo Association (CEPA) defeated two-time title holders EFG Switzerland in a sundown thriller.
Captained by CEPA founder Geoffrey Dobbs and led on the field by three-time world champion and WEPA Chairman Peter Prentice, the Sri Lankan squad was newly put together for this year. While they have previous experience in other teams, Tom Tuke-Hastings and Tony Papalia had never played together and Kemika Bhandari is making her debut on the elephant polo field.
So the Sri Lankan team rode onto the field with handicap advantage in their favour but not much else.
However, under the astute direction of Peter Prentice the ‘Tom and Tony Show’ produced the performance of a lifetime. Blocking and passing to their commander, who was pretty much everywhere on the field, the triumvirate defended the handicap advantage ably in the first half before moving ahead in the second following a half-time change onto the fastest elephants.
As has proven the case in every game so far Sandra Kali won the day, the hearts of the crowd and the match with a turn of foot not even last year’s Equestrio Best Playing Elephant, Saraswati Kali, could match.
As the clocked ticked down Peter and Sandra Kali found themselves clear of the field with an empty goal in sight. The decider took CEPA ahead 7-6 and at the end of play that scoreline was unchanged leaving top seeds EFG with all to play for tomorrow to secure their place in the semis.
Earlier in the afternoon the Tiger Tops Tuskers, as expected, dominated the Polar Bears to ride out victorious 7-4.
Tuesday’s upsets meant that Wednesday’s matches would be particularly crucial for many as no semi-finalists were confirmed at close of play.
Wednesday dawned misty and full of promise. CEPA started the day as they had finished the previous with something of an upset, but on this occasion inflicted on them rather than by them. The Africans found new form as they gelled with the sport to hold Peter Prentice and his merry men to a 2-2 draw. One win and two draws was sufficient to confirm CEPA’s semi-final slot.
Next up was the all important Tigresses’ match against the Polar Bears. For the Tigresses it was a ‘must win’ encounter and win they did.
The girls didn’t have it all their own way as the Canadian legal eagles put up a stalwart defence, locking down the Tigresses more than many had expected. But while the Bears’ efforts slowed the slew of goals through their posts it didn’t stop the tide and by the final whistle the girls were up 6-2.
The win didn’t confirm the Tigresses’ semi-slot however. That wouldn’t be decided until the very last moments of the day’s play.
Meanwhile EFG Switzerland lined up against the Rusty Kukris in another make or break encounter. For the Kukris it was a chance for the semis and for EFG it was last chance saloon.
The match was a tough one and as the Kukris gave it everything they’d got it looked on several occasions as though the top seeds would be put out. However, sheer determination and a superb performance from EFG pivot Sangjay Choegyal saved the day with a 7-6 scoreline that confirmed EFG as the second team to reach the semis.
As the Tigresses watched anxiously Tiger Tops Tuskers rode out to do battle with the Pukka Chukkas. A win for the Pukkas would force a three-way penalty shoot-out between the Tigresses, Tuskers and Pukkas to decide the winners of League B. A Tusker win, or a draw, would end Pukka hopes of a world title but confirm Tigresses and Tuskers as semi-finalists.
It went to the wire. At half-time the Tuskers had clawed back their handicap deficit but failed to move ahead. The two teams were level at 5-5.
The second chukka was tit-for-tat throughout with each goal that Bhim Thanit put through the Pukkas’ posts matched almost instantly by one from Michael Eaton, the Pukkas ‘ star striker. With three minutes left on the clock Michael brought his squad level at 7-7. But with one minute and 15 seconds left Bhim delivered the decider booking the Tuskers’ semi-final place with an 8-7 score that the Pukkas ran out of time to reply to.
So. Confirmed for the WEPA semis are Tigresses Polo, EFG Switzerland, the Ceylon Elephant Polo Association and the Tiger Tops Tuskers. Which teams meet will be decided by a penalty shoot-out on Thursday morning between EFG and CEPA to determine the winner of League A.