QuickFire Q's - Elephant Polo & Cricket with Izzy Duncan
Elephant Polo : The low down (or high up)
Isabelle Duncan is not your normal sports enthusiast; She is on the MCC committee, a commentator of cricket on the BBC, a Real Tennis & Rackets player and author. She is now taking on a new challenge; Elephant Polo. Yup, bed sheets for goalposts and all that...
The Sporting Blog: So Izzy.... as an author, cricketer, commentator, real tennis and rackets player, how on earth have you found (and the time for...!) Elephant Polo?
Izzy Duncan: The Elephant Polo was an exceptional experience and i was very lucky to be asked to play. My boyfriend, David, has been playing since the 1980's all over the world; in Sri Lanka, Nepal and Thailand and invited me to play in March this year in Bangkok.
A once in a lifetime sport, it was a resounding yes from me.
Have a look at anantaraelephantpolo.com and you can see the enormous benefits the tournament brings for elephants, money is raised for the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation and the world's only Elephant Therapy Project for autistic children.
Luckily the tournament took place just before the cricket season began in England so I was able to get away. 10 teams took part, including an All Blacks team with the likes of Olo Brown and Charlie Riechelmann, as well as professional horse polo players from all over the world. The odd celebrity pitched up, with Jack Whitehall joining the All Blacks for one match and footballer Anders Limpar, formerly of Arsenal and Everton, joining a Swedish team.
TSB: I can't imagine there are too many transferable skills apart from an eye for a ball!? Have you ridden horses or played normal Polo before?
ID: As a female player we are allowed to play with 2 hands and the men only one. This makes life much easier when manoeuvring a small polo ball around with a 3 meter stick as you have more control. You need to pick up Thai lingo pdq (pretty damn quick) as you have to communicate with your mahout in order to direct your elephant. Here is some vocab:
Sai is left, Kwa is right, Jot is stop, Pi is go, Pi tee noon is go over there, and much more... There were some Thais playing and other fluent speakers so they definitely had an advantage.
We played 3-a-side on a pitch approx 100m in length and 80m wide with one elephant in defence, a centre half and a centre forward. I was centre forward so it was my job to score goals.It was surprisingly tactical with a lot of rules to follow. The elephants are allowed to kick the ball and pick it up in their trunks and place the ball wherever they please. A 50/50 ball!
I have never played horse polo before and that didn't seem to matter, although the champions were a team of professional horse polo players from India who'd played a heck of a lot of elephant polo.
TSB: Whereabouts did you have your first taste of the sport?
ID: This was my first time and hopefully not the last. The World Championships will be held in Nepal in November this year and I would dearly love to play.
TSB: Do the Elephants enjoy it? It looks like they are treated like royalty!
ID: The elephants used in this tournament are ex street elephants who have been rescued and now spend their time in elephant sanctuaries in Thailand. Only elephants who actively enjoy playing are chosen to take part and they only play with their mates. Elephants are just like humans in their relationships - they have close chums and then an outer circle and then some elephants they fear or dislike.
You have to be very careful not to put two enemies on the pitch at the same time or the whole thing could end in tears. You don't argue with an elephant. They make all sorts of complicated trumpeting, yelps, snorts, roars, rumbles and cries and you can tell a lot about their mood by listening to them. Most of the time the elephants were making happy yelping sounds to their friends on the pitch during the games.
The elephants enjoyed a giant buffet before and after the tournament and really had a feast as a reward for their hard work. These guys eat around 150kg of food per elephant per day! They had giant troughs of water so they could shower themselves via their trunks to cool off and guzzle gallons of the stuff.
TSB: Outside of that and onto cricket; congratulations on being re-elected to the MCC committee. What would you like to achieve during your tenure?
ID: Yes, v pleased to be back on the MCC Committee as we're in the middle of exciting times with the development of the ground and cricket evolving at a rapid pace. I have a strong interest in the MCC foundation which has 38 coaching hubs scattered around the country providing specialist coaching to talented state school boys and girls.
The foundation also supports cricket around the world, particularly in Rwanda, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. The community work that MCC performs is also an important part of the club in partnership with the City of Westminster. This includes an MCC Dementia Awareness project with the elderly and providing education and employment via apprenticeships, volunteering, work experience to local disadvantaged people.
TSB: Your book has helped put women's cricket firmly in the public eye, what further steps need to be taken to keep the game on an upward curve?
ID: The women's game is blossoming in leaps and bounds with the World Cup about to begin in this country this month. Other countries have fallen behind England and Australia and are not yet fully professional, that gap needs to be addressed.
The ICC could do much more to ensure in poorer parts of the world that there is enough funding for equipment and coaching and opportunities for these women and girls to perform at a high level.
TSB: How is your Summer looking? Any highlights to share with us?
ID: This summer is action packed with both men's and women's cricket and i'm looking forward to taking in the Women's World cup final at Lords at the end of July. Here's hoping there'll be 11 English women there on the day...
England are not the favourites with a young and relatively inexperienced team and a new captain at the helm. I'll be busy commentating for BBC radio on the men's county game up and down the country and hope to get a gig or two with the women's world cup and Kia Super league later in the season.