A Match in Switzerland

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The conditions were not ideal for cricket. The field was filled with snow. The pitch was rigged. But former cricketing greats played a memorable match among themselves. The best part, though, was how they behaved off the field

It was a hot morning in Interlaken, Switzerland. The sun was harsh. Shades were a must. Jack Nicholson, who wears a pair indoors, would have needed 17. The air thrummed with anticipation. Farokh Engineer, former Indian wicketkeeper, was going to parasail.

Engineer was no ordinary parasailer. He was 71 and weighed more than 125 kg. Sandeep Patil, one of his teammates on this tour, said there would be a solar eclipse when he jumped. Engineer said his landing would cause oil to erupt in the land of cheese and chocolate.

The miracle had to be observed. Everyone gathered with their cameras.

Cheers went up when Engineer, with a belly like Obelisk’s, descended from the heavens with arms outstretched, marvelling at his own achievement. As the parachute deflated around him, he lay flat on his back in the field. A day earlier he had been disallowed from a ride due to his weight. Now, he was happy.

Engineer was one of 14 former Indian and international players assembled by Beyond Boundaries, an event management company, Jungfrau Railways and Swiss Airlines, for a five-over match on the Jungfrau, at nearly 11,300 ft, one of Europe’s famous peaks. The other Indian players were Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Kapil Dev, Syed Kirmani, Sandeep Patil, Anshuman Gaekwad, Roger Binny and Ajay Jadeja. Despite mediocre consulate officials in India for whom basic courtesy or patience are alien concepts, everyone reached.

Engineer was in no shape to play. He was there as an umpire. Yet, he was the star of the event. Engineer is a rogue but a lovable one. When introduced to ladies, he immediately leans forward and offers his cheek. No handshakes. It has to be kisses, many of them. He eats heartily. He loves attention and obsessively asks journalists the publication dates of articles about him. No one complains because he is what many are not: fun. Even at this age. The reserved Pataudi, accompanied on the trip by wife Sharmila Tagore, was a different man in Engineer’s company. You saw Tiger breaking the cage of aristocratic decorum, laughing hard at jokes such as one on ‘The Amazing Sikh’, so what if the teeth showed. (It is not possible to repeat the joke here).

Sandeep Patil can be as much of a riot as Engineer, or Farokh as he insists. On a tour of Pakistan, Patil called the hotel reception and said he was Yashpal Sharma, and requested a wake-up call every hour since he had to take medication through the night. On the same tour, again under Yashpal’s name, he placed an order for eight servings of breakfast the next morning. In Switzerland, though, Patil spent most of his time with wife Deepa. It was understandable. Twenty-five years ago to the day, the couple had enjoyed their honeymoon in the same Swiss town. He also celebrated his 53rd birthday on this trip.

Kapil Dev’s hair was grey and a bit long. When the sunglasses came on, he reminded you of Gil Reyes, once the physical trainer of Andre Agassi. But Reyes’ fame is limited, Kapil’s is global. He was stopped everywhere by Indian tourists for photos and autographs. Wife Romi and daughter Amiya were with him and the Devs looked content as they rattled up the Jungfrau in a vintage train. If only there was some Indian-style tea. “Chai-chai, chai-chai,” Kapil impersonated vendors at Indian railway stations.

You can take an Indian out of the train—Kapil has long stopped travelling by this mode—but not the train out of an Indian.

Atop the Jungfrau, India won a tight match thanks to an accurate last over by Ajay Jadeja. Jadeja’s son, Aiman, now knew what his ‘Bapu’ did. In school, his teacher had asked students what their fathers did for a living. The answers ranged from “doctor” to “businessman” to “manager”. Aiman said, “My father sleeps.” Jadeja often works late nights for a television station and catches up on sleep during the day.

The All Stars team lost to the Indians, but it was their player—Collis King of West Indies—who hit the towering sixes. King is known around the cricket world for one performance—a 66-ball 86 in the 1979 World Cup final. His hitting still has that brutal core. At other times, ‘Kingdom’ sat in silence for long intervals before suddenly saying something memorable in his Samuel Jackson voice. Like, “There is only one king—drinking.” He practised what he preached. For breakfast, he had champagne. “Tea gives me gas,” he said. “Bubbles, on the other hand, extract gas.”

Syed Kirmani came with his wife Habiba, their three children and their grandson. There was something tender about them. The family was dealing with a bereavement (Kirmani lost his son-in-law) but they were warm and gracious. And as always ‘Kiri’ could still find humour in the simplest of things.

He said the previous night he had woken up at two because the alarm had been set to India time. “I looked for Habiba beside me but she wasn’t there,” he said. “I found her sleeping on the floor.” He found it funny.

Everyone had a nice word for the Kirmanis. Even the garrulous Farokh got a bit sentimental on the last night and said to his fellow wicket-keeper, “God is great Kiri, everything will be alright.” But within minutes he was back to his usual self. Farokh requested the media photographer to make an album specially for him and hand it over to him when he visited Mumbai in a few days. “Let’s meet for breakfast at the CCI,” he said to the photographer, adding, with childlike eagerness, “We’ll have eggs.”