JULY 15, 2016
“Sylvia and I are delighted to welcome you to our home for the 28th annual Celebrity Cricket Match in aid of Wellbeing of Women.” So began the letter from Sir Victor Blank. This being England, ‘our home’ was a large mansion in a very large country estate, an hour’s drive from London, and its grounds were large enough to hold a cricket match. Sir David Frost , the famous broadcaster (and subject of the film ‘Frost vs Nixon’) and Sir Victor started this annual pro-am match , and kept it going for 25 years. After his death three years ago, the tradition continues, and what a splendid tradition it is.
A large marquee is erected under which a great number of tables – easily over a hundred – are set up, each seating a dozen people, so there are quite a few people there. A brochure lists guests names ( I am the guest of Dr Kartar Lalvani, the founder of Vitabiotics, Britain’s number one vitamins company). Among the Lords and Ladies, the Sirs and the Baronesses, I am happy to see the names of Patels and Desais( can you keep them out anywhere in the world?), Chhabras and Chopras, Bhanjis and Bharadwajs. The owners of these names don’t stick out from the rest because Indians have blended seamlessly into the upper echelons of British society. Among the British names I see Sir Martin Sorrell’s, the advertising magnate and boss of WPP, one of the world’s biggest ad agencies. (Later I learn that his annual take home is 40 million pounds, and his net worth is 257 million, so he is some way from being a billionaire).
Smart young waiters and waitresses bring in a plated lunch. “What a nice starter,” I say when I see the Poached Salmon in Hollandaise Sauce. “That’s the main course”, someone tells me. I turn the pages of the brochure and there’s the menu : ‘Rustic breads and bread sticks with unsalted butter, Baba Ganoush and roasted red pepper hummus dip.’ That does sound better than saying ‘Bread , butter and hummus’, as ‘Crisp Romaine lettuce, grated Parmesan, crunchy croutons and fine green beans’ sounds infinitely better than plain ‘Salad’.
But the light lunch is a blessing considering that a heavy Afternoon Tea is to follow ( a selection of delectable sandwiches, luscious strawberries and cream and sinful scones with rich clotted cream. As you can see, the prose is catching). That in turn is a precursor to the Evening Barbecue. In any case, this is a charity event whose main purpose is to raise money for an excellent cause, the well being of women with particular emphasis on reproductive health, so one is grateful that there is no ostentatious spread of caviar and champagne and truffles and cake (Let them eat rustic bread).
Mark Nicholas, the former England cricketer and commentator uses his contacts to get recently retired and former greats of the game to come and play. “And they charge us nothing,” Sir Victor tells me, ” Most of the time they even pay for their own travel.” Apparently Sachin Tendulkar has played here as has Sunil Gavaskar. This year’s turnout included Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes, the famous West Indies opening pair, now cruelly separated and put into opposing teams. Other names are Michael Atherton and Andy Flower, Devon Malcolm and Collis King and Mahela Jayawardene who plays an elegant little innings(compulsorily retired when he reaches 30). The boundaries are shorter than usual, so people sitting behind the long on boundary are in mortal danger of being hit. I just escape as I walk carelessly to the rest rooms and a fierce ball whizzes past my head. I can see the headlines – ‘Indian man hit for a six. Loo break proves fatal in charity game.’
The charity has raised 7 million pounds over the years, and this is done through sponsorships (PWC is one of them) as well as unusual auctions. I fancy the Sir Chris Hoy signed racing bike ( Hoy was six times Olympic champion) and the Master Classes to be given by Shane Warne, Kevin Pietersen and Wasim Akram. But I desist from bidding as the amounts rise rapidly and I get acutely aware of my declining foreign exchange reserves.
It’s a great way to spend the day with the family and do it for a good cause, but as we go away in late evening in bright sunshine, I wonder what would have happened if the sun had taken the day off and it had rained buckets. Men and women, lords and ladies may huff and puff, but in the end, Nature decides our fates.