Life after Cricket: It’s play time with leopard Tara for Sandeep Patil
Once a week, Sandeep Patil makes it a point to play with Tara. The 1983 World Cup winning hero — he played a big role in India’s semi-final win against the home team England at The Oval — Patil takes the four-hour journey from Lavasa hill station near Pune to the Mumbai suburb of Borivali East where the Sanjay Gandhi National Park is located. This National Park has been Tara’s habitat for the last two years.
All his life Patil, now 64, has shown fondness for something that nature offers abundantly and has embraced it with passion and a lot of commitment. He played cricket with the intentions of entertaining people, taught the Kenyans the nuances of the game for close to a decade, and spent a lot of time searching talent across the country as Director of the BCCI’s National Cricket Academy. It was while residing in Bangalore that his zeal for wildlife protection was kindled.
These days, the dashing batsman of the 1970s and 1980s, likes to pick up a paint brush and draw with acrylic anything that nature provides him as reference, or grow assorted vegetables and herbs at his relocated home in Lavasa or pick up his guitar while at his Jogeshwari residence and play Udit Narayan’s “Papa Kehte Hain” with immense felicity.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also given him leeway to draw 200-odd paintings over a period of six months, but even in these unprecedented times, Patil has stuck his bond with Tara, the female leopard, he has adopted at the instance of two Maharashtra State bureaucrats who urged him to adopt one from among the cat family two years ago, after he had completed his term at the NCA in Bangalore only to become Chairman of Selectors.
As of today, Patil is the brand ambassador of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. To begin with, he joined the leopard adoption programme urged by the Secretary (Forest Department) of Maharashtra, Vikas Kharge (now Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister Udhav Thackeray). “I adopted Tara two years ago. In fact, 90 per cent of the 12 leopards in captivity at the park, are adopted by me and my friends. I go to the Park every week and play with Tara. She doesn’t know me, but she is friendly. They don’t attack. The Park is the oxygen cylinder for Mumbai. You will never realise the importance of the Park, until you go there and feel the experience,” says Patil. His affection for Tara and the Park are so palpable as he narrates and describes his love for wildlife and its protection.
Not only has he adopted Tara that entails a lot of expenditure by way of committing to disbursement of good money, but he also helps the Park in many ways. He used his influence with an officer in Mahindra & Mahindra to get three Mahindra Scorpio SUV for night patrolling at the park. Patil himself goes on night patrol work from 10pm to 1.30am. He also attends all social events related to the Park.
Patil has also got India’s Test vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane interested in wildlife protection and the Park’s activities. “When in Bangalore, I used to work with Joseph Hoover’s NGO for wildlife protection. In fact, we started a Tiger Cup cricket tournament for junior boys and girls. The proceeds from the tournament were given to the Forest Trackers of Bandipur, Bannerghatta, Nagarhole, Kabini and more. I got support from Rahul Dravid, Harbhajan Singh, Yusuf Pathan and many cricketers,“ Patil revealed.
Hoover, who was an itinerant cricket correspondent for Deccan Herald but is totally committed to wildlife protection, says: “Patil inspired me a lot. We started the Tiger Cup in 2011-12 and it continues for boys under 12, 14 and 16. We ran a tournament for girls for four years. About 247 cricketers across the country supported our projects.”
Patil and wife Deepa have decided to spend their retired life at a sprawling dwelling in Lavasa, about 90 minutes drive from Pune. They have a large vegetable patch there. “It’s great to see the vegetables and herbs grow. We use them. I see a lot of recipe programmes on television and go to the kitchen straight away.”
But it’s at Lavasa and in these unprecedented times that Patil’s passion for painting also developed. “I used to attend drawing classes in my school Balmohan Vidya Mandir at Shivaji Park. When in school, I used water colours, but now it’s acrylic on canvas. I have done 200 paintings in six months. It’s a great hobby that i have been able to revive after 30 years. I don’t plan to hold exhibitions. It’s just my love and hobby,” said Patil, whose mother Sumitra excelled in painting and so too his sister Asha, who lives in Mumbai.
Patil rues not being able to get time to play the guitar, which he began to learn in Mumbai. “This is the third break. Many years ago, myself and Milind Rege (former Mumbai Ranji Trophy player) used to practice playing the guitar, then the master used to come home twice a week. He cannot come here to Lavasa. In school, I used to visualise myself as the rock and roll star Elvis Presley and perform on the stage, Now, I run the Patil orchestra, playing all instruments by myself. But there is no one to listen to!” said Patil in jest.
Cricket gave Patil all the fame. He became the Adelaide hero in 1981 hammering all the Australian fast bowlers to make 174 and a World Cup winning star as part of Kapil’s Devils in 1983. “You know, I was India captain for a night!“
The dashing right-hander from Shivaji Park was sounded about being named captain before India’s tour to Pakistan in 1989. But the BCCI thrashed out a solution to the vexing issue relating to an apparel sponsorship and Krishnamachari Srikkanth, the original captain, took the Indian team with Sachin Tendulkar to Pakistan.
Patil is quite happy these days staying far away from the humdrum of city life, seeing raw banana, fleshy and juicy vegetables and assorted things grow at his Lavasa home, picking up the brush, canvas and acrylic and when time permits, strumming the guitar to famous Hollywood and Bollywood tunes. And, of course, travelling to Mumbai to play with Tara at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. And, for all his wildlife interests, he is supposed to have visited the world famous Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya 20-odd times.