Cricketers C. Sivakumar and R. Rajesh Kumar have done the city proud by qualifying to represent the country against the visiting England team

Footwork, right balance or posture, nothing matters to C. Sivakumar when he is at the crease. He thinks only about outsmarting the rival bowler. When the ball lands in his zone, he gives it a full-blooded hit. It is easy to forget that Sivakumar is affected by polio.

Fiercely competitive, Sivakumar has overcome his physical deformity to succeed in the game. He plays in the Madurai District Cricket Association third division league.

His college-mate and fellow cricketer from Madurai, R. Rajesh Kumar, is no mean performer. He has a slight deformity in his right hand. He bowls left-handed and makes the batsman hop in the crease with his pace.

As there is no avenue in Madurai for the physically challenged to exploit their cricketing talents, Sivakumar and Rajesh play with their friends on regular teams. In fact, Rajesh Kumar represented the Madurai Kamaraj University in the All India University Cricket Championships.

For their consistent on-field performances, both have been rewarded with berths in the Indian cricket team for the physically challenged. They will represent the country in a para cricket series of T-20 matches against the visiting physically challenged team from England. Sivakumar is the vice-captain of the team.

“I am happy, but not surprised,” says Sivakumar. “I never thought I was in a disadvantageous position compared to other able-bodied cricketers. I am a regular to the net practice and I was confident of getting selected for the Indian team. Big thanks to the selectors for showing faith in my abilities as a cricketer.”

Cricket for the visually challenged is well known but this is a welcome move to organise cricket matches for the physically challenged. The rules are no different, but players who are severely affected are given the liberty to use a by-runner.

Sivakumar gathers runs on his own. “Even during the selection trials,” he says, “I ran on my own and that impressed the selectors, I believe.”

He is also the secretary of the Tamil Nadu Para Cricket Club, which is striving hard to identify talents across the state.

“We never knew a selection trial is on to pick the team for matches against England,” says Rajesh. “We are indebted to physically challenged international athlete and athletic coach Ranjith Kumar, who gave us the lead.”

They are the only cricketers from Tamil Nadu to qualify for the event. The Indian team will play a series of exhibition matches in Mumbai, Tripura and Bidar against the respective state teams before playing five T20 matches against the visiting England team in April.

When they’re not playing cricket, Sivakumar takes care of the family-run grocery shop and Rajesh works as a mineral water can distributor. What started as a fun sport to keep them engaged has turned out to be their next best career option now. “We have realised our responsibilities and will try to consolidate our position,” says Sivakumar.

Says Rajesh, “God willing, if everything goes our way, we will have the chance to play the game at its birthplace.”