The Indian team is confident of putting up a good show at the T20 World Cup for the blind that will be held in Bangalore this December
It may be that India’s obsession with cricket takes the focus away from other sports. However, there is a version of cricket itself that deserves more attention.
Blind cricket requires skills only the gifted possess. It is impossible to fully analyse how a blind man drives through cover with copybook technique, or how a partially blind man dives full-length at the boundary to save a certain four. An attempt to understand the basics of the game through videos and conversation with players, brings answers.
The sport is played with a ball with bearings inside, enabling the players to hear it. The bowler delivers the ball underarm, and the ball must pitch twice before reaching the batsman. The stumps are made of steel and not wood, to help differentiate between the ball hitting the bat and the batsman getting bowled.
The players are either fully blind or partially sighted (either 40 per cent blind or 60 per cent blind). It is a common sight for wicketkeepers in mainstream cricket to chirp all day, annoying the batsmen. In blind cricket, the wicketkeeper’s role involves loud talk, but aimed at achieving a different end. The keeper – a partially sighted player - acts as the marshal here. He communicates to the bowler where the stumps are, tells fielders which way to move to stop the ball, and even stops fielders from colliding with a “stop right there!” from behind the stumps.
The Indian blind cricket team has taken part in three World Cups, reaching the finals of the latest 2006 edition. Bilateral series’ against Pakistan have brought awareness and is even reportedly being used to better diplomatic relations between the countries. The team is packed with stars, and you may even find a touch of mainstream batsmen Virender Sehwag or Gundappa Viswanath in the ranks. The strokes played are exquisite, as classy as their more illustrious mates we all follow with interest.
A late cut identical to Viswanath’s and Virender Sehwag’s casual attitude coupled with monstrous aggression are common in a match. G.K. Mahantesh, co-founder of The Samarthanam Trust for the disabled, explains that imitation is common. “Not many can bat like Viswanath, even in mainstream cricket. Maybe it comes from an extra sensory perception. I remember, once in Central College grounds years ago, Raghunath Beerala (former Karnataka player and coach) and Viswanath inaugurated one of our tournaments. Mahesh, a fine batsmen played late cuts and all his other strokes were exactly like Viswanath’s. Raghunath jumped onto the ground and appreciated Mahesh, followed by Vishy. It was a lovely moment.”
Mahantesh, a former visually impaired international cricketer himself, adds: “Cricket in India is a religion, and visually challenged people are no exceptions. We follow the sport with the same passion. And when you are part of a cricket team, your presence in society is cherished. You feel good about winning, you learn never to give up the fight. These are positives only cricket can give. With visual impairment, if you dive, throw down the wickets, it builds a huge amount of confidence.”
Shekar Naik , the Indian team captain, has his sight set on winning the inaugural T20 World Cup for the Blind to be held in Bangalore in December. “The under-19 team has just won the World Cup in Australia, the senior team did it at home, and now the blind team must do it as well. It is a matter of prestige.”
Samarthanam – an NGO and pioneers of blind cricket in India – opened the eyes of a captivated audience at a function in Bangalore recently, highlighting the feats of our national team ahead of the World Cup. Not surprisingly, former Indian captain and chief guest Saurav Ganguly was left in awe of his lesser-known counterparts after watching a few match clippings. “I was amazed to see such skill. I saw a score read 338/4 in 38 overs during a match. We have never scored so quickly when I was playing for India,” Ganguly said. A humble Ganguly did not get into technical details on how to succeed, merely saying: “If you hear it, whack it.”
The Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI) is the only governing body in the country, though efforts are on to try and get affiliation with the powerful Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI). CABI is headed by S.K. Nagraj, who started Samarthanam with Mahantesh in 1997 and the duo are on the lookout for sponsors to make the mega event a success.
The World Cup for the Blind should bring the version closer to the mainstream than ever before, and deservedly so.