Wheelchair cricket is becoming big — now, with a T-20 tournament too

The third tri-nation T-20 wheelchair cricket worldcup is underway in Kolkata. Here’s what you need to know.

April 27, 2019 01:07 pm | Updated 01:07 pm IST

The first time I attended a wheelchair cricket match, I was the only spectator. It was in 2017, just a few months after I’d volunteered for the Blind Cricket World Cup Tournament. My mentor had recommended I watch India's first International Wheelchair Cricket Tournament, at the stadium.

This year, Wheelchair Cricket India, headed by Pradeep Raj, is organising a tri-nation T20 wheelchair cricket series, with Nepal, Bangladesh, and our country. Much has changed since I saw my first match.

“Now we have 16 State Councils and more than 400 players around the country,” says Raj, a former para Olympic athlete who initiated this game in 2012 in India. Since then, India has won against Bangladesh in April 2018, and Pakistan in September 2018.

However, there’s still a lot that needs change, in terms of funding and publicity. For tournaments, Wheelchair Cricket India usually depends on private sponsors. “The Government does not fund us. And as for cricket, it is largely a BCCI ambit,” says Raj, adding that, “though in its new constitution, it has included the term ‘disability’ in it. But so far no committee has been set up and no funds have been rolled out.”

In terms of the way they play, Raj says it’s a game of the foot, with players allowed to field with their feet. When a batsman hits the ball, he leaves his bat aside and uses both his hands to manoeuvre the wheelchair.

Somjeet Singh, 23, captain of the team says that the game has a number of tweaks: “A ball above the waist is a no ball, the boundary is around 45-50m long, and the pitch is 18 yards.” Singh is doing a master’s degree in social work, and believes “sports can help wheelchair-bound people to gain confidence.”

Ranjay Paswan, 27, who served in the army until he had a spinal injury in the line of duty, was selected to play for the national team in February this year. “Today more than ever before, wheelchair-bound people can look at sports as their probable career opportunity,” he says.

He has chosen it as a full-time career option, after trying out many other games. The initial days of being wheelchair-bound were had on him, but today, the idea of representing India makes him happy.

At NKDA Stadium, New Town, Kolkata, 26th to 29th April

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