How Suvro Joarder became the world's first 'blade' cricketer
In 2008, Suvro Joarder established himself as one of the hottest properties within the Bengal cricket hierarchy. A fiery domestic season saw him score 535 runs and pick up 22 wickets in just nine Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) elite matches. Such prolific performances at the youth level, also earned him a Bengal U-22 call-up.
However, his dream of playing for India was shattered, after an untimely highway bike accident. He said, “It was during my best season as a cricketer I would say, the word within the CAB was that I would get my U-22 cap that season, I was the highest scorer for my club, Excelsiors as well. Unfortunately, I met with an accident which took away my right leg.”
From Bengal team prospect to physical disability
After six months of undergoing various surgeries, doctors told him that he would have to use a crutch for the rest of his life. Not giving up, Suvro looked at various options online to reignite his sporting dream. He added, “At this point, I came across this British company called Endolite online. At that time the concept was redundant, and the users were very limited. I asked my doctors whether I could use them or not. They told me no as I was 90% disabled and that Indians don’t have the body structure to use that. But I didn’t listen.”
Suvro’s refusal to listen to the medical team’s advice would turn out to be a fruitful decision. At first, he took baby steps towards understanding the nuances of prosthetic legs. The very first walk was a struggle as it required immense upper leg strength. By the end of the first week, he was already briskly running with them.
He added, “I was so happy at that time, within a year or so of losing my right leg, I was walking again. One cannot describe that feeling. Leave alone playing sports, I didn’t even think that I would walk again in my life.”
After a year of getting used to the blade, Suvro ventured into the cricketing world. He said, “I started right at the bottom actually. I saw a few people playing cricket in my locality, so I asked them whether I could play a few shots. They looked at me in a funny manner. But I continue that process every day, I used to down to play cricket. From there I started playing with my friends in the grounds.”
It was in 2011 that he came to know about the existence of physically-handicapped cricket as a competitive sport. After playing in the local leagues in Kolkata, he was immediately picked up by the All India Cricket Association of the Physically Challenged (AIPC), which was headed by former Indian international Ajit Wadekar.
He said, “I played with them for close to two years, but the main problem was that they used to play with soft leather balls. Nowhere in the world do we play with that. After playing for two years with them, I decided to play regularly against able-bodied athletes. Hence I formed the Joardar corporate team.”
A bureaucratic fight is stemming the growth of our sport in India: Suvro
A year and ten corporate tournaments later, Suvro was a well known entity in the Kolkata Corporate circuit. Strong performances at the local level also saw him receive his first international cap last year. Two fifties from him saw India whitewash Bangladesh on their home turf.
He added, “It was a good outing for me, the performance there has also earned me a World Cup and Asia Cup call. However, the state of physically challenged cricket is very poor. The first main problem is of associations. We have three associations, and there is massive confusion over who governs what. There was so much confusion at one point, that the matter reached the Supreme Court.”
“The Supreme Court first asked the Wadekar led association take charge, but that didn’t work out because they played with a soft leather ball. So the SC has finally advised us to approach the BCCI or find a solution among the three associations as the players are now getting affected,” the Kolkata-based cricketer added.
Suvro admitted that the difference in infrastructure for able-bodied and handicapped cricketers is immense. Having experienced cricket on both sides, he cites sheer ignorance as the main problem for the current state of affairs.
He said, “If you go to zonal competition, you will see that we have no facilities whatsoever. The grounds are completely uneven, and considering the fact that we have disabilities, the chance to get injured is also higher. Even in terms of accommodation, they don’t give us proper living conditions. During the last nationals, we slept in a dormitory, during the winter. They didn’t even provide us with blankets.”
The lack of finances and infrequent tournaments within the sport have forced him to look at other viable opportunities. Apart from his existent passion for cricket, Suvro also took up running last year. After successfully completing the disability challenge of last year’s Kolkata Marathon he is now looking to this year’s edition, which is powered by IDBI Federal Life Insurance.
His performances across marathons in the country were spotted by a company called Ottobock, which specialises in making prosthetic limbs. He was selected by them to be a part of a training camp conducted by Paralympic gold medallist Heinrich Popow.
Matched Paralympic qualification timing in first attempt
The German was amazed at how Suvro was excelling ahead of the 11 other people present at the camp. He said, “He ran 50m in just 7 seconds, the Paralympic qualification time is 14 seconds. The lad has got some serious potential, and I can easily see him representing India in the Paralympics soon.”
Despite such encouragement from one of the world’s finest Para-runners, the 28-year-old has not even trialled for a national event yet. He said, “The first major problem, which lies here is my prosthetic limb. It is not of the finest quality. For me to put this blade through such intense training will surely destroy it and cause me an injury in the process. Popow gave me a no objection certificate to use a limb specially made for him. However, the cost of that is close to Rs 11 lakhs, since they are nice people, they have decided to reduce it to Rs 6 lakhs, still that is a major cost.”
“The problem with Kolkata is that there are not many companies willing to sponsor. If you go to Mumbai, I have a friend who has sponsored limbs worth Rs 17 lakhs, so it’s all about the money. Once I do get that kind of money, I will definitely venture out,” he added.
The ardent Sachin Tendulkar fan is now hoping to lift the first ever physically challenged World Cup to be held in Sri Lanka later this year. Regardless of the result, Suvro has already proved to the world that nothing is impossible.