Ever heard of a team scoring 493 runs in only 40 overs in an international match? Sounds impossible? You could argue that the highest score recorded at the top level is 438, scored by South Africa in reply to Australia’s mammoth 434 in Johannesburg eight years ago.
What if I go a step further and reveal that the runs were scored by our very own Indian team against England in 2011, during a 4-match series? I’m sure that the cricket pundits will start breaking a sweat over the above mentioned stats.
As far as the memory goes, didn’t Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s boys suffer a humiliating whitewash to Alastair Cook’s team in the One Day International (ODI) series following a 0-4 routing in the Tests?
And, no, I am not cooking up stories here. Move on from the men in blue.
Welcome to the world of the Indian blind cricket team, a team that has been living in the oblivion ever since it was formed in 1996.
With 2 World Cup final appearances to their name, the Shekar Naik-led team catapulted into fame in 2012, after they won the inaugural T20 World Cup held in Bangalore. Many would expect the players who have brought such laurels for the nation to be treated like demigods, especially in India where cricket is nothing less than a religion. Sadly, though, the story is nothing short of dismal to say the least.
The emergence of blind cricket in India
George Abraham, called the father of blind cricket, has been credited with setting up the World Blind Cricket Council (WBCC) in 1996, following which all the Test playing nations have come together to give the visually impaired a chance to fulfil their dreams. Abraham, an Indian who lost his eyesight as a result of meningitis when he was less than a year old, always dreamt of becoming a fast bowler since his childhood. His love for the game did not replenish despite his disability, and over time he realised that worldwide there might be thousands of cricket lovers like him with a passion for the sport despite living in the dark. He approached Indian cricketing legends Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev for help, and soon his idea of forming an international council for blind players started to materialise.
“When you are passionate about something, you are ready to rub shoulders with anyone who feels the same way about it. You forget whether you are blind or rich or poor. All you want to do is follow your dream,” says the man who has been instrumental in showing the world that cricket isn’t only for the ones who are blessed with eyesight.
BCCI and its lack of support
Soon after its inception, blind cricket became a platform for differently-abled players to showcase their talent. Abraham then wanted to make it even bigger, and hence, in 1998, he started taking efforts to make India host the first ever World Cup for the blind. Lack of funds, he states, was an issue then and continues to be so even today.
“The Government of India after promising 50 lakhs to the event pulled out in the last minute, stating that blind people should not be playing sports.” A determined Abraham, however, made sure the tournament went ahead as planned.
The journey hasn’t been easy since then, with the Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI) struggling to get recognition from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), making them the only nation to not have the backing of the central board.
Naik is saddened by the lack of support the board has to offer. “Most of the players who entered the game are backing out due to lack of any financial support. Countries like Pakistan and Australia give the players a monthly remuneration, but the Indians are left to fend for themselves.” In his 12 years as a player, has not received a government job till date.
The words are echoed by Manvindra Singh Patwal, former captain of the team, who talks about the sad state of affairs faced by the professional Indian blind cricketers. “Several members of the team work in factories earning between Rs. 2500-5000 a month. But whenever there’s a match, they have to take a break or let go of their jobs. They have to search for new jobs when they return, but the players don’t mind risking their income for the tricolour.”
After the news of Indian cricketer Yuvraj Singh being sold to Royal Challengers Bangalore for a whopping 14 crore in this year’s IPL Auctions broke out, Naik, who couldn’t hide his frustration, begged the BCCI to at least invest 3% of their revenue in the welfare of the blind players. No surprises that it went in vain.
Reports emerged that the BCCI refused to lend CABI the Chepauk or the Chinaswamy stadiums to host the T20 World Cup in 2012, which, if true, raise serious question marks over their intentions.
Mahantesh GK, the vice president of CABI, says that they have written to the Indian cricket board seeking accreditation a number of times, without any response.
Lack of funding and sponsors
It is well documented that Philips, one of world’s leading electronics companies, had promised the CABI players a tour to the Rainbow nation in 2003 – at the time of the 50-over ICC World Cup – in order to increase the morale of the team members, only to back out at the last moment, leaving the players in a lurch.
In 2010, Abraham had initiated the idea of the Indian Blind Cricket League (IBCL) along the lines of the popular IPL, but the idea had to be scrapped due to lack of funds. He states that the “sponsors had already committed to the Commonwealth Games being held in Delhi that year and as blind cricket wasn’t a “proper sport”, not many came forward to help.”
Samarthan, the only NGO that funded the CABI, pleaded with the public on its website to volunteer and donate money so that the World Cup in Bangalore could be staged without any hiccups. Naik recounts how he has barely earned Rs. 50,000 in his life. Let’s not even talk of how much the BCCI spent to host the 2011 World Cup or even compare the earnings of a Ranji player with him.
The indomitable spirit lingers on
Contrary to belief, however, the blind cricket is no less exhilarating than its mainstream version. The ball is delivered with a leather ball that has metal pellets inserted. The bowler calls out to the batsman before each delivery and proceeds to bowl after his approval. Each team has 4 completely blind players, while the rest of the team comprises of players who can have a vision of up to 6 metres. But that’s where the differences end. The players celebrate the fall of a wicket or a century with as much fervour as the “more famed” counterparts do. They take pride in donning the national jersey even though the hurdles have been many.
India currently has the largest number of blind cricketers – 30,000 – competing to grab a playing 11 spot and do the tricolous proud.
Mohammad Jaffer, one of the members of the team, is yet to receive a sport ID card, as the Ministry still isn’t sure whether he could be called as a sportsperson. He says, “We can never match up to the popularity that a Dhoni or Kohli garner, but even if a thousand people applaud our zeal, we will feel accomplished.”
Yes, the hurdles they face are many. Yes, the funding and support is inadequate. But that is no obstacle for these men who continue marching on, in the hope that their passion will trump all odds one day.