It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that cricket is the one of the
most uniting factors, if not the lifeline, that connects various
sections of society in India. Watching a group of boys play hard at
the game in the grounds of Loyola College on Bannerghatta Road, and
not willing to give up even as the rain begins to come down heavy,
cannot really be called an outlandish sight.
19 year old Ravi, currently the best player in the group, gears up to
bowl, yelling, “batsman ready!” to the other side of the pitch, to
which the wicket keeper hits the iron stumps and the batsman thumps
the ground with his bat. Ravi delivers his underarm fast-pacer, which
tinkles straight past the batsman to hit the middle stump. Strange
fare? This is how the visually challenged play the game.
The 21 enthusiastic boys, aged between 11 and 20, are part of the
first of a series of cricket coaching camps for the blind, being
organised by Samarthan Trust, an institution for the visually
impaired, and supported by the Karnataka government and Cricinfo. Says
Chandrashekhar, an ex-member of the national team, and chief organiser
of this camp, “The Indian blind cricket team, like the mainstream one,
is always falling just short of winning the World Cup. Also, we need
to see more people from this state participating at the international
Cricinfo has contributed just over Rs 1 lakh for the initiative, which
has gone into the set-up and organization of the four camps and
sponsoring kits for all participants. The depth of their involvement
is to be a supporting figure for Samarthanam, which has sent 11 state
representatives to the national team so far. It is the only
organization in all of south India which functions as a unifying body
for the NGOs working in different states in this field.
Premdeep Gangadharan, Senior GM (Marketing) for Cricinfo, says that
this community initiative is in tandem with the larger goals of Walt
Disney, and ESPN, which is to make a significant contribution to the
game. “All of us here at Cricinfo make a livelihood out of the game,
so we thought it was time to give something back. What better way to
do that than supporting and encouraging a disadvantaged, but equally
important, faction of society who show genuine interest in the game?”
Chandrashekhar joined Samarthanam as a 16 year old youth, who did not
have the courage to travel even short distances on his own. Today,
having played in two World Cup tournaments, and having been to UK,
Bangladesh, Sri Lanka on official rounds or otherwise, he speaks the
lingo of any other expert coach on the game. “We can’t play after 6 in
the evening because it gets too dark for even the partially sighted to
see. And we generally coordinate on the field through the sounds of
the keeper and bowler,” he explains.
Despite all the apparent hurdles, they manage fine in this slightly
altered game, he says, adding that it helps most in building much
needed confidence and leadership qualities in the individuals.
“Cricket makes sense for blind people because we get to meet people,
interact with them which develops our speaking skills and most
importantly, it builds the posture,” Chandrashekhar explains.
But it hasn’t been an easy ride so far. “The Association of Cricket
for Blind in India is the organization that looks after all the
funding, accomodation and travel arrangements for us when we go for
the World Cups. But BCCI is unwilling to support or even recognize the
establishment. Even the World Blind Cricket Council is recognized by
ICC,” Chandrashekhar points out gravely. They have had eminent
personalities like Sunil Gavaskar and Rahul Dravid providing a name
and sponsorship to blind cricket in the past, for which, he says, they
are forever obliged.
Cricinfo intends to spread awareness about the game through write ups
and sponsoring the kits. This camp is to be followed by three more,
two of which are roughly scheduled for September, in Belgaam and
Shivagamma. Of this batch, Ravi is most likely to be chosen for the
state team, since he shows ‘talent’. “We can only hope that, of the
100 odd boys we would have trained by the time all four camps are
complete, we would have found some more budding talent which would
finally be able to bring the World Cup to India,” says Chandrashekhar.
[This article also appeared in The Economic Times, Bangalore a while ago.]