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Defying the odds

Deepak Malik, one of the stars of 2018 Blind Cricket World Cup winning Indian team, describes how he overcame all difficulties to become one of the most dangerous players in the sport

As the Indian team was chasing a mammoth 309 posted by Pakistan in the World Cup finals, the team dugout was gripped with tension as they watched the two batsmen at the crease going about their business. With just four runs required, one of the batsmen hit the ball straight out of the park as India lifted their second consecutive Blind World Cup trophy. The player who hit the winning runs was 23-year-old Deepak Malik.

Malik was born in 1995 in Bhainswal in Haryana’s Sonepat district. “Cricket fascinated me since I was a little boy,” says Malik. “People in Haryana are more inclined towards sports like wrestling, boxing and kabaddi and cricket there is not as popular as the rest of the country. So, when I used to watch and play cricket, my parents would ask me to go to an akhada instead of shadow practising with the bat,” he adds. But his passion for the sport was so much that his parents decided to admit him to a local cricket academy. At a very young age, Deepak started to gain popularity as one of the most promising young players in the state. But one day, tragedy struck.

In 2004, on the day of Diwali, like any Indian kid, 8-year-old Deepak was having fun as he burst crackers with his friends and family. But his celebrations turned sour as a rocket he had just lighted flew straight into his left eye. He was immediately rushed to hospital but doctors declared the vision in his left eye was completely gone. Even his right eye was partially damaged because of gunpowder and other inflammable particles from the rocket.

“The first thing I did after recovering was go out on the field with my bat and ball and start playing cricket. But when I started playing I realised that I could not see the ball properly and had lost all sense of timing as I missed every ball I faced,” he recalls. “The fact that I could not play cricket any more hurt me very much. It was what I loved to do and I felt God had snatched that away from me.”

Malik says he went into severe depression, locking himself in his room all day crying. “My mother asked my friends to take me out and play, but I refused,” he says. Days went by like this and an atmosphere of gloom enveloped the Malik household.

One day, a family friend told Deepak’s parents about a school in Delhi for the visually impaired. He started studying there. “Even in school, I used to be a quiet kid as I didn’t chat with other, sticking to one corner. Cricket was the driving force of my life, and without it I felt incomplete.”

“One day, in 2012, on the grounds of my school, I saw some blind students playing cricket, and it was then that I discovered that there is something called blind cricket. This reignited the fire that had died in me years ago”, says Malik. Though the coach initially declined Deepak’s request to let him play, the boy persisted and was given a chance. “My coach was surprised as I could hit the ball cleanly in just my first attempt at blind cricket,” he says.

It was then that he started his journey in the sport, getting into the domestic scene. Hitting strokes by just listening to the jingling sound of the ball, and bowling well aimed under-arm deliveries was a challenge for Malik initially. But slowly and steadily he got accustomed to it.

Deepak was enrolled under the B3 category, reserved for a person who can see not more than six metres. After his stupendous success in just his first year in domestic cricket, Deepak was called for the national squad that was about to tour Pakistan in 2014.

“I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard the news of being selected for the Indian team as I had just started playing the sport for only two years. I even called up the office of the Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI) to confirm if it was me or some other Deepak Malik that had got selected,” he says.

“When I first donned the Indian jersey in Pakistan, that was a different feeling altogether. Representing the country at the international level was all I wanted to do,” says Deepak. But he couldn’t make a mark in his first tournament. Deepak feared that he might not be selected for the team again after his disappointing performances.

But he got another chance when he was selected for the 2014 World Cup in South Africa. “I wanted to win the Cup for my country, and I started practising for it two months prior to the national camp”. Though he was part of the squad, Malik never allowed to specialise as a batsman, which is what he wanted. He was regarded as a bowling all-rounder. But in the semi-final against Pakistan, Deepak was sent out to bat early, as he struck 50 runs in 17 balls, which still stands as the fastest half century in blind cricket. “When no one could even read the balls of the Pakistani bowlers, I smashed them for sixes to all parts of the park,” says a beaming Deepak, who considers Virender Sehwag his idol.

After that, Deepak was a regular for the national team, that won the 2014 World Cup, the 2016 T20 World Cup and the 2017 Asia Cup. Not only was he a consistent run-getter, he also emerged as the fastest bowler in blind cricket history. But his defining innings came against Sri Lanka in a group stage match in the 2018 Blind Cricket World Cup as he scored a massive 179 runs in just 108 balls. “This was a very crucial innings as wickets were tumbling at the other end. I stayed put on one end and smashed the ball. My innings helped India get past the 359 runs made by Sri Lanka in the first innings,” says Deepak. As India lifted the World Cup, Deepak remained the highest run-getter in the tournament, without being dismissed even once. “The feeling of hitting the winning runs in a World Cup final is something special, and I will cherish it throughout my life.”

But in spite of all his achievements, Malik still feels dejected, as he feels that he or his teammates do not get the recognition they deserve. “All the Indian players like Kohli and Rahane get facilities from the BCCI, whereas we don’t even have a ground reserved for us to practice,” says Malik. “Like any normal player, I go to National Stadium and pay them for practising, despite being a world champion,” he adds. He feels that it is high time that the BCCI starts recognising blind cricket as part of the national cricketing structure, as India is doing so well in the sport.

However, Malik is proud of the fact that in spite of so many difficulties, they have managed to become world champions, not once, but four times. “My dream is that one day, I too get to play in a cricket league like the IPL, where thousands of spectators come and cheer my name in unison,” he says wistfully.