The word ‘cricket’ brings a million-dollar smile to the face of these three players: Irfan Diwan, Nilesh Yadav and Mukesh Rawat. Both 18 years old, Diwan and Yadav completed Class 12 from Government Senior Secondary School for the Blind, Mukherjee Nagar.
Originally from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the duo bonded over their common passion for cricket at the school. Rawat came to Delhi from Lucknow for his graduation studies and to get acquainted with the sport.
Blind cricket is the same as ordinary cricket except for a few rules. The players are divided into three categories; B1 (completely blind), B2 (visibility up to 3 metres) and B3 (visibility up to 6 metres). In the playing 11, there should be a minimum of four B1 players and B2 and B3 players should not go beyond four.
The match follows the verbal cue given by the players; the bowler asks if the batsman is ‘ready’ for which the batsman should reply. Before releasing the ball, the bowler shouts ‘play’ signalling the batsman. While the ball is thrown over the arm in ordinary cricket, in cricket for the visually impaired the ball is thrown under the arm and cross batting is followed. Unlike the rubber ball, they use plastic balls filled with iron beads which make a sound.
Both Yadav and Rawat are B1 players and Diwan is a B2 player. In the selection championship, the 56 players were divided into four teams; India Red, India Orange, India Yellow and India Blue. The three of them played for different teams.
When asked about the experience of playing against each other, Rawat says, “It was a different level of confidence and competition because we knew each other’s skills. But whenever the other player scores well, we cheer for them wholeheartedly.”
Diwan is an all-rounder, while Yadav focuses both on bowling and batting. Rawat is a medium-paced bowler.
Though Yadav and Diwan have played international matches against Nepal and Pakistan, it was their first time in the World Cup trials. The three of them are still excited about the fact they got the chance to be trained with many other players.
“At first, we were worried because most of the players were seniors and we were stressed out on how our performance would be. Now we are at ease because we did well and we are happy with our performance”, says Yadav.
Support from their families has been immense, though Diwan’s and Yadav’s families were not terribly interested in the sport. “My mother doesn’t even know what cricket was, she knows that there is a person who throws the bowl, another one taps that and the remaining people run around the ball”, jokes Rawat. He continues, “She knew I was happy and used to stand in front of the TV to watch me.”
Asked for his reaction to the players being selected for the trials, Delhi national team’s coach Rajiv Bansal comments, “What more could a coach ask for?” He has been coaching the players for the past five years. “We have to teach them step by step by individually correcting mistakes, especially B1 players. Apart from that the emotional wellbeing of the player is also an important factor”, he says.
Bansal continues, Yadav and Diwan used to play cricket from a very young age and they were pretty good physically also. They both stay at the hostel so it was easy for them to train.
The training camp is usually held in any of the DDA grounds. It starts with morning exercise, followed by matches among the players themselves. Later the coach gives an assessment of each player on their performance. Training is avoided during the monsoon season as ground conditions are difficult. At times there are series matches in states where the monsoon isn’t harsh.
“Rawat was introduced to me by a fellow Jharkhand player and he started playing a few years back. But he worked tremendously and scored a hattrick and was noticed by the national team selectors from the first match itself”, he adds.
“If you ask me five years back, my answer wouldn’t be cricket but now, I want to play at least two World Cups and bring a trophy to India”, says Diwan while asked about his future ambition. He claims that they are getting more support from the Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI) than before.
“Now we are being accommodated in five-star hotels during match days and the association takes care of the travel also”, he adds with a huge smile on his face.
Diwan wants to get an MBA degree apart from being a cricket player. Yadav wants to be a professor and teach political science, while Rawat wants to take things step by step by maintaining his cricket career.
“Our school is famous for sports, there were a lot of players from our schools before we were even born”, says Yadav. He further says, “But we want our school to be like any other school, we don’t have many teachers here. We have a gym but there aren’t any sports teachers.”
They learned cricket from their seniors and now they are teaching their juniors who are interested in the sport.
“We are grateful that we were able to reach this much because of the school, or else we won’t be able to manage the expenses”, says Diwan. Rawat, who does not stay in the hostel, finds it difficult to travel during practice.
A Ranji cricket player gets a decent amount of Rs 35,000 to Rs 40,000 per match, whereas these players get just Rs 3,000 for an international match. The Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled has offered Rs 5,000 per month for all the players who get selected in the 29.
“We really wish that the government would do something for us, because we already get emotional support. We are ready to work – rather than just appreciating us, give us work and we’ll do it perfectly”, says Yadav.
Rawat claims that finance is an important factor and if they’re provided jobs, their future will be secure. “Now we are players who aren’t remembered by anyone”, he says.
“It will be great if these guys are given a job so that they lead a secure life, CABI has been doing its part. One good thing that happened was that we are now collaborating with the BCCI”, says Bansal.
If the players are given some stability, they hope to have a career in the sport, he adds.
India is hosting the T20 World Cup in November 2022, and the players as well as the coach are waiting in a state of suspense for the list of 29 players.
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