Not only for money
Indian blind cricket team is the only team in the world to have won all three kind of championships — ODI, T20 and Asian cup
In a country where cricket is a religion, we have star players among some special cricketers giving us reasons to celebrate. Last month, Indian blind national team won the T20 World Cup defeating Pakistan for the second time. Patriot interacted with a few players to gauge what it took to win.
There are three basic categories on which visually impaired cricketers are chosen for the national team. B1 includes players without any sight, B2: those who can see up to three meters and B3: who can see up to six meters. All three categories combine to make the team.
One of the stars of the winning team is Deepak Malik (21). Malik, who plays in B3 category, lost his sight in 2004 when a fire cracker burst damaged his eye during Diwali celebrations. He was nine-years-old. In 2008 his family sent him to study at the Institution for the Blind, Panchkuian Road in central Delhi, where he started playing cricket. He’s now in class 11.
When he visited the National Stadium , to inquire about a field to practice, he was spotted by cricket coach MP Singh. Singh, who has coached India’s former captain, MS Dhoni, coaches Malik and his team friends, such as Rambir Panwar (19) for free. Panwar like Malik also falls in B3 category, and is currently pursuing BA from Delhi’s Kirori Mal college. He has been playing cricket since 2009. He got into the national team in December 2015 after being spotted in a tournament held in the capital. Both Malik and Panwar initially played for the Haryana state team.
Malik says that he couldn’t believe it when he was selected for the national team to play the world cup in Pakistan. He asked his team mates several times whether there is another boy with his name in the squad. Now, the T20 World Cup win has changed his life. He has met and has been praised by many eminent personalities including the prime minister, Narendra Modi. His one wish is to meet the master blaster at least once. “I started playing cricket because of him,” says Malik.
Malik is an all-rounder. His favourite player in the team he says is the vice-captain, Prakash Jayaramaiah, who is both a wicket keeper and a hard-hitting batsman. His another favourite is the captain himself, Ajay Kumar Reddy, who has been one of the fastest bowlers for a long time. Currently, Malik is the world’s fastest blind bowler (135-140 km/hr) and holds the record of the fastest half-century in the ODI World Cup.
As things stand, the Indian national blind cricket team is backed by the Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI) which is affiliated to the World Blind Cricket Council (WBCC) and the Indian Paralympic Committee. However, it has not yet been recognised by the BCCI ro the sports ministry. Formed in 1998 and backed by the Samarthanam trust, started by George Abraham, who was the first to suggest cricket for the blind, CABI has had a hard time finding financial backers to promote the sport among the blind. Many of the national players come from economically deprived backgrounds and need scholarships or financial support to pursue the sport.
Panwar’s father, for instance, is a farmer who also supports the education of his other three children, all girls. “It’s the first time in all the tournaments we have played and won, that the government awarded us with a cash prize,” says Panwar ruing the fact that there is nothing to earn from the sport, except momentary fame.
This is borne out by another national team member, Sonu Golkar (B1), who started playing in 2000 when he was 14, but left the midway (from 2004 to 2012) ‘due to lack of opportunities’. In early-2012, he set up a blind cricket board in Madhya Pradesh to prepare a team for the 2012 World Cup. Golkar, who is an assistant manager at a bank, calls himself lucky for being employed unlike his team mates, who still passionately play when they don’t even get ‘match fees’.
“Situation has not changed for us yet, regardless of how many championships we win… the affiliation (for CABI) is still in process. There is no regular grant. The state boards too struggle to get funding from CSR or other ways… CABI is in a crunch of T1.5 crores,” Golkar told Patriot. “Ketan Patel who is the senior most player and world’s best B1 player. A person who has played four world cups, does not have a job worth T4000,” says Golkar. Patel won the Man of the Series title in T20 World Cup.
Things appear to be looking up for the winning team, after the Collector of Valsad (Gujarat), Remya Mohan Muthadat promised a job to seven district players who have represented India internationally. “Madam bohot achhi hai (Ma’am is too good),” says Patel, who works at family’s rice field during monsoon and rears cows to feed his visually impaired father, his wife and two daughters. “It’s difficult to study now… but I should clear my Class 12 exam… to get a job,” he laughs self-consciously. Patel dropped out of his school.
Another player, Ganesh Mundkar, runs a grocery stall and grows vegetables to feed his two kids, wife and parents. While, Odisha’s Sukhram Majhi (B2) is raised by his visually impaired mother alone; and Anesh sells articles in train to survive.
This year, the ministry of sports, gave T5 lakh to each player for the first time. Something that has made the team happy but at the same time they say that much more needs to be done if the blind cricket is to survive as a sport discipline. “It took long for the government to appreciate the sport… It’s the first time they have even received this. Moreover, there is hardly any facility provided to these players in states too: be it ground or anything,” says Dilip Jogari, who is the coach and general secretary of the cricket association for the blind (Gujarat). Each player has also been promised T2 lakh from the Ministry of Social Justice. Presently, three players are employed, two are promised jobs by Karnataka government and seven by the Valsad’s collector office.
Sources reveal that initially the sports ministry had announced T10 lakh for the entire team, which they refused considering an ‘insult’. Only after media hype was the cash prize increased. The ministry was not available to comment.
Game of sounds
- The fibre ball is significantly larger than a standard cricket ball, weighing around 15 – 16 grams, and filled with ball bearings. The size allows partially sighted players to see the ball and the contents allow blind players to hear it.
- The wicket (stumps), made of iron, is larger, to allow partially sighted players to see and blind players to touch it to correctly orient themselves when batting or bowling. It also helps in knowing if the ball touched the wicket, as the sound of the ball touching the bat would be different.
- Blind Cricket has three categories – B1: totally blind, B2: up to 3 meters’ visibility; and B3: up to 6 meters’ visibility. Each team would have four players from B1 category, three from B2 and four from B3. There is special improvisation for the B1 players: while batting, each run made is doubled – be it a one or six; and they are also allowed one-bounce catch.
- The bowlers should pitch the ball once before the halfway mark when he bowls his delivery.
- The wide line is 3 metres from either side of the stumps, so that every ball that goes to left side is not wide, but only the ones that deviate from the side-line.
- Currently, India does not have a national blind cricket team of women.