At a time when Indian cricket is hanging out all its dirty laundry to dry in the public square, let’s take a moment to thank the likes of Ketan Bhai Patel, Zeeshan Abbasi and Prakash Jayaramaiah.
I didn’t know any of these names till today. But even watching them on Youtube clips I am bowled over by their sheer magnificence.
I am not a cricket nut. I don’t have Sharjah 1986 replaying in my brain in an endless endorphin loop. One of my most terrifying moments as a journalist was moderating a panel about cricket and literature. But watching just a clip of India and Pakistan duking it out in the final of the first ever T20 World Cup for the Blind in Bangalore was just jaw-dropping.
India, for the record, won the final against Pakistan by 29 runs. It was Pakistan’s only loss in the competition. Commentators say India made history but that’s just for the statistics books.
The real magnificence here is of a Ketan Bhai Patel, a B1 or fully blind cricketer, knocking out a crucial 98 off 43 balls. Or a fielder swooping low to catch a ball he can barely see. Or someone at the edge of the field throwing a ball directly at the stumps, truly an arc of triumph and a feat that I, with full vision, missed with unerring regularity in my fumbling schoolyard attempts at the game.
Visually impaired cricketers come in three groups. B1 are fully blind. B2 can see up to three metres. B3 can see up to six metres. B1 players have their scores doubled as per the rules. Of eleven players in a team, at least four must be totally blind.
I had no idea that cricket for the blind or partially sighted player had been around since the 1920s. There’s been a World Blind Cricket Council since 1996. Two blind factory workers improvised the game in the 1920s with a tin can containing rocks. Now the ball is filled with ball bearings so that players can hear it because for most of them, all they have to go by is the sound of that ball and the excited screams of the spectators. The bowler is supposed to shout “Play!” as he releases the ball. Blind fielders can take a catch on the bounce.
My admiration is not about any politically correct compassion for the differently abled. It’s just admiration for their sheer love for the game. Cricket is a game that's deeply visual as evident from those endless slow-mo replays on television we have become used to. It’s just deeply moving to think of these cricketers playing a game as visual as that with such passion when the only person on the field who can really see the game is the umpire. That’s what makes the Pakistani captain’s despair at losing so poignant.
As the Times of India reports, “Zeeshan Abbasi was inconsolable. ‘It pains to remain unbeaten in the tournament, come this far and lose,’ he said, trying to compose himself.” “Back home, your wife thinks you’re great,” said Hendrik Christiaan from the South African team. “And probably, your mum. But to see so many people here, creating such an atmosphere, it’s very encouraging.”
After the T20 victory Indian skipper Shekhar Naik told the media “Our sighted counterparts won it in 2007. Five years on, we too have won glory for India…. This win should encourage BCCI to support blind cricket.”
I don’t know if the blind cricketers need the BCCI with all its backroom politics and endless backstabbing. But the BCCI, sure as heck, needs Naik and his boys to remind themselves of what cricket is all about.
In a game where the drama has increasingly, and messily, moved off the field, they did cricket proud.