The bowler runs in from one end but lo! He lets his arm rip as in a bowling alley, delivering the ball from below waist height, sending it rolling across the pitch.
The batsman gets down on his knees and sweeps the ball across square leg. All the while, there’s a jangling sound emanating from the moving ball made of hard plastic.
While the game bears a lot of resemblance to the cricket most of us see on television, the rules are tweaked just the tad bit for the visually impaired.
The intensity, though, remains at par with the sport’s original form. There are the occasional barbs traded between players from both sides. Sledging is employed too, all in the spirit of cricket, as a healthy expression of competitiveness.
Even as Virat Kohli and Co look indomitable in all formats of the sport, their counterparts in blind cricket aren’t too far behind, having emerged as a force to reckon with since the team’s World T20 triumph in 2012.
Currently, the Indian men’s blind cricket team holds all the three major titles in their sport – the ODI World Cup (twice), T20 World Cup (twice) and the Asia Cup (once).
However, the country is yet to see a women’s side take the field for international competitions.
We may still be some time away from seeing that happen but on 16 December, things will take a huge leap in that direction as the first-ever Samarthanam Women’s National Cricket Tournament for the Blind 2019 kicks off in the capital.
Understandably, the players are excited about the opportunity and are raring to put their skills on display. "It’s the first such tournament on a national scale and we hope that the sport will only grow from here," says Ankitha Singh, captain of the Delhi team for the tournament, at the press conference held in Delhi.
The sport’s stakeholders are fresh with optimism, with the Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI) having waded past many difficulties — lack of sponsors, grounds and players — to organise a women’s national tournament.
However, in its bid to ensure its players’ financial welfare, CABI is lacking the requisite funds. Hence, their long-standing demand for BCCI’s direct involvement in the sport. "A lot of progress has been made. We are getting regular fixtures now, bilateral series amongst different states are held frequently," says Ankitha, who works as a teacher in a Delhi government school.
"BCCI’s involvement would ensure a fixed income for us. We will also be able to tell our employers that our tournaments are organised by the BCCI and that would help us obtain more paid leaves," she says.
Ankitha, who hails from Lucknow and has a Masters degree from Delhi University’s Miranda House, is classified as a B1 cricketer for her team. It means that she’s one of the mandatory four players in her side with a complete lack of vision. The remaining seven in the playing eleven consists of B2 (can see for up to three metres) and B3 cricketers (can see for up to six metres).
Moreover, a team can’t have more than four B3 players in the side.
Having cricketers with varying degrees of vision on the field can be a task in ensuring coordination. However, Aarti Dubey, a B3 cricketer for the Delhi team insists that it’s just a matter of managing each player’s strengths and weaknesses.
"As a wicketkeeper, I ensure that B1 fielders receive proper guidance regarding the direction of the ball. They have to then follow my voice and react accordingly," says Aarti, a Hindi Literature student at the Lady Sri Ram College for Women. "Further, we ensure that if the ball is hit towards a B1 fielder, then there should be a B3 fielder backing her up in case of a misfield."
As blind cricket’s stature grows internationally, with state broadcaster Doordarshan airing the Indian men’s team’s matches live, a corresponding rise in the women’s game is all to be expected. However, representatives of CABI make it a point to mention that the cause isn't meant to milk people's sympathy for the disabled.
In fact, the association insists that the sport is an apt vehicle for women empowerment. "We saw immense potential among the players sports-wise, also as a medium to empower them, give them a voice and a platform to express their talent," says Shailender Yadav, the North Zone Secretary for CABI.
"Since the discussions have been on, there has been tremendous spirit shown by the girls and I am confident that this Women’s Nationals will go a long way in inspiring girls from across the nation."
John David, the General Secretary of the association also insists that blind cricket can spur the society to look inwards and find its heroes in people who’ve defied adversity and perceived disabilities to make a name for themselves. "There are many success stories which have overwhelmed us. Most players in the men’s blind team were feted by their state governments for their achievements. There is Golu from Jharkhand, one of the best players in the victorious 2014 ODI World Cup side. He received cash rewards from the state government and was the brand ambassador for the state elections."
As for his demands from the BCCI, David reiterates the need for the board's direct involvement in blind cricket, to ensure that players can turn their passion into a full-time profession. "Some of the players in the men’s side have regular jobs. They have a lot of passion for cricket but they have to incur a loss of pay whenever they choose to play for India, as it’s difficult for them to get paid leaves."
"The BCCI’s involvement would help these players get jobs through the sports quota, which would ensure paid leaves so that they can play whenever the opportunity arises."
The BCCI doesn’t have to look much further for positive examples, wherein a country’s cricket board chooses to oversee blind cricket.
The Pakistan men’s team won the Blind Cricket World Cup in 2004, without the Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) assistance. Thenceforth, the country’s blind cricket council starting making a case for the PCB’s direct involvement.
Next edition, Pakistan won again, only this time, the PCB could share the credit too, revelling in its decision of choosing to oversee blind cricket in the country.
Back home, the Indian side has won a brace of both ODI and T20 World Cups. Incidentally, the Men in Blue beat Pakistan in all the four finals to win the title.
While the BCCI has stepped in on occasion and rewarded the players with cash prizes, a lot is desired still in getting a structure for domestic cricket in place.
As for the girls who’re all set to play for Delhi in the first-ever blind cricket national tournament, their excitement is palpable at the press conference. They are effusive in their praise of the association and its efforts for the growth of blind cricket.
There’s a genuine camaraderie between the cricketers and those representing CABI and the Cricket Association for the Blind in Delhi (CABD), belying the existence of any hierarchy.
Ankitha and Aarti, who were fielding majority of the questions from the media, would return to their seats, almost proud of their newer, more confident selves. Their teammates made it a point to praise the way they were giving interviews.
The girls couldn’t stop giggling when all of them were asked to feature in a video, saying “Main dekh nahi sakti par chhakke zaroor maar sakti hoon,” (I can’t see but I can definitely hit sixes).
West Indies’ cricket legend Brian Lara’s presence for the press conference was the icing on the cake for the girls.
Lara, too, was visibly moved by the initiative. "I'm very grateful and blessed to have all my faculties to be able to do the things that I've done throughout my career. But if I was, I suppose I will feel some sort of injustice. But I'll come to terms with it. And I'd want to go to school, to learn, to be educated, and to have a recreation. Now, these ladies and their tournament is approaching. I feel very proud and humbled to be in their (participants') presence. I feel that this is wonderful," he says.
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