The coronavirus pandemic has affected blind cricket India to such an extent that even when it ends, it won't be easy for players to return to the game.
India's men's blind cricket team captain Ajay Kumar Reddy fell in a pit and tore his ligament while coming back from the market after buying vegetables in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh at the start of the coronavirus-enforced lockdown. The 30-year-old cricketer was advised a long rest by the doctor. He was told not to move in order to recover quickly. However, with his parents stuck at his elder brother's home in Nellore, he had no choice but to go out and buy groceries and other essentials.
It became a huge task for Ajay to shop for basic needs alone, as it not only aggravated his injury but he also found it difficult to buy vegetables, without touching them.
"Without touching, I cannot feel if the vegetables are fresh or not. Before lockdown, my parents went to Nellore and were stuck there. They could not come back. I managed for three months buying vegetables, fruits for kids etc," he told Firstpost.
The doctor had advised him physiotherapy as well. However, with the cases rising in his region, that was not possible to do. He kept going out to select vegetable counters which had a low turnout so that he was safe. However, sometimes he would find the vegetables stale when he returned home. It frustrated him more.
Ajay, who works at a bank and has captained India to a World Cup win, asked for a transfer to Nellore, where his elder brother lives and shifted there two months ago as his life had been severely impacted by the pandemic in Guntur.
Despite the troubles, Ajay feels his situation is still better than his other teammates. Many visually impaired cricketers, who have represented the national team, says Ajay, are facing bigger issues. While some of them don't have jobs, or have been asked to leave, others are thinking of quitting cricket.
"Almost 60 percent of our players are without jobs. After this pandemic comes to an end, most of the players may not be able to continue cricket. Their situation is not good at all. They had a job earlier, but now they are out of jobs also," said Ajay, who has been leading India since 2016.
The Cricket Association for Blind in India (CABI) did help some of the cricketers with a sum of Rs 7,000 to 4,000. However, with no matches happening, series getting cancelled and limited funds, it has been tough going for the board and the cricketers.
India were set to play South Africa in March-April but the series had to be postponed due to the pandemic. The postponement hit CABI financially very hard.
"We lost around Rs 10 lakh because of cancellation of the South Africa series. We were very close to getting sponsorships, so sponsors were lost. We lost all the money which we had invested too. We have been paying our staff. So, it has really affected us a lot," CABI president Mahantesh GK said.
In addition to the financial stress, the cricketers' lives, Mahantesh agreed, have been affected psychologically as well.
"COVID has affected us the way it has affected others. A lot of them (players) have lost their jobs, and they don't have any matches to play. They cannot go out and play. So, they are monetarily and psychologically affected. Besides the India vs South Africa series in March- April, we had also planned the cricket conclave that got cancelled. World Blind Cricket had planned AGM in Dubai in the second week of April, which is also postponed. This Corona has affected cricket for the blind in a very big way. Everything came to a standstill," he said.
CABI, which was formed in 2011, has been in constant persuasion from 2012 to get the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)'s recognition so that, during such times, they have funds to help cricketers and support staff.
However, nothing concrete has happened so far in that regard. There have been promises, for sure, but nothing more.
Mahantesh, however, is positive that BCCI, which has been of great help so far in assuring they host matches in India, will take them under their umbrella.
"They said they will consider our request. But sometimes they talk about different challenges. From 2017 to 2019, they were talking about Lodha Committee. I met Sourav Ganguly last November, he was very positive. Hopefully, we will get it soon."
The BCCI recognition will not only help the board get much-needed funds but it will ease their job to get approvals every time, they need a ground or other infrastructure-related help.
Mahantesh is also very hopeful that CABI will get the National Sports Federation status by the time the virus exits.
He said, "Our file is under process. They (sports ministry) asked to submit some documents, which we did. We meet all their criteria. That should happen before corona exits."
Recognition from the government will help our players get paid leaves, they will be eligible for awards, cash prizes from the government. BCCI can help us getting the grounds, hosting matches. They have been very sympathetic but if we become a part of it, it becomes very easy, and reduces our struggle."
The Indian cricket team has proved their mettle in the last 10 years, winning four World Cups - two ODI and two T20 World Cups. However, their players continue to struggle. Captain Ajay said that they have been playing the sport only because they have had some sort of financial support through the job and in the form of match fees. The match fee, too, was introduced only one and a half years back, said Ajay.
Each member of the team gets Rs 3,000 match fee for a match and Rs 500 to 600 for a domestic game. The matches coming to a stop has brought their lives to a virtual standstill.
"I have been talking with my players. Some of them are saying their situation is not good at all. I can also help to an extent. But how much can we do? CABI have been asking for BCCI affiliation, to support blind cricket. If we had funds, we could have done better."
The pandemic may still take some time to leave India, however, it has already derailed the future of blind cricket in the country. Last year, CABI started the first women's national championships and was planning to send the national team to England in 2021. The tour is still on but before that, there are many hassles to deal with.
Ajay concluded by saying that even after the pandemic ends, it won't be easy for players to return as it is not the same for them as any other team.
"Their (Indian cricket team) entire focus will be on the game only after pandemic ends but ours is a different scenario. We have to focus on our family. Take care of financial conditions, focus on our job. However, some of us are still not ready to leave our passion, that is cricket."
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