The 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup is coming up in a week, and, as usual, the media is full of news about astronomical sponsorships for star players, corporate ad spends and more. As our players gear up for the great game, every move they make is being faithfully reported. And read, evidently. However, few know that in the quiet of the distant corners of the country, another national cricket team has recently returned triumphant from a cricket tournament in the UK, having decisively beaten the home team on its own turf. This is the Indian blind cricket team, struggling to just be given a chance to play, in a world that is far removed from the glittering arc lights and the multimillion dollar franchises that Sachin Tendulkar and his ilk are used to.
But how many of us ever think about the blind playing key roles in Indian sport? I won’t say it was on the top of my mind either, until a new film on blind cricket in India, literally opened my eyes. It’s Cricket, No? by Sudhir Aggarwal and Gregory French, follows the dreams, passions and frustrations of an immensely talented blind cricket team on its lonely and unsung journey to become the most heroic national side India has ever produced. As the film progressed, the viewers followed the players as they trained for a series in the UK — a series for which they had no funds and no support whatsoever from the sports ministry or the Board Of Control For Cricket In India. They batted, bowled and fielded on unfamiliar pitches with grace and confidence, outclassing their opponents completely. But even as they won the series without losing a single match, the film showcased some of the sacrifices that many of them had to make just to be able to play cricket.
The team, comprising players from all over India, had no resources, until a Bangalore-based NGO, Samarthanam, came to their aid. The NGO organised money for the England tour, as well as for a training camp. “As we joined the team and filmed them during the training camp before the tour, we were amazed to realise that the players rarely got a chance to practise together!” said Aggarwal. Woefully few national/state-level tournaments, the inexplicable lack of recognition of blind cricket by nodal agencies and inadequate funding made it impossible for the team to do so. As a result, even though most of the players came from middle class and lower-income backgrounds, they had to bear large financial costs to come together to play cricket.
Yet, play they did. “Watching these guys on the field has been one of the most positive experiences I’ve had,” said Aggarwal, “because they’d overcome such great odds to reach here.” The game itself, played with an audio cricket ball filled with iron pellets (developed at the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped, Dehradun) was fascinating. As I watched a blind bowler bowling unerringly at the wicket, being swept across the field by the batsman, and the ball fielded by a fielder who dived for it, I couldn’t help but marvel. In the film, one of the players said his neighbours used to pity his blindness until they watched him on the field and get gold medals. Now they admire him for all that he’s achieved.
As a spectator sport, blind cricket could go a long way in helping the visually impaired integrate with people like us. What also emerged clearly in the players’ testimonies was that they didn’t want or even appreciate charity — all they wanted was the opportunity to play for the country, honour and pride… After all, as the movie title suggests, the game they’re so passionate about is also cricket, no?