The 50-over World Cup, the Asian Championship and the T20 title – the Indian Blind cricket team now hold all three titles at the same time. They achieved this feat after beating Pakistan in the final of the Blind World T20 in Bangalore on February 12.
“The media support has been outstanding and beating Pakistan in the final is special. They are our biggest competitors and in the last 50 months, we’ve beaten them four times in four international championships,” said G K Mahantesh, the general secretary of the Cricket Association of the Blind (CABI) at a felicitation event in Bangalore on Friday (March 10).
The performances have led to rewards and recognition coming their way too. While all the players have received cash prizes from the Government of India and have also met Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister, the Karnataka Government announced that the players from the state who were part of the team would all be given jobs.
“We have huge plans of taking this game to the grass root level, getting more visually impaired players into the game because through cricket we can transform their lives,” said Mahantesh.
There are 24 states that are currently affiliated to CABI, which comes under the World Blind Cricket Council. And there is a thorough process that goes into selecting a team for an international tournament, as John David, the finance director of World Blind Cricket and the general secretary of the Andhra Blind Cricket Board, explained.
“In this Indian team we have players from ten different states. Before the selections also we have different tournaments – state tournaments, zonal tournaments, national tournaments,” said David. “Then we have selection trials where we take the best 56 players. We divide them into four teams with 14 each and then we short list them into 27 players again and then the final seventeen will be declared.”
There is a professionalism with which these players go about their preparation. “Before the main tournament, we also conduct a coaching camp. We had a 25-day coaching camp in Indore,” elaborated David. “It’s a normal routine for them, jogging, warm-up exercises and practice will be there. Mainly we concentrate on fitness. If you’re fit enough, you can play well. The first one week, we concentrate on fitness and then we’ll start the batting, bowling and fielding practice.”
There is also an effort at making players gel into a cohesive unit – since there are three different categories of blindness involved and many come from different parts of India. The three categories of blindness are:
B1 – 100 percent blind.
B2 – Can see up to three metres with clear vision, and beyond that can see objects but cannot identify them.
B3 – Can see up to six metres with clear vision, and beyond that can see objects but cannot identify them.
During the coaching camp, players are organised into pairs where one is partially blind and one is totally blind.
“Arranging the grounds is a big challenge for us,” said David. “The boundaries are also shorter, we have around 50-52 metres in length which is shorter than the regular sized boundaries. The wickets are different as well. We play on metal ones. But now, we are getting a lot of support. For the final (in Bangalore) there were around 30,000 people in the stadium which was overwhelming.
“The team bonding all happens in the coaching camp. For one week, we work to unite them. We also make them work in pairs – the totally blind and partially blind can be paired together, or we pair up someone from North India and one from South India, and they talk amongst themselves. At the end of the day we have a review. If there’s any difficulty we sort it out.”
It may be blind cricket, but some aspects of the game remain the same – such as sledging, though of a much milder variety. Ajay Kumar Reddy, the Indian captain, describes it thus: “Obviously everyone wants to win the trophy, and our commitment is also to win the trophy so we won’t worry about the sledges and all that. We concentrate on our game – our fielding and batting. Sledging for us is when some people are doing time-wasting and then we’ll say, ‘What are you doing, and all that’. They try to distract us.”
Ajay has been a prolific run scorer for the Indian Blind cricket team throughout his career since being first selected in 2010 for the tour of England, where he won two Man of the Match awards.
He considers Shekhar Naik, the former captain of the team, who has recently been nominated for the Padma Shri award, as his greatest source of inspiration. “Shekhar Naik is my inspiration. He has helped me a lot throughout my career in every way possible,” said Ajay.
This year’s tournament saw teams from ten countries take part, and Mahantesh revealed that while rivalries are fierce on the field, the players are good friends off it.
“The camaraderie between the teams is excellent,” said Mahantesh. “All the players, whenever we meet we take tips from each other, we share whatever little knowledge we can. The Pakistan and Indian players are the best of friends off the field. We have a lot of fun when we are together.”