February 9, 2002

Cricket serves a worthy cause

The applause can be heard, even if not seen. In this lies the fulfillment of their joy. Indeed, cricket for the blind has come a long way since its modest beginnings, and the first World Cup cricket tournament for the blind, held at New Delhi in November 1998, bears testimony to this. Seven nations ­ Australia, England, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and India ­ took part in the successful event.

The tournament was played on a league-cum-knock-out basis, with the top four teams qualifying for the semifinals. Ultimately, South Africa defeated Pakistan in the final, but it was not just South Africa who won. It was a victory for the game of cricket. As for George Abraham, the founding chairman of the Association for Cricket for the Blind in India (ACBI), the organisation of the tournament was a dream fulfilled. Prominent politician and former president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) Madhav Rao Scindia and former Indian captain Sunil Gavaskar, by agreeing to be patrons, gave the tournament a major boost.

Cricket lovers who keenly follow the feats of Sachin Tendulkar and Co. may sometimes wonder how the visually impaired are able to play the game and make a success of it. Sound forms the basis of cricket for the blind. The game is played with a white ball, weighing 90-100 grams, made of hard plastic filled with ball-bearings that rattle when the ball moves. The bowler has to call "ready" to the batsman when he is set to bowl, to which the batsman has to respond by calling out "yes." Then the bowler will call "play" at the point of delivery. Failure to do so will result in a no-ball. The bowling has to be underarm, and the ball must bounce once on either side of the mid-pitch area before it reaches the batting crease. The stumps are made of metal and screwed together to ensure they are aligned, similar to the indoor cricket stumps. The colour of the wickets is generally fluorescent orange or yellow.

Apart from these few rules that are adapted for the blind, all the regulations of ordinary cricket apply to the game. A match is played between two teams of 11 players, comprising a minimum of four totally blind players, three partially blind players, and a maximum of four partially sighted players. The totally blind player is distinguished on the field by a distinctive identification mark, such as a wrist-band or an arm-band of any colour other than white, while the partially blind players are required to wear a red band around their left arm to help identification. A totally blind batsman will have a runner, and a partially blind batsman has the option of a runner.

The visually handicapped are among the millions of cricket-crazy people in India. But they also need an opportunity to play the game and show their worth. Fortunately in India, cricket for the blind has received good media response, as also the required corporate support and backing from institutions that care specifically for the handicapped. Regular tournaments have been conducted by SCORE, a voluntary organization, from 1990 on a national and zonal level. In 1996, the ACBI was established to handle the promotion and administration of cricket for the blind in the country.

George Abraham was the prime mover in the formation of the World Blind Cricket Council. Its governing body is constituted of the seven founding member countries. The first World Conference saw the game being standardised via the formulation of a set of rules to govern future tournaments, and India was accorded the privilege of hosting the first ever World Cup.

The global level that cricket for the blind has reached is an achievement considering its humble beginnings. It was first played among the visually handicapped in Australia in the 1920s, and a decade later, they played the game in England. By the 1950s, Sri Lanka took up the game, and, in India, the game caught on the early 60s. By this time it had already taken competitive form, and the Blind Cricket Carnival and other such tournaments were played on a regular basis in Australia, New Zealand and England.

The visually impaired do not want charity or lip sympathy. They require support and encouragement, and cricket works wonders for them. Recognise their ability and their disability will be forgotten, as cricket for the blind is an obsession with the visually impaired in the country. Cricket is essentially about the spirit of the game, and this prepares them to face challenges in life with the discipline, dedication and drive to fulfill their dreams. By boosting the never-say-die spirit, it builds confidence and equips the blind to cope with life on their own terms. Cricket for the blind is also about physical development; the game does a world of good for the blind by helping to build mobility, boost stamina and impart confidence, reflected in better posture and stronger physique. The game also helps develop leadership qualities, a competitive edge and will power, elements that are the cornerstone of any educational process.