Cricket for the blind can become a means for expression, exposure, and empowerment for the visually impaired population of our country. George Abraham explores the evolving acceptance of this unique sport.
In February 2017, India won the 2nd T-20 World Cup for Cricket for the Blind, beating Pakistan in the finals at Bengaluru. The entire nation celebrated. Cash prizes were announced. The Prime Minister tweeted and invited the team home for tea. Television channels hosted the Indian Blind Cricket team on news programmes and chat and reality shows. Social media was abuzz with videos, photos, posts, and discussions on the triumph.
Now cut back to December 1990, and the inaugural National Cricket Tournament for the Blind. Nearly 400 blind cricketers had come together from across the country to embark on a cricketing journey which many thought was absurd and preposterous. A well-known TV journalist, when approached for coverage, remarked that forcing blind people to play a game like cricket was outrageous, and didn’t quite understand what the organizers were trying to prove.
A veteran cricket administrator said that it was great that the blind kids were being given an opportunity, but why cricket? He felt it was a waste of resources and time.
There were several critics and skeptics who believed that cricket for the blind was not a priority.
For nearly 27 years of domestic cricket, four World Cups, and several bilateral tours, the nation was mostly unaware and clueless about the game of cricket for the blind. It is commonly said that cricket is like a religion in India. Blind cricketers play the game because they are passionate believers of this religion. Visit any school or organisation working for the blind, and the first thing one can notice is the rattle of the blind cricket ball. Such is the passion for the game, yet the nation took real notice of the sport only when India won the World Cup.
The country loves and glorifies its champions, whether it’s Virat Kohli, Sania Mirza, PV Sindhu, or the Indian Blind Cricket team. Winners are honoured and celebrated. Perhaps there is a message here for the millions of Indians living a life with blindness and visual impairment.
Is it time to disrupt traditional mindsets? Can the blind cricketers and their victory inspire and influence attitudes, aspirations, and a basic approach to life despite disability? Can cricket for the blind prove to be a game changer?
Cricket can potentially provide the blind and visually impaired persons an opportunity for three Es, viz. Expression, Empowerment, and Exposure.
Blind people were first introduced to cricket through radio commentary. The action and romance of the game caught the imagination of the average blind person, and they were seen playing an improvised form of the game by rolling empty tins and hitting them with sticks. This, with time, changed to rattling plastic balls, underarm bowling, and regular cricket bats—a clear expression of passion and talent. It was pretty apparent that ability and skill existed. This inherent passion and ability found a means to express itself through the game of Blind Cricket as we see it today.
Further, the playing arena is like a classroom with several learnings. The players learn a number of life skills in terms of teamwork, leadership, planning, coping with varied emotions, the power of concentration, and most importantly, learning to handle defeats and victories.
A former West Indian cricketer, Conrad Hunt, once said that he had discovered the mantra to success in life through his engagement with cricket. Cricket taught him to dream and set goals. He developed the desire to work on those dreams, and then imbibed the discipline, dedication, and determination he needed to fulfill his dreams. He called these the 5 Ds of life—Dream, Desire, Discipline, Dedication, and Determination. Besides, of course, sport demands good mobility, fitness, and athleticism.
Serious sport is a total body, mind, and soul experience—a truly empowering engagement.
Today, people organise tournaments at the national level in different parts of the country. Likewise, different countries participate in World Cups. Players get to travel and interact and compete with players from other parts of the country and the globe. This is an education in itself. The players experience various cultures and lifestyles. These experiences give the players an opportunity to evolve as individuals, in terms of knowledge and appreciation of the diversity that exists in the world.
In India, they say that when a game of cricket is under way, a crowd gathers. Besides, the kind of following cricket has in India, the media tends to cover anything and everything to do with it. The game as a spectacle provides for an image that is very different from the traditional stereotypical perception of blind and visually impaired persons. On the cricket field, we see the players as athletes and performers. In fact, a few years ago, during an India-Pakistan game at the Jamia Milia University ground, I overheard someone saying that the Blind Cricket match was far more intense and engaging as compared to an earlier India vs. England Women’s Cricket match they watched.
The Blind cricket game is as intense, and players display as much energy, as any regular game of cricket. For this reason, cricket for the blind can be a real game changer as far as altering people’s mindsets goes. Through cricket, people can view blind people for what they are capable of achieving. All the nation needs to provide them with is an opportunity, and recognition of their talent and abilities. One can hopefully sing Bob Dylan’s famous lines soon, “For the times, they are a-changing…”
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