Time to cast away the blindfold

While the Twenty20 World Cup for the Blind is replete with stories that bring a tournament such as this alive, for India, it was vital to also get the right result. Having done that, the hope is that the sport will continue to grow with increased support.

Players of the Indian team celebrate with the winner’s cheque after claiming the T20 World Cup for the Blind.   -  G. P. Sampath Kumar

There was an air of inevitability to the climax of the second Twenty20 World Cup for the Blind. India, the defending champion, was taking on Pakistan, traditional rival in more mainstream forms of cricket, at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium. In the league phase of the tournament, Pakistan had beaten India, so the narrative lent itself naturally to themes of revenge and redemption. As though scripted, the dream came true for both the Indian team and those working behind the scenes to make the tournament a reality.

After all, what could be better than India beating Pakistan handsomely in the final? India duly delivered, cantering to a nine-wicket win after Pakistan put 197 for 7 on the board. India had won nine of 10 games in the tournament, losing only to Pakistan. And, to add to the perfect symmetry of the result, it was Pakistan whom India had triumphed over in the inaugural edition of the tournament; recent history repeating itself.

Truth be told, India’s fairytale had begun even before the first ball had been bowled in the tournament. Shekar Naik, hero of India’s previous win, was awarded the Padma Shri on the eve of the 2017 Twenty20 World Cup for the Blind. No blind cricketer had been awarded thus in the past and Naik’s story was already an inspiration.

Born blind in Arekere village of Karnataka’s Shivamogga district, Naik suffered a freak accident as a child, falling on the banks of a river and injuring his head. In the course of the treatment for this, surgeons managed to give Naik partial sight in one eye. Coming from a family in which blindness was hereditary — at least 18 of Naik’s relatives are blind — this was an unexpected, yet obviously welcome, blessing.

“To be the first blind cricketer to receive the Padma Shri is an honour. I can’t thank the authorities enough for choosing me,” says Naik. “But, if I am honest, this award is not important because I have got it. It is significant because it can be a motivation for other young blind cricketers. The timing is especially good for us, because the interest in blind cricket is only going to increase with the Twenty20 World Cup being played at home.”

Truth be told, India’s fairytale had begun even before the first ball had been bowled in the tournament. Shekar Naik (in pic), hero of India’s previous win, was awarded the Padma Shri on the eve of the 2017 Twenty20 World Cup for the Blind. No blind cricketer had been awarded thus in the past and Naik’s story was already an inspiration.   -  Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

 

The view was echoed by G. K. Mahantesh, the man behind ‘Samarthanam’, an organisation that works for the welfare of the disabled, which is the powerhouse behind the Cricket Association for Blind in India (CABI). “The Padma award to Shekar came as the biggest gift, on the eve of the Twenty20 World Cup. It’s a great recognition and we can only thank the government of India and the honourable Prime Minister. To recognise the contribution of India’s former captain, Shekar, who won two World Cups, several bilateral series while himself performing in these events, shows that other agencies may follow the example and give recognition to cricket for the blind,” says Mahantesh. “If the Sports Ministry and the BCCI take a cue from this and give recognition for cricket for the blind, it can only be a good thing. We can then create more Padma Shri and Arjuna awardees in the days to come.”

The importance of recognition from the Board of Control for Cricket in India cannot be overstated, but it could be a while before this becomes a reality. While the work CABI does in raising awareness about the challenges faced by the visually impaired is considerable, it does not yet have the structures in place, the electoral processes and the transparency in funding that would be pre-requisites for official recognition. An army of volunteers and well-wishers make tournaments such as the Twenty20 World Cup for the Blind possible, but a lot of the decision-making and implementation remains ad hoc and personality- rather than process-driven.

It’s worth noting that the only blind cricket association to get full recognition from its apex governing body is Pakistan. Former president Pervez Musharraf took a personal interest in cricket for the blind and made the association a full member of the Pakistan Cricket Board, giving it voting rights and thereby vesting the association with power. In other countries, such as England, funding is made available to the blind team, but the England and Wales Cricket Board has stopped short of giving it voting rights.

Not all teams have it so good, though. Nepal, for example, famously travelled 52 hours by train and bus during the first edition of the Twenty20 World Cup for the Blind, reaching just in time for a match. This time around, CABI stepped in, footing the bill for one-way air travel. While it could have paid for the round trip, it was believed that Nepal would benefit more from having to work to raise the funds for the other half of the travel.

Marquele McCaskill of New Zealand in action against Pakistan in a T20 World Cup for the Blind match at the Siri Fort Sports Complex Ground in New Delhi. With Cricket for the Blind being gender neutral, Marquele, his brother Deacan Dunn and their mother Donna McCaskill all play together in the New Zealand team. “I’ve always wanted to play an international tournament with my boys, but honestly I didn’t think it would happen,” says Donna.   -  Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

 

While the New Zealand team certainly travelled far, it did so in relative comfort. After all, how often do young cricketers have the luxury of travelling with their mother to a tournament? With cricket for the blind being gender neutral, Donna McCaskill has the rare privilege of playing in an international sporting team with her two sons, Deacan Dunn and Marquele McCaskill. “I’ve always wanted to play an international tournament with my boys, but honestly I didn’t think it would happen,” says Donna. “But, things fell into place this time around.” While the boys were happy to have their mum around, who they say constantly pushes them to give their best, they did concede that it can sometimes be “annoying” to “have her around all the time.”

While these are the stories that bring a tournament such as the Twenty20 World Cup for the Blind alive, for India, it was vital to also get the right result. Having done that, the hope is that the sport will continue to grow with increased support.