It’s taken time, but glad women’s blind cricket has begun, says G. K. Mahantesh

Mahantesh, president of the Cricket Association for the Blind in India, throws light on what went behind the scenes to conduct the first-ever Nationals for blind women.

Legendary West Indies cricketer Brian Lara with (l-r) Aarti Dube, Ankitha Singh (Captain), Ayushi and Pooja of Delhi team during the launch of first-ever Samarthan Women's National Cricket Tournament for the Blind in New Delhi.   -  PTI

Blind cricket for men has a long history but blind cricket for women in India received a shot in the arm last week with the first-ever Nationals held here.

Seven State teams took part in a Twenty20 tournament to test their skills. But it had more value to the participants than just cricket.

As eager cricketers from Karnataka and Odisha tussled it out in the final on a cold afternoon at the serene cricket ground at the Siri Fort Sports Complex, G. K. Mahantesh, president, Cricket Association for the Blind in India, discussed women’s blind cricket in a conversation with Sportstar.

Q: This is obviously a domestic tournament, but a lot goes behind the scenes. Can you tell us a bit about it?

A: You're right. Actually, women are most marginalised; women with disability and blindness are further marginalised. Their needs are hardly addressed or thought about. Ever since Samarthanam [Trust for the Disabled] took the responsibility of managing blind cricket in 2010, [we] created a separate entity called CABI - Cricket Association for the Blind in India – [to try to] to revive men's cricket and kind of [look again] at a new required support system.

It has taken definitely some time for us. Though we kept talking about women’s cricket for the blind for the last six-seven years, I'm glad it is happening. It takes a lot of effort. Getting support for this kind of cricket is not easy. Getting sponsorship is not easy. But more than that, most of us in CABI – most or all of us are men.

So we are busy [with] our own requirements, needs, but [it’s] good that we could think about this and CABI in Delhi came forward and took the responsibility and put all this together - organising the grounds, accommodation[, etc.]. And I’m glad seven teams have come. Girls practised very little actually in the last one [or] two [or] three months.

But within such short time, you can see the spirit, the enthusiasm, the excitement they have, the energy they have. They're very strong I think because bearing the Delhi winter and fighting it, the way they are shouting and coordinating - I think it's amazing. So I think it's important for us to address their needs, gender equality; what we talk, I think we have to follow that.

In terms of coaching, infrastructure and selection of players, how did it all come about?

There are seven States participating in this. So, whenever our active State boards are there, our active leader is there; they have taken the responsibility of organising demonstration matches, coaching camps, and then they filtered the players.

They could not conduct a competition, but most of them have organised sanction trials and whoever had that interest and the ability to play, they were picked - best of the players available in their States. I think more players would come in the days to come.

What kind of challenges did you face in the sponsorship for this tournament? It would have been very challenging since there has been no such tournament before.

We didn't know who would support us. We did try with some of the sponsors [who supported] men's cricket. But ONGC came forward and said we will support you guys and you do it.

We also got some kind sponsorship. Some States also managed to get us [funding]. The Australian High Commission, Chennai wing, has given some money to develop blind cricket [for] women in South India.

G. K. Mahantesh, president of the Cricket Association for the Blind in India hopes to make blind cricket for women popular.   -  K. Murali Kumar

 

It is not easy, it's very difficult. I'm sure this tournament will give a boost and more companies and governments will come forward and support this. Lot of us have approached a lot of people, but there is mixed response. Nobody rejected, nobody said we can’t, but they took their own time.

There are 24 States in which blind cricket is being conducted in collaboration with CABI, which are the four States which are left out?

Some of the Northeastern States [aren’t in it] yet. Manipur [and] Tripura are now [in], Assam is not there. Meghalaya, Nagaland, they're not there. Otherwise, most of the States are there.

We are motivating people there also to form a team or form a group. This time we inaugurated our domestic tournament in Agartala, so that it gives a boost to that part of the world.

Talking about women's cricket now, whatever is known about blind cricket is only about the men. What is the history of women’s blind cricket in India?

It's very nascent still, though there are States like Jharkhand and Odisha which have been playing cricket for the last [three]or [four] or [five] years. Delhi has started in the last one or two years, Kerala in the last two years. Karnataka just this year. So it's quite a young history for blind women cricketers.

Talking about men's cricket, there's Nagesh Trophy. Is that the domestic equivalent of this tournament for men?

Not yet actually because Nagesh Trophy is very structured and it’s evolved over a period of time. Earlier we used to hold zonal tournaments and top two teams came for the Nationals. So we kind of [modelled it like the] Ranji Trophy, [in the] Twenty20 [format]. So, this is just the beginning. We have got all the teams here playing. So we'll continue to do this for some more time and then bring them like Nagesh Trophy.

Has there ever been a Test match, in blind cricket?

Not yet, actually. India has not played a Test with any other country yet, but we might actually start that very soon. 

What was the reason behind this format being Twenty20?

[That’s] because the kind of stamina and energy, we felt Twenty20 is more than enough. Some were even talking of reducing it to 15. I said at least 20 [overs] we should give. And the energy levels are low and they are coming and playing for the first time. Most of them are in schools. So we thought Twenty20 is good enough.

All of these cricketers who are coming and participating over here, generally, what do they do for a living? Also, it would be difficult to convince them to spare some time out of their career responsibilities, to come and play. Varied backgrounds for the players?

Yes, most of them come from a challenging background, financially, and a majority are either in college or in high school. Very few are working but I think very few. Some are looking for jobs, and I was told that one girl in Maharashtra works for some company and because of this cricket she had to take leave. She was asked to leave the job. We will have to see what we can do for such people. It's also a new thing for us, we are also going to learn, but the majority are students.

So when they come for cricket what I have learned in men's cricket, their confidence level goes up, their ability to comprehend completely changes in them (sic), the opportunity will open up and they look for opportunities to become enterprising. Hopefully, it'll happen for women also. The way they are shouting, they're cheering the team, looks like they are very committed and getting ready to go for the employment market. And Samarthanam, our parent organisation, always tries to help them provide skill-training, so that they become employable.

Is this going to be a yearly tournament from here or will the frequency of this tournament increase?

Yearly, yes. We at least want to do at least one tournament a year. So that's what the thought is. But we don't know how it evolves and how it moves. So we just want to get a time and see. We might get a good support system, like the cosmetic industry, jewelry industry, [etc.] which are related to women.

  Dugout videos