When Tendulkar helped Indian wheelchair cricket team realise its dream

For Pradeep Raj, more than the money, someone like Tendulkar throwing his weight behind the physically challenged athletes is a big plus.

Sachin Tendulkar how it feels to wear that blue jersey. (File Photo)   -  PTI

Life can be harsh and test someone’s willpower with all its severity. However, if there is perseverance, it can force open the doors also.

Ask Somjeet Singh or squadron leader Abhay Partab Singh. They are the part of an Indian cricket team — the Indian wheelchair cricket team, which successfully completed its first international tour of Bangladesh. It was their dream to wear the national jersey, but they also needed a dream merchant.

Enter Sachin Tendulkar, who knew how it feels to wear that blue jersey. A month back, 36-year-old Pradeep Raj, who is the secretary of the Wheelchair Cricket India (WCI), was trying to raise funds to the tune of ₹6.5 lakh so that the Indian team could travel to Bangladesh for a bilateral series. It was then the idea of writing to Tendulkar crossed his mind.

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“Despite my best efforts, I could only get only one sponsor, who gave ₹2 lakh. I had knocked many doors for our wheelchair team but to no avail. I had Sachin sir’s email address as during my days as a para-athlete (he was a cricketer and then a para TT player), I had e-mailed him. This time also I mailed Sachin sir asking for help,” Raj said during an interaction.

“To my pleasant surprise, his office got in touch with me within three days and in next few days, he donated the outstanding ₹4.5 lakh. Without his help, the Indian Wheelchair cricket team would have had to cancel their trip to Bangladesh. The financial help provided by him went a long way in booking air tickets for the 19-member team,” Raj said.

“Also, from the balance amount, we were able to give each cricketer ₹10,000 as series fees. BJP MP and noted Bhojpuri actor Manoj Tiwari also donated ₹10,000 each to the players. So, for the first time, Indian players got ₹20,000 each for playing a tournament,” Raj said.

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The Indian team beat Bangladesh 2-0 in the three-match series. “The matches were held in Dhaka and the first one was a wash-out due to rain. We won the next two matches. This is the second time that the wheelchair team has played an international series. Last time, we had invited Bangladesh in Delhi,” Raj informed.

For him, more than the money, someone like Tendulkar throwing his weight behind the physically challenged athletes is a big plus.

“We know that association for the visually challenged cricketers have appealed to BCCI for support. We have a committed bunch of cricketers, who have survived biggest of tragedies to come this far. If we get the support of the establishment, it will help all these people have a second shot at the career,” Raj appealed.

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In wheelchair cricket, the matches are held in T20 format. They are trying to use lighter balls (used for women’s cricket). If the wheelchair is used by the batsman to obstruct a delivery, then he is adjudged lbw. The boundaries are at 45 yards.

“In the Indian team, there are different stories. There are players, who have had their legs amputated because of road accidents. We have players, who are paralysed waist down. There are a few who have been affected by polio. They have come from all parts of the country, appeared for trials and got selected. We organised a national tournament in 2017 and champions were rewarded with a cash prize of ₹50,000,” the secretary said.

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