India's blind cricketers are struggling to get recognition, but is anyone noticing?
Features Saturday, October 25, 2014 - 05:30
Monalisa Das | The News Minute | October 17, 2014 | 06:21 pm IST In a country where cricket, some say, is religion and cricketers gods, Shekar Naik is fairly an unknown name. A cricketer, Shekar has been playing the game professionally for several years now- at zonal, state, national and even international levels. The cricket team has won many a laurels under his captaincy. While MS Dhoni is the captain of the Indian Cricket team, Shekar Naik is the captain of the Indian Blind Cricket (IBC) team, the national blind cricket team of India. IBC team is run and organized by the Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI), which is affiliated to the World Blind Cricket Council. Twenty eight-year-old Shekar was born completely blind. His life has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. A native of Shimoga in Karnataka, Shekar as a kid once slipped and fell into a river and ended up injuring his right eye. Never having underwent a surgery for his blindness before, the accident turned out to be a chance, to get back his vision, in disguise for him. An eye camp in his village sent him to get an eye surgery in Bangalore. Today he can see up to 3 to 4 metres.Â Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“My blindness is hereditary. My mother too was blind, so were all her 6 sisters and their fatherĂ˘â‚¬Âť, said Shekar. Players in the blind cricket team comprise people with different levels of visual impairment. B1 are those who are completely blinds, B2 are those with partial blindness and B3 are those who are partially sighted.Â Shekar is a B2 player. ( Shekar Naik ) Shekar joined school after his surgery. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“I got enrolled in Standard 1 when I was 9-years-oldĂ˘â‚¬Âť, he said. Today he speaks fluent English, Hindi and Kannada.Â It was his PT trainer Suresh in the blind school he later went to, who initially trained and encouraged him to take up sports. Shekar began playing in 1996, and hasnĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t looked back since. He has been part of teams that over the years have won many matches, including the first ever T2O for blind organized by CABI in 2012. From winning Man of the Match, to Man of the Series and even the Best Batsman awards in various matches, these are just a validation of his talents.Â Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“I was very happy when we won the T20 world cup in 2012. I was happy that at that point I was the captain of the teamĂ˘â‚¬Âť, he said. People in his village often used to taunt him calling him blind. His mother then had asked him to not pay heed to what others said and to become a role model for others instead. Shekar often reminiscences about his mother during his wins. After he lost his parents, Shekar moved to Bangalore under the NGO Samarthanam TrustĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s care. ( Team India after winning the T20 World Cup )Â When he is not scoring runs on the field, Shekar also works as the Fundraising Executive and Sports Co-ordinator at Samarthanam, the NGO that also promotes CABI.Â With a wife and a daughter, Shekar seems to be a happy person. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“I had a love marriageĂ˘â‚¬Âť, he said chuckling. However, he knows the nagging reality that the ICB team has to deal with- no BCCI accreditation, very few sponsors, no payments are just a few of them. Making a career out of playing cricket is still a distant dream for them. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“The players from Gujarat work in small beverage packing industries earning around Rs 3000-5000 per month. When they have to travel for matches to other states or abroad, their employers say Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“ab se kaam pe mat aaoĂ˘â‚¬Âť( do not come to work anymore ). How can one sustain like this? Everyone works for a salary and we players too need a regular incomeĂ˘â‚¬Âť, Shekar asserted hinting that many players were quitting the game because of its financial uncertainty. Mohammad Jafar Iqbal, a player in the IBC team echoes ShekarĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s thought. Hailing from Bhubaneshwar in Odisha, Jaffar is also the Captain of the Odisha Blind Cricket Team. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Cricket is my passion, but I neglected the game initially because I knew I had to finish my studiesĂ˘â‚¬Âť, said Jaffar. He took up the game only once he finished his MA. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“I am a state procurement inspector, and I got the job on the basis of merit. No one helped meĂ˘â‚¬Âť, said he. Speaking about how the ICB usually gets no any external support, he said, Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Even today when I go for matches, I do not get paid for those days."Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Department of sports humein Ă˘â‚¬ËśsportspersonsĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ kehne se katrata hai (The Department of Sports hesitates to call us sportspersons.) We are not given a Sports Identity CardĂ˘â‚¬Âť, he added. ( Mohammad Jafar IqbalÂ is a B1 player) Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Pakistan officially recognizes their blind cricket team. Their players are paid regular salaries tooĂ˘â‚¬Âť, said Jaffar comparing it to BCCI and how it is far superior to cricket bodies in Pakistan. Though the players claim that they play the game because they like playing cricket, both know that without sufficient encouragement it will be difficult to sustain the will to play eventually. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Both the IBC team and the Indian National Cricket team play for India, we both win matches for the country, we both host our countryĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s flag, then why this discriminationĂ˘â‚¬Âť, asked Shekar. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“In my 12 years of cricketing career, I havenĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t even got Rs 50,000Ă˘â‚¬Âť, he added.Â Both Shekar and Jafar want to promote the game for the blind at their respective grassroots levels. The IBC team's next match is in November this year, a 1-day World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa for which preparations are expected to begin shortly. (Â Pakistan-India Blind Cricket Series, November 2011, Image Source: CABI Facebook Page ) How differently is cricket played by the Blind Cricket team?Â The players use fibre plastic balls which have metal berries inside the hollow of the balls, that make noise while in motion. It helps players to judge where the ball is. They also use metal wickets. It helps the players in judging whether their bat hit the wicket or the ball, as both sounds created are different, explains Shekar. Mahantesh GK, Vice President, CABI, said that the organization has written to BCCI regarding accreditation but hasn't got any response yet. Â India has around 20,000 blind cricketers. Each team has several teams, with Karnataka alone having 15. With an aim to provide a chance to all those visually impaired in India to play cricket, CABI knows how helpful it will be for them to get Â an official recognition from the BCCI. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“The Government of India and the Government of Karnataka have been supportive. Overall it has fairly been positive. BCCI is yet to recognize us. An accreditation from BCCI will make significant difference to us in terms of overall recognition and also in funding from corporate sponsorsĂ˘â‚¬Âť, said Mahantesh. The Indian Blind Cricket team deserves equal recognition and encouragement as every other sport does, not just because they are blind, but because they are sportspersons first.Â ( The News Minute emailed the BCCI asking for a comment on the issue. They haven't responded yet. )