Beyond another boundary: the Windies at the first T20 Blind Cricket World Cup

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For blind (or visually impaired) cricket lovers in the Caribbean, the idea of representing the West Indies team was for many years just a fantasy, a whimsical daydream they indulged in whenever they listened to matches on the radio.

As for wearing the famous maroon kit in a World Cup for blind players — well, few dared to even imagine such a thing could one day exist. You see, before 2003, blind cricket wasn’t even played in the Caribbean.

The sport offers camaraderie and a chance to compete on equal terms for blind and partially sighted people. It not only boosts the self-confidence of players, but in countries such as England, where it receives the financial support and technical expertise of the England and Wales Cricket Board, batsmen like Hassan Khan are stars — as much as Nasser Hussein, former captain of the main England team, once was. In Pakistan, the national blind cricket team is paid monthly, like professionals.

But in the fourteen years since two England blind players came to Barbados to introduce the West Indies to the game, and encourage them to become part of the global blind cricket community, it has caught on quickly, and a regional tournament now attracts players from across the Caribbean.

By 2005, national teams were formed in Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Windward Islands, and the following year the first regional blind cricket competition was organised. It has since been held annually, except in 2012, when the teams decided to focus their time and resources on taking part in the first T20 blind cricket World Cup in India. They ended up placing fifth.

India will once again be the host country for the second T20 World Cup for the blind, which runs from 28 January to 12 February, 2017. And seventeen (very happy) young men have been selected to “rep” the Windies this time around.

From left: Leroy Phillips, Kevin Douglas and Ganesh Singh are the Guyanese on the West Indies T20 World Cup squad

The tournament, of which former India captain Rahul Dravid is the brand ambassador, will see eight other Test-playing countries taking part — Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, and Sri Lanka — along with Nepal.

Blind cricket was first played in 1922 in Melbourne, Australia, when two factory workers put rocks in a tin can and began to play a crude version of what has evolved into a sport with its own rules and equipment.

The game took hold so quickly and deeply in the state of Victoria that the Victorian Blind Cricket Association was founded the same year. The world’s first sports ground and clubhouse for blind people were built at Kooyong, Melbourne, in 1928, and are still used today as the home of the VBCA.

The game was then introduced to other states in Australia, where it was played during lunchtime at workshops where vision-impaired people were employed. It soon spread across the globe to other cricket-playing countries.

It has been played in England and Wales since the 1940s, when it was started mainly to cater for injured servicemen coming home from the Second World War. The founding members of British Blind Sport (BBS) were cricketers.

All players must be registered as blind or partially sighted. Of the eleven players in the team, at least four must be totally blind. Various rules have been adapted to allow blind and partially sighted people to compete on equal terms — for example, the wicket is larger, so partially sighted players can see it clearly.

The pitch is made of concrete, and measures the same length and width as that used in sighted cricket. The boundaries are measured forty metres in a circle around the pitch, and indicated by a white line with orange “witches’ hats” at intervals.

Bowling is done under-arm, and the ball is made of plastic and filled with metal washers, so that it rattles, giving blind batsmen and fielders a chance to hear it coming at them. The ball must bounce at least twice before the crease of a totally blind batsman, but must not be rolling, and at least once before the crease of a partially sighted batsman. 

A totally blind batsman is given one chance before being given out LBW, and cannot be stumped. The bowler must ask the batsman if he is ready before beginning his run-up, and must shout “play” as he releases the ball. The sweep shot is the most popular stroke, since it maximises the batsman’s chance of hitting the ball.

The game has been governed by the World Blind Cricket Council since 1996. So far, four blind World Cups have been held: the first was in Delhi, India, in 1998; the second in Chennai, India, in 2002; the third in Islamabad, Pakistan, in 2006.

In 2012, the first blind World Cup in the T20 format was held in Bangalore, India. Incidentally, India has won all the formats of the game: the First T20 World Cup in 2012, the ODI World Cup in 2014, and the T20 Asia Cup in January 2016.

The West Indies team first took part in the ODI World Cup in 2006 in Pakistan, where they placed fifth. “Of course we are looking to improve our track record,” says Bhawani Persad, administrator for regional operations of the West Indies Cricket Council for the Blind and Visually Impaired. “We face the same challenges as [sighted] West Indies cricket . . . the small size of our populations is key. England has different teams, they have county cricket, their population is very big, and they have enough teams to have inter-team competitions. We have a regional competition which is held annually.”

Funding remains a perennial problem, and national teams have been known to miss out on the regional tournament because they can’t find corporate sponsors to pay for plane tickets or their kits.

But one achievement for West Indies blind cricket of which Persaud is particularly proud is the participation of the French Antilles. “West Indies’ conventional teams haven’t touched these areas yet, but we have,” he points out. It’s another example of how blind cricket goes beyond a boundary. (Caribbean Beat)

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