Wheelchair cricket is an incredible challenge to players, but needs wider support, says Avijit Dutta
Cricket, they say, is a religion in India so it’s hardly surprising that disability of any kind would prove a bar to playing competitive versions of the game. The Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) lavishes great wealth and attention on the sport but sadly has little time for those players of the game who are otherwise abled. Para Cricket, which includes disciplines like Blind Cricket and Wheelchair Cricket, is thus barely known in India.
In Karnataka, wheelchair cricket was launched in 2016 by Divyanng Myithri Sports Academy (DMSA). Formed by a group of para-athletes who represent India in international sporting events including the Paralympics, the aim of the academy is to encourage differently-abled people to take up sports at a young age.
In wheelchair cricket, each team consists of 9 players, of whom 3 are substitutes. Matches consist of two innings of 12 overs each, with each bowler allotted 3 overs. Batsmen must retire on reaching 25 runs but can resume their innings if all the wickets are lost. When a wide is bowled, two runs are added to the total without an extra ball being bowled. The ball used is a compound-rubber ball while the bat is a shorter version of the standard cricket bat.
A year after introducing wheelchair cricket in Karnataka, DMSA in association with the wheelchair associations of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab, hosted a national-level wheelchair cricket tournament on 2 and 3rd February 2018. The south zone matches took place at the Kittur Rani Chennama Sports Stadium in Jayanagar. Host Karnataka with Tamil Nadu participated in the tournament. Teams from Hyderabad and Kerala also wanted to play the tournament says Vijay Manjunath, one of the organizers, but due to cash crunch they could not organise accomodation and other facilities for them
Says Dilip Gowda, a founding member of DMSA, “To conduct the tournament, we required a budget of Rs. 2 lakh but could only manage Rs. 70,000 through crowd funding.” He adds that wheelchair cricket is more famous in north India than in the south and they hoped the tournament would popularize the sport here.
The matches were supposed to be played on a mat pitch with ten overs each but due to lack of funds and time they had to tweak the tournament a bit. Just organising the wheelchairs was a tough ask as the game requires special sports wheelchairs, each costing around Rs. 30,000-40,000. As sports wheelchairs are not available in India, DMSA had to seek assistance from the Association of Differently Abled in the UK to get them.
Manzoor Ahmed, member of the Karnataka wheelchair-cricket team, says, “With the limited resources available we represented Karnataka and played against 12 states. So, imagine if we get support and encouragement from the cricket community, stakeholders and state government. We are pretty confident that we can represent India in one or two years.”
Regular coaching is another obstacle that the players had to face as all of them are not employed and can’t afford coaches to practice regularly. Sandeep Niar who was impressed by the enthusiasm and efforts of the players, decided to coach them for the tournament. He says that he is very proud to be the coach of the Karnataka wheelchair-cricket team as they are giving their 100 percent and learn things very quickly, making his job easier.
DMSA was unable to get a proper stadium to host the matches. Fortunately, an NGO agreed to help them get Rani Chenamma Sports Stadium. But it being a public ground, they could only play matches up to 4 pm each day of the tournament. They were unable to find a single sponsor for the event. Says Manjunath, “We wanted to sponsor a T-shirt and wheelchair for the participating teams but due to the cash crunch we couldn’t”.
In the event, the Karnataka wheelchair-cricket team lost the finals to Uttar Pradesh. But the fact that they were able to conduct the tournament at all in the circumstances is commendable. It’s a pity that there is negligible support and appreciation from the public. With encouragement from the government and the BCCI, these incredible athletes should be encouraged and supported in every possible way not just to represent India in international competitions, but to underscore the great motto of all sport: Never give in.