Interview

Volume 3 Issue 10 - May 15, 2005

“The blind community has no borders and no discrimination”

Picture of the captains of the Indian and Pakistani blind cricket teamsDuring the recent Petrocup Indo-Pak blind cricket series held from 28 April to 5 May 2005, Anand Taneja met the captains of both teams, Manavendra Singh Patwal (India) and Saiyad Sultan Shah (Pakistan), who shared their views on the game as well as their experiences.

A chat with Manavendra Singh Patwal, Captain of India’s Blind Cricket team

Where are you from?

I hail from Uttaranchal but I stay in Delhi. I have been playing cricket since childhood. I played my first national level match in 1990, at the age of 11, in the Tata Shield/Steel Challenge Cup. From then I have been playing regularly. I played in the 1998 World Cup for the Blind as the wicket keeper, and in the 2002 World Cup. I was the captain for the 2004 tour of Pakistan as well.

How have your experiences of India Pakistan encounters been?

We have played each other 12 times since 1998. Before this series they had won seven matches and we had won two. But now we are on the verge of winning this series 4-0, so the odds are more even now. It is the first time we have won a series since international cricket for the blind started in 1998. Our first series win in seven years of international blind cricket. I feel very fortunate to be the captain when we taste such sweet victory over the world champions.
[Editor’s note: India has since clinched the series 4-0.]

You have won a series against the visiting Pakistani team while the mainstream Indian team has just lost to the visiting Pakistanis. How does that feel?

Well, you could say, we are just trying to salve the wounds of that loss (laughs).

You must be following the game the mainstream team plays. How does that affect your game?

You cannot be a cricketer and not follow cricket! Of course, the style of our game is slightly different, with underarm bowling, but the techniques are just the same. The thinking, the strategy in the two games has to be just the same. And you develop the thinking by following all forms of the game. The current ball we are playing with also makes it a lot more like the mainstream game. This ball is definitely India’s gift to blind cricket. We have played with other balls but it does not feel like cricket. There is the Australian electronic ball. Then there is the big ball like a football, but no one could ever hit it out of the ground! This ball has everything. It has sound, it has speed, and it has swing and bounce.

I have noticed that fielders throw the ball at the stumps really accurately. Do the players practise a lot?

We train a lot in the training camps. And you become an experienced player, though this team is very young. There are only two or three players from the 1998 team. We have much younger, newer players.

Picture of one of the cricket matches in progressHow has the nature of the game shifted from then to now?

There has been a shift in the training. Earlier the focus was on technique and play. Now we have a new coach, Uday Gupte. He concentrates on players’ needs and on fitness. He says if you are fit, the technique will follow. And now we have a much younger, fitter side, so there is a lot of enthusiasm.

That seems parallel to what is happening with the mainstream cricket team. What is your opinion?

Mainstream cricket is far more professional than this. Blind cricket is about having fun, about the playing spirit, and about spreading awareness. But still, we have people like Rajinder Verma, whom we call the ‘Blind Sachin’. It is not about the technique, because you obviously cannot copy anybody’s technique. But it is about the character you bring to the field.

Do you have any favourites in the Indian team?

I really admire Rahul Dravid.

Because he is a wicket-keeper batsman like you?

Yes, and also because he bats with a great deal of concentration, for the sake of the team.

When you say blind cricket is not professional, what do you mean?

It means we are all playing in our free time and we cannot support ourselves playing cricket. The Pakistani Blind Cricket Team is affiliated with the Pakistan Cricket Board and the players get some support from them. It is a similar case in Australia. But the A.C.B.I. [Association for Cricket for Blind in India] in India is not affiliated with the B.C.C.I. [Board of Control for Cricket in India]. The A.C.B.I. gets some corporate support, but it is difficult without institutional support. I work with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment as a stenographer, and it is a struggle for me to get leave for matches. And we need to get involved with the B.C.C.I. and get a higher profile. You know, even in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, people had the image of a blind person as someone with a big tapping stick, wandering around in dark glasses and [clad in] a kurta.

So it is only after I joined, and my colleagues learned about me and my cricket that their attitude changed. And though they try to help me a lot, it is still difficult to get leave to play matches because the A.C.B.I. is not yet recognised by the Sports Ministry. For inter-ministry matches, ‘normal’ players can take Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 worth of kit and benefits, but I cannot take anything because they would be breaking the rules by giving me equipment, as the A.C.B.I. is not on the list. But there has been talk during these matches of the I.C.C. giving affiliation to the World Blind Cricket Association, so we are really hopeful. This will certainly raise the profile of the game, and there will be institutional backing in India also.

How did it feel to travel to Pakistan last year?

Oh it was fabulous, 15 or 16 days of wonderful hospitality and excellent grounds. Of course, we went at a time of security concerns. This was February and the mainstream Indian team was apprehensive about going to Pakistan, but we went ahead and were positive, and when you do something as positive as that, it cannot go wrong. The mainstream team followed us a month later, but we were the leaders. I have connections with the Pakistani players since 1998. We meet on tours and I am in touch with them over email otherwise. And during this tour, we met and chatted in the hotel rooms after the game. It is wonderful.

It must be tough for you being a wicketkeeper-batsman and the captain!

In fact it is not. I am B2 [a degree of blindness], so if I stand at fine leg, I cannot see mid-off. So if I stand on one side of the field, the other side is effectively absent. But as a wicketkeeper I am equidistant from everyone, so I can control the field better. Also since I am right behind the batsman, I have a better idea of what the bowlers are doing, and I can give them advice as well. As a wicketkeeper and a captain you have to keep your cool, and concentrate on all six balls in the over. In other fielding positions you do not have to concentrate on every ball.

What is your favourite moment in your cricketing career?

In the 1998 World Cup during an India-Australia match, we were 5 wickets down for only about 55 or 60 runs. Ram Karan Sharma and I then came together for a sixth wicket partnership in which we both made centuries. He made 108 and I made 104. We won that match and I was a hero. To come in like that in a difficult situation and then to give a performance which helps the team win -- that is unforgettable!


Picture of a Pakistani blind cricketer signing an autograph for a young fanA chat with Saiyad Sultan Shah, Captain of Pakistan’s Blind Cricket team

Where are you from and for how long have you been playing International Cricket?

I am originally from a village near Abbotabad called Chandomhera but I live in Islamabad now, where I am a teacher in a blind school. I captained the team in the 1998 World Cup and in the 2000 South Africa series. I have played 25 one-day internationals. Today is my last match, after which I retire. I am secretary of the Islamabad Cricket Association for the Blind, and from now on I am going to concentrate solely on promoting the game in Pakistan. I am making way for younger players. And I have a dream of financing.

How does it feel to be playing your last match in India?

I am slightly sad that I could not win my last series for Pakistan. But we did try our best.

When did you start playing cricket?

I started playing cricket in 1982, when I was 12 years old. I had been admitted in blind school and the seniors there used to play cricket. I also wanted to, but initially they would not let me play. They said I was just a kid and would get hurt. At that time we used to play the game with an iron ball. But I was really insistent and I convinced one of the seniors, a friend of mine, to let me play. We used to play on cement wickets those days, really fast, and everyone used to wear blindfolds, so there would be no differentiation between B1, B2 and B3.We played that form of the game till 1994 or 1995. when the present form of the game came up. We immediately took to this new form of the game with the new ball. We were the runners-up in the 1998 World Cup.

Last year the Pakistani mainstream team lost to the visiting Indians, whereas you won. How did that feel?

They lost at home, we won at home. After that the public supported us more, told them that we were better, but yes we felt bad that they lost. As a patriot you feel bad whenever your country loses.

Do you follow the mainstream cricket team and their games? How does that affect your game?

Of course we follow the game. And we listen to the techniques and skills which the commentators manage to convey. But following mainstream cricket definitely benefits the B2, B3 players.

Apart from the matches, how has this tour been?

Apart from the matches it has been a very good tour. People have taken good care of us, been very hospitable. We have had good facilities. The grounds have been slightly below international standards, but there is also positive thinking beyond that. We have been playing in school and college grounds, but that is because they wanted more students and young people to come and watch the matches. In Pakistan, however, blind cricket matches are played at international venues like the Gaddafi stadium.

Has blind cricket helped in raising the status of blind people in Pakistan?

Without a doubt. Blind cricket has done more for the cause of blind people in the last few years than what the government and its expenditure had done in the 50 years before that. You must remember that this is the first series we have lost. Before this we had won the World Cup. We are the world champions and that made people in Pakistan sit up and take notice. They realised that blind people could be sportsmen, be well educated and have jobs. And that we are not dependent on anybody. Before this, the general attitude was that a blind person would be associated with religion, that he would memorise the Quran, or become a mendicant. Now people think differently of us. And I constantly tell my team mates – tell people about your achievements, not about the problems you face. Then they give you respect.

So is blind cricket more popular in Pakistan? Do more people come to watch than in India?

Yes, a lot more people than this come even in the big stadiums. For the last series with India, there were lots of people in Rawalpindi and Lahore, but strangely less people in Karachi. But Shiekhupura was amazing. There were so many spectators, and they were making so much noise that we could not hear the ball!

Do you think this is going to improve ties between the two countries?

The ties are already improving politically, but let me just say that the blind community has no borders and no sense of discrimination, whether it be people from Australia, Pakistan or India. And blind cricket just makes that clearer.

What is your favourite memory from your cricketing career?

My favourite memory is the test match we played against South Africa in November 2000, the one and only blind cricket test match. We needed to draw the game, so we had to score really fast. So for two or three overs I really started hitting the ball. I would come down the pitch and hit it. I was so confident that the South Africans started complaining – he can see the ball! He is not B1 (totally sightless) but B2! (If a B1, or a totally sightless, player makes a run, it counts as two runs.) I took 3-4 wickets in that match as well, so that is definitely my most favourite memory.

Note: (B1) means a totally blind player; (B2) implies a partially blind player with up to 20% of normal vision; and a (B3) player is a partially sighted player with up to 40% of normal vision.

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