In Blind Cricket terminology, there are categories of players. B2 players are partially blind, with visibility up to 3m, while B3 players are partially sighted and can see up to 6m. Moreover, Varsha is a B1 category player, which means among those who are completely sightless.
Karnataka’s Varsha has garnered a lot of appreciation after she took quick wickets against Odisha. Even though Karnataka lost, she was named as one of the players of the series.
It is an achievement worth appreciation by sporting standards, more so as she is visually impaired.
“Varsha is the star of our team,” said Shika Shetty, who is a sports coordinator for the Karnataka blind women’s cricket team that runs under the Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled, headquartered in Bengaluru. “She is a real quick learner, considering her relative lack of experience with the sport,” she added.
Like most of her teammates, Varsha comes from an agrarian family. Her father is a farmer and mother a homemaker from Chitradurga district in Karnataka.
Shetty scouted potential members from schools and colleges across Karnataka and made the team learn in less than a month for Nationals.
She and her teammates who are aged between 16-25, traveled to Delhi by plane for the first time in their lives to play at the national level in December.
“Exams were on at the time and it was difficult for many of the girls, most of whom come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, to travel to Bengaluru for the camp,” said Shetty.
The schools and families were hesitant about sending their girls. It is difficult to be a young woman athlete in rural India and being blind makes it harder.
“Some of the girls who applied to join the team did not know any of the rules of the game—they had never even held a bat before,” Shetty added.
The girls were fast to pick up, though, fuelled by big dreams and undaunted by their handicap. “I was inspired by normal people cricket,” said Kavya N.R. She is a B3 player who is good with the ball, she is also a marathon runner, and has experience of wall-climbing in Kashmir.
“My favorite player is Ajay Reddy (the captain of the national blind men’s team),” she says. “We, too, want to play at the international level, like the boys.”
The Indian blind men’s national team was formed in 2011 by the Cricket Association for the Blind in India (Cabi) and is affiliated to the World Blind Cricket Council (WBCC). Cabi is a subsidiary of Samarthanam, which was co-founded in 1997 by Mahantesh G.K. Mahantesh who lost his vision due to typhoid when he was six months old. He is involved in setting up the rules and regulations that govern the game for the blind.
The blind women’s team came into existence because of his interest and support of donors and stakeholders.
“We have spoken about blind women’s cricket since our first annual general meeting to discuss blind men’s cricket in 2011-12,” Mahantesh said.
The Indian blind men’s team defeated Pakistan in the T20 World Cup in 2012, which led to a sudden spike in interest in blind cricket. “Soon after, when I met girls during school and college visits, they complained we were not doing anything to enable them to play the sport,” he added.
The only problem was that the logistical and financial support was lacking. It was resolved last year when the Australian consulate general in Chennai granted ₹8 lakh.
“It’s hard to get people to appreciate the importance of any sport in India – more so for blind women’s cricket, especially when conversations about mainstream women’s cricket have just begun to get traction in the last few years,” said Kumaraswamy, who handles corporate relations at Samarthanam.
The Australians were eager to promote and donate for the team. The Australian cricket icon and former player Steve Waugh came down to spend time with the girls, for instance. The former West Indies player Brian Lara and Indian national women’s cricket team player, Smriti Mandhana, were also present at the inaugural blind women’s national tournament in Delhi in December.
While some states (like Odisha, which won the tournament) have had a blind women’s cricket team for some years now, for Karnataka it is something new. The team does not have a fixed stadium or a ground where they can meet for regular practice. Funds are limited, which makes traveling to different places difficult.
But, the newly formed team played remarkably well against the aggressive Delhi team in the early rounds in December. They emerged as runners up at the finals.
A series of warm-up matches against Kerala had boosted the morale of the Karnataka girls. But they were unprepared for temperatures dropping to 7-8 degrees Celsius. They struggled to release the ball correctly.
“We ended up bowling far too many wides, though the girls showed excellent coordination as a team,” says Shetty. “As most of them come from a running background, they have excellent physical stamina as well.”
B2 player Sunita Dhondappanavar led the team by devising strategies with Shetty before every match and took quick decisions on the field. Renuka Rajput, a player from Vijayapura skipped her college exams to travel to Delhi. She was an agile keeper with swift movements at the stumps. Though she is sometimes a little forgetful about the elaborate rules of blind cricket.
It was a maiden performance for team Karnataka. They know that they still have a long way to go.
“I urge them not to be quiet but fight for their rights—on the field and off it,” Shetty says. Hopefully, many more stakeholders will step in to cheer these spirited girls along the way.
News Source: Somak Ghoshal for LiveMint
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