On an autumn morning in 1989, as I stood watching the blind kids playing cricket at the NIVH (National Institute for the Visually Handicapped) Dehradun, several ideas and thoughts flashed through my mind. Some were to do with the kind of projects I could take up to promote the game while others had to do with fond memories of my own romantic engagement with the sport. I had made up my mind. The promotion of cricket for the blind was going to be my first project. I realised that the idea was unique, innovative and had tremendous possibilities.
, I was truly witnessing a phenomenon that was special and spectacular. The cricket was serious. The bowling was accurate . and fast. The batting was skillful and efficient. The fielding was fearless and athletic. I was told that these kids woke up in the morning, played cricket. Went for breakfast. Played cricket. Went for classes. Played cricket. Went for lunch. Played cricket. It was a challenge to get them off the field in the evenings. Even bad light could not dampen their urge to play. Such was their passion and commitment to the game. They were big fans of the Indian team and followed every game whether it was a Test match or a 50 over game. When the Indians were on tour in countries like New Zealand and Australia, these kids would set their alarms for as early as 2.30 a.m. to be able to catch the first delivery of the day.
Historically, radio has been an integral part of the lives of blind people across the World. It has been their primary source of information and entertainment. In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, both international and domestic cricket was extensively covered on radio. Cricket commentators like John Arlot, Brian Johnston of the BBC Test Match Special, Tony Cozier of the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, Iftikhar Ahmad of Radio Pakistan, Jim Maxwell, Alan McGilvray of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Vijay Merchant, Devraj Puri, Anant Setalvad, Sushil Doshi, Jasdev Singh of All India Radio had become household names. They are all legends of cricket broadcasting who not only described the ball by ball action from the middle but also created an aura and romance around the game.
A game of cricket is like a crime thriller. It has its highs and lows, twists and turns,intrigues and thrills, heroes and villains. Each game has a unique plot that ebbs and flows with unpredictable regularity. No one really knows what the next page has to offer. , Often the final outcome is known only when the final page is turned. Radio commentaries have over the years captured these exciting narratives and have transmited the cricket fever across the globe to fans luring them to a life long addiction to the game. This cricket pandemic did not even spare or discriminate against the blind cricket fan. Blind people across the country were seen playing an improvised form of cricket using empty tins and sticks. It is reported that in Australia the blind people were seen playing the adapted form of the game as far back as 1922 even before the great Don Bradman.
My debut as a cricket fan happened in 1968-69 during the Bombay Test match between Graham Dowling’s New Zealand and Tiger Pataudi’s India. Bedi and Prasanna had spun India to a thrilling win. Cricket was the topic of discussion in the bus, at road side tea shops, and amongst friends in the school. Even some of the teachers joined in the cricket chat. Initially, I wondered how a mere game could take up such a lot of discussion time. Without realising I too happily and willingly became a part of the cricket mania.
When Bill Lawrie’s Australians toured India, my entire family was listening to the radio commentary. The game had finally intruded our home too. Each of us had our cricketing favourite. My mother and I were fans of the stylish left handed Ajit Wadekar, my brother took to the young dashing and diminitive Gundappa Vishvanath who made a century on debut. My father said that his favourite was Ashok Mankad the son of the legendary Vinu Mankad. Cricket became an important part of the Abraham household. Every morning when the newspaper arrived, my mother would read out the sports page first. She would read all the cricket related stories. my brother and I would eagerly listen to the various reports and more often than not the reading session would be followed by a quick postmortam and analysis. .
Friends from the colony joined us as we started playing cricket in the vacant plot next to our house. We began exploring and appreciating the various nuances of the sport. A lot of what we heard on cricket commentaries influenced the way we approached our batting and bowling. The early 1970s saw the emergance of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson as the spearhead of a formidable Australian pace quartet that blew away opposition batting line ups. In the season of 1971-72, the Rest of the World XI which boasted of stalwarts like Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Tony Greig, Clive Lloyd, Zaheer Abbas and Sunil Gavaskar was blown away by the raw pace of Dennis Lillee for just 58. Lillee taking 8 for 29 in just 7.1 overs. As a young boy just initiated into the game, I was truly fascinated by fast bowling. India had no genuine fast bolwers. I dreamt of becoming a tare away pace bowler like the Ausie duo. I wanted to terrorise the batsman with my pace and bounce. The objective was simply to send the batsman either to the pavilion or the hospital. I guess I could be forgiven for harbouring such violent thoughts. Iwas just a little kid bitten by the cricket bug.
Of course, to my intense disappointment I had to stop playing cricket after a point given my vision impairment. The game was getting dangerous. However my passion for the game never diminished. I continued to follow and enjoy the sport. I firmly believe God was behind the Dehradun trip. In cricket for the blind he had revealed His plans for me. He was beckoning to the fast bowler in me asking me to get back to the top of my run up. He was giving me an opportunity to make my contribution to cricket on my terms.
God will make a way
Where there seems to be no way
He works in ways we cannot see
He will make a way for me
He will be my guide
Hold me closely to His side
With love and strength for each new day
He will make a way
God will make a way