Cricket for the blind, a cracker of an idea. A national passion that could dramatically transform lives, alter perceptions and with global possibilities. I certainly could not be falted for my delight and enthusiasm. On my return home from Dehradun I told my wife and friends that I was going to organise the first ever National cricket tournament for the blind. This pronouncement however was met with scepticism and concern. The very thought of blind people playing cricket seemed unreal and outragious.
My first baby step toward the inaugural National tournament was a one page article titled “Why Cricket” that I wrote and circulated amongst my close friends and relatives. They needed to know. As I embarked on this seemingly ludicrous and disastrous journey, I needed my home team to rally with me. The marketing had to start at home. The article was all about the blind cricketer. It spoke about his passion , skill and ability to play the improvised form of cricket based on the power of hearing. It also spoke about sport as an engaging platform that not only nurtured ability and attitude but also presented the blind cricketer as a positive, active and capable human being. Further the game also potentially offered the blind cricketer the opportunity to travel and participate in competitions at the District, State, National and International levels.
At this point in time, friends with experience in the development sector advised me to setup an organisation. People generally prefered dealing with organisations rather than individuals. They told me that as the head of a registered entity, I would have easier access to Govt.officials, Corporate executives and funding opportunities. I understood that if I wanted to have a long and impactful innings in the sector, setting up of an organisation was necessary. In early 1990, I launched SCORE (Society for Communications & Research). As an erstwhile Advertising professional and a former student of Mathematics, I intended to take up projects that had to do with communications and research. The name seemed appropriate and representative of my proposed work. Besides, SCORE had an obvious and a direct connect with cricket.
Ever since I had decided to work in the domain of life with blindness, I was a frequent visitor to the Blind Relief Association situated next to the Oberoi Hotel, New Delhi. During these visits I spent extensive time with people like Mr Lal Advani who was among the early leaders of the disability movement in the country. Conversations with him were informative and insightful. I spent time with Mr Bansal too who was an O&M (Orientation & Mobility) instructer, also in charge of sports. When I spoke with him about my plans to organise the National Cricket tournament for the blind, he invited me to speak to the coaches and managers of the various participating teams at the National Sports Meet for the blind scheduled for later in the year at the iconic Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium.. He felt that it was a good strategy to make an informal announcement of the planned event and get some reactions to the idea. He was right on both counts. The very mention of a National cricket tournament for the blind generated a buzz around the venue. I also met up with a number of people from different parts of the country representing various organisations working with blind people. I believe that it was a solid start to my cricket campaign.
Tentatively, I scheduled the tournament for the last week of September, 1990. I had 10 full months to plan and execute the project. The time for action had at last arrived. I needed to mobilise the participation, work out the budget, launch the fund raising drive, put together an organising team, plan the logistics and come up with a promotion and marketing strategy. The task was indeed mamoth, seemingly well beyond my capability. I was nervous and aprehensive. I had no experience in event management. Resources were zero. No track record. I was a total nobody, absolutely alone. The few things however going for me included the backing of my wife, my optimism, my passion, and my faith in God.
Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev were the poster boys of Indian cricket at that time. I was keen that the two of them were part of this historic and pioneering cricket event. I wanted them to visit the venues, interact with the players and participate in the various ceremonies. Their association not only would raise the profile of the tournament but also be an inspiration and a source of immense happiness for the participating blind cricketers. Their presence in the grounds during the games would make the experience memorable and special. Additionally, I realised that the mere mention of their names could work like magic both with potential sponsors and media.
I must confess here that I have been a big fan of both Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev. In my book, Gavaskar has been one of India’s finest batsman. It is important to note that he played most of his cricket on uncovered wickets, without a helmet and had scored bulk of his runs against some of the best bowling attacks. His debut series in the West Indies in 1971, his 101 at Old Trafford on a seeming wicket in 1974, his whirl wind knock against New Zealand at Nagpur in the 1987 World Cup and his 96 against Pakistan in 1987 on a spinning track in Bangalore were simply outstanding. . The emergance of Kapil Dev as a World Class fast bowler in 1978 was like a dream come true for me personally. As a youngster growing up in Hubli, Karnataka I often dreamt of being a tare away fast bowler myself. His famous 8 wicket spell at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) in 1981, his 9 wicket haul against the star studded West Indies at Ahmedabad in 1983, the match winning 175 against Zimbabwe during the 1983 World Cup and his 4sixes in an Eddie Hemmings over that averted a follow on against England will remain etched in my memory forever. I now had a valid excuse to connect with my cricketing idols. I decided to meet up with the two legends and explore possibilities of involving them in my cricketing adventure. .