At 9a.m. on the 21st of September, 1996, the late Sri Madhavrao Scindia and I walked into the board room of the YWCA Blue Triangle on Ashok Road, New Delhi for the inaugural session of the first ever International conference on cricket for the blind. 18 eager delegates representing 7 cricket playing countries were seated round the table. This historic meeting was called to discuss and explore the possibilities of creating opportunities for blind people to play International cricket. The agenda included standardisation of the playing rules and equipment, formation of an International body to manage and promote the sport and setting a date for the first ever World Cup.
The two day conference started with a round of introductions. Most of us were meeting each other for the first time. Given the pioneering nature of this conference, I would like to recognise and share the names of each of the delegates. Peter Donavan, Michael Linke, Malcum and Rosemary Penn represented Australia. Antony Hegarty and Philip Carmichael were the delegates from England. Denis Wells, John Puhara and Eru Viniata had come from New Zealand. Alex Jayawardene, Kirti Kumaratunge and Neal Vijayratne formed the delegation from Sri Lanka, John Louw represented South Africa, Aga Shaukat Ali was the lone representative from Pakistan. D Ranganathan, R S Bansal, B K Panchal and yours truly constituted the Indian contingent.
Once the niceties of the inauguration were done and dusted, it was time for serious business. The first item on the agenda was the task of standardising the rules of play and the equipment. As part of our conference homework, we had put together a draft for the International rules of play based on a detailed study of the rules followed in different countries. This draft had been circulated to all the delegations. We discussed the rules clause by clause and made the amendments as we went along. There were several aspects of the game that were discussed in great detail. Once the rules were finalised, the discussions moved onto the equipment. No problems with the bat. There was some discussions round the wickets. Some delegates felt that it should be made of metal while some others suggested that we should consider plastic. The important point however was that the sound made by the ball hitting bat must be distinctly different from the sound made by the ball hitting the wickets. Various points were made for and against metal and plastic and finally the vote was in favour of metal.
Post tea, we began discussions on perhaps the most contentious agenda point, the ball. There were 4 different balls placed on the table. The ball from Australia was oval shaped and was made of cane. This was the ball also played with in New Zealand. The English used a size 3 football. The ball used in Pakistan was made of hard plastic, slightly bigger than the regular cricket ball. The ball used in India and Srilanka was also made of hard plastic and was the same size of the leather ball used in regular cricket. There were passionate presentations and discussions. Each ball was critically analysed. Points were raised for and against.
While making a choice on the ball, there were both cricketing as well as economic factors that had to be taken into consideration. The balls presented from Australia and England were relatively expensive and hence not viable in countries from the subcontinent and South Africa. From a cricketing stand point each of the balls came with their own merits and demerits. We were heading for a stalemate.
If International cricket or a World Cup had to happen, it was critical that we agreed on a ball. It was time for me to intervene. I realised that the focus had shifted. I reminded the gathering that we had come together to make International cricket happen. We need to agree on the ball and move on. For the present, I said that we need to choose a ball that is affordable and easily available to a majority of blind people who play the game. The discussion on the ball should and will continue. and if we decide to work together, we have the opportunity of developing a ball that is universally acceptable. A hush descended on the gathering. John Puhara of New Zealand stood up and proposed that the Indian ball be used as the International ball till the first World Cup happens. The proposal was accepted.
We then voted to establish the World blind Cricket Council(WBCC). I was elected as its Founding Chairman, Peter Donavan of Australia was to be the Vice Chairman. Michael Linke also from Australia was elected as the Treasurer and Neal Vijayratne of Sri Lanka was elected as the Public Relations Officer while Antony Hegarty of England was elected as the General Secretary. Last but not least it was decided that India should host the inaugural World Cup in November 1998.
The two day conference concluded with a Press Conference at the Taj Palace Hotel, New Delhi wherein WBCC was launched and the inaugural cricket World Cup for the blind was announced. September 22, 1996 thus is a significant date in the history of cricket for the blind. The delegates who were part of this two day conference were true visionaries and pioneers. Hats off to each of them.