On September 3, the schedule for the Indian blind cricket’s domestic tournament Nagesh Trophy and international matches will be out. Former Indian team captain Mohamed Jafar Iqbal is looking forward to the announcement, but he is not excited about it. The 2018 T20 World Cup winner is instead focused on his weekend practice at the BJB college ground in Bhubaneswar. Iqbal, who works as a procurement officer for the Odisha State Civil Supplies Corporation, feels it’s not possible to be a professional cricketer.
“We get to play 5-6 international matches along with the Nagesh Trophy which counts for around three months of a normal year. That’s not enough matches if you want to be a professional cricketer,” he says.
The pandemic has only compounded their woes as their matches against South Africa and Bangladesh were cancelled while the postponed 2020 edition of the Nagesh T20 Trophy was wrapped within a week in Bengaluru in February this year. The second season of women’s national championship, featuring seven state teams, was shelved entirely.
According to Iqbal, there are around 16 men’s team and eight women’s teams comprising 200 players within just Odisha. However, there are no funds to conduct a state-level tournament which often sees blind cricketers quit the sport.
“We get paid Rs 3,000 per international match and Rs 700 for every match in the Nagesh Trophy. The money is spent by the time we return home. When there are no funds for international matches, you cannot expect sponsors for a state-level competition,” says the all-rounder who has played two T20 World Cups and two ODI World Cups.
While their 2018 T20 World Cup triumph has received public attention and prize money, Iqbal says one win is not enough for the sport.
“We got Rs 5 lakh each when we won the T20 World Cup, but it is just one time. May it will be enough for an year or two, that’s all. Currently, there are six international cricketers from Odisha, but only two have jobs,” he says.
Iqbal hopes that blind cricket can also attract expansive media coverage like the ongoing Paralympics.
“If cricket can be played in the Olympics soon, I feel blind cricket can belong at the Paralympics. We are seeing how the Prime Minister and President providing encouragement for the para-athletes. But we do not have recognition from the BCCI or SAI (Sports Authority of India),” he says.
There are multiple roadblocks for the blind cricket to push for a place in the Paralympics. The primary reason being the spending required for such a big tournament.
“CABI was planning to send a team for the Para sports at 2022 Commonwealth Games, but some of the members of the WBBC (World Blind Cricket Council) were not in favour of it,” points out E. John David, the general secretary of Cricket Association For The Blind in India (CABI).
“They had to spend £140 on each player per day, which is close to 14,000 in Indian currency, which is not possible for us,” David reveals.
In order to be able to send a team for major events such as Paralympics, the CABI needs to be a member of the recognition from the Paralympic Committee of India whose funding comes from the Sports Authority of India. However, with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) not being a government body, the CABI have been running in circles for over a decade.
“CABI has written countless letters to every Sports Minister since 2010, but there was no response. Because BCCI is not controlled by the government, we were told to go to the BCCI, who are yet to amend their constitution in order to recognize us,” David said.
The CABI feels ground work has been laid. Following the meetings with BCCI president Sourav Ganguly and secretary Jay Shah in November last year, blind cricket alongside deaf cricket, wheelchair cricket and differently-abled cricket have come together to form DCCI – Differently Abled Cricket Council of India.
“We wanted blind cricket to be a separate thing but for legal reasons, they asked us to come together with other forms of cricket to form a council. We sent for the DCCI to be registered in late March and got the confirmation in April,” David said.
Members of the newly-formed body were invited by the BCCI for the Indian Premier League 2021 opener between Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bengaluru in Chennai, where the BCCI had assured to follow-up on the next steps.
The CABI is optimistic that the move can bring in more money into blind cricket through sponsors.
“We are not asking for funds from the BCCI, because for the past ten years we have been turned away by potential sponsors because we didn’t have recognition from BCCI. Once the BCCI can make it official, it will be a big help for us,” David said.
Since 2019, the Indian blind cricket team has been sponsored by IndusInd Bank for 20 International matches. After the tri-series against Bangladesh and Pakistan in April this year, David hopes that the year’s scheduling can bring some good news for the players and fulfil the commitments made to the sponsors.
“We have CABI’s AGM (Annual General Meeting) this Saturday (August 28) after which we will announce the schedule for this year. The plans are to bring back the women’s national championship and add more international matches to the schedule,” he said.
Image Credits: CABI