The gamechangers

Three thousand cricket fans watch as a ball flies well past the boundary line at the National Sports Education Centre, in Savar, about 25 kms away from Dhaka. Batsman Ikhlak Ahmed, who is the acting captain for the Indian team, has come in second in the batting order and is determined to chase the 89-run total that Bangladesh has set on day two of the Twenty-Twenty Indo-Bangla Friendship Cricket series for the persons with disabilities.

Twenty-eight-year-old Ahmed is paralysed at the hip and faces severe pain while walking. But this is a minor technicality for him when it comes to running between the wickets. “Cricket comes first and on the pitch, I let nothing come in my way,” says the passionate sportsman. Ahmed, who lives in Allahabad, played in the general category for years before he found out about the Agra-based Disabled Sporting Society India team in 2004.

“We follow the rules set by the ICC and there is little difference in the way we play,” says the all-rounder, who had quite the reputation as a spin bowler in school. “But it is wonderful to play with people who suffer similar disabilities. We can relate to each other’s problems and are able to give each strength.”

Those on wheelchairs have runners filling in for them, explains coach Haroon Rasheed. “Many on the team also suffer disabilities in their arm. But you should see the boundaries they hit even with the use of just one arm,” he exclaims. With a 75 per cent disability, Tanmay Shrivastav’s story is the most inspiring. “He wears a Jaipur foot in one leg so he can run and bats using his left hand.”

Across the border
The Indian team of 14 disabled players hailing from Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi travelled to Bangladesh last month. Not only did they win the match on day two, but won the three-match series too.

The Indian team greets its Bangladeshi counterparts before the Twenty-Twenty Indo-Bangla Friendship Cricket series for the persons with disabilities

Haroon Rasheed, who took on as coach in 2000, has been trying to arrange international matches for his boys for years. After several attempts to organise matches in Pakistan failed, Rasheed turned to Bangladesh. “It took us two days to get there. We travelled by train to Kolkata and then by bus to Dhaka. Even though we arrived late at night on March 16, the boys were inspired enough to play at 8 am the next morning,” recalls Rasheed, a former district-level player who also trains underprivileged children.

When Rasheed approached the Dhaka-based organisation Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP), founded by Dr Valerie Ann Taylor, they were quick to take up the initiative. “They did not have a team in place. But they managed to set one up a month before our arrival. In my opinion, getting them to create a team for the disabled is a far greater and more long-lasting achievement than our victory,” says the coach. The Bangladeshis, he adds, have agreed to come play in India later this year.

Team spirit
With no government backing, Rasheed has it tough in the financial department. But skipper Atul Shrivastava prefers to look at the brighter side. “When the Indian cricket team first travelled to Britain in the early 1900s, the team had no money. They had to travel by ship — a journey that took months. Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji, after whom the Ranji Trophy is named, had funded that trip. I like to believe that we’re currently sailing in the same boat. While we have to struggle for funds now, we will soon have a cricket board to back us,” exclaims Shrivastava over the phone from Allahabad.

An extremely disappointed Shrivastava couldn’t accompany his team on their first overseas trip because his passport didn’t come in time. Polio killed the use of his legs when he was just three months old, but the disability hasn’t destroyed his spirit for the sport. “I grew up in Bilsanda, Pilibhit. I was often teased in school. Every time our school team was going to play elsewhere, the opposing team would ask ‘langda aa raha hai?’ But I enjoyed it; at least my game intimidated them,” asserts Shrivastava. 

The 40-year-old, who teaches at a primary school in Phoolnagar, a village near Allahabad, manages to practice his game once or twice a week. “Although three other players live in Allahabad, we seldom get the time to get-together. Instead, I play with people who live in the neighbourhood.”

Whenever Rasheed calls the team together, the wheel-chair-bound Shrivastava piles in the other players from Allahabad into his Maruti Van, and drives down to Agra. And if it all goes as Rasheed has planned, Shrivastava will have to get his car out soon. For next on Rasheed’s agenda is a trip to Sri Lanka, where he hopes to organise a friendly series in July. “Sri Lanka doesn’t seem to have a team for the disabled yet either. I am planning a trip there so I can encourage organisations to set up a team,” says Rasheed.

Rasheed’s ultimate goal for Disabled Sporting, however, is to organise an Asia Cup series between Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India. “Pakistan has three disabled teams. We are keen to play with them but political tension between the countries inevitably disrupt our plans,” rues Rasheed.  

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