India’s visually-impaired team with their spoils © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
India against Pakistan, in the final of the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup. No, we’re not talking Johannesburg 2007, but Bangalore 2012. This time, it was the inaugural T20 World Cup for the Blind, which India took by 29 runs.
The 12-day tournament, comprising nine teams, signed-off with much fanfare. There was India’s national broadcaster, Doordarshan, on hand to telecast the match. There were cheerleaders and the customary T20 bugle call being blasted over the PA. There were radio jockeys with boundary-side updates, and there were local actors to add a dash of glamour and get the crowd going. And, most vitally, there was a crowd to get going. A crowd that numbered around 4000.
“I don’t think I’ll ever experience anything like this in my life again,” South Africa’s visually-impaired cricket team captain, Desigan Pillay, said, as the spectators launched into a chant. His team-mate, Hendrik Christiaan, backed him up: “Back home, your wife thinks you’re great. And, probably, your mum. But to see so many people here, creating such an atmosphere, it’s very encouraging.”
Batting first on ground with a patchy outfield, India got to 258 for 8 – not a very intimidating total by blind cricket standards. At one point though, it looked like they might get much less. Enter Ketanbhai Patel, one of the four fully blind or B1 players in the XI (among the partially-sighted players, four are B2s – players who can see up to three metres – and the remaining three are B3s or those who can see up to six metres). As per the rules, B1 players have their scores doubled and so, when they click, they can make a huge difference for their team. Today, Ketanbhai clicked. He scored 98 off 43 balls, caught and bowled two short of a rare B1 century.
Pakistan came into the final unbeaten, and are the only team to make it to the finals of all four global blind cricket tournaments to date – this one, and the three 40-overs World Cups before this. They won two of those titles, the most recent being a victory over India in Islamabad in 2006. This time round, though, the very vocal home crowd wasn’t behind them and the pressure seemed to get to Pakistan. They lost wickets in a hurry and the run outs in the innings showed that they were nervous.
By the time the final over began, the game was over and the Indian fans knew it. Most left the shade of the shamiyanas (tents) surrounding the field, and crowded the boundary boards. The moment the final ball was bowled, and the 29-run win official, they spilled on to the field despite the best efforts of the volunteers and the police. Photographers with cameras flashing, schoolchildren draped with flags, physically challenged in wheelchairs … they were all out there. Some sprayed bottled coke on others, while the crackers went off in the background.
Over the next hour, the Indian visually-impaired team was hugged and hoisted on shoulders and raucously celebrated. After the speeches – several of them – mementos were handed out to all the teams by former Sri Lanka captain Arjuna Ranatunga and former India wicketkeeper Syed Kirmani, among others. The star player of the tournament, India batsman Prakash Jairamaiah, was garlanded and India captain Shekhar Naik was handed the trophy. Of course, there were a few well-deserved cheques handed out too.