|Manvendra Singh Patwal has been an inspirational leader of India’s blind cricket team, reports NEHA DIXIT
BEHIND THE emergence of cricket for the blind as a recognised sport in India lies a school-level football match played in Dehradun nearly 20 years ago. A 10-year-old boy sustained a head injury during the match that partially deprived him of eyesight. Moved by the tragedy, his elder sister left her B.Ed. degree mid way, and took up a special teachers’ training course for the blind to help her kid brother who was determined to make a mark in sports.
That he went on to become the captain of the Indian cricket team for the blind, and the moving force behind the game in the country, ought to be an inspirational story. But which of our cricketing pundits today would recognise the name Manvendra Singh Patwal?
Patwal, son of a retired forest officer and a housewife, didn’t know of a game called blind cricket until he joined the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped in Dehradun. There, in 1990, his coach ML Mishra encouraged his passion for sports and trained him to play cricket.
Played with a ball that makes a rattling sound and where the bowler shouts “play” before deliveries, blind cricket has re-shaped the paradigm of sports for the visually handicapped across the world. It has also exposed the myopia of the Ministry of Social Welfare and Empowerment which organises a sack race and a threelegged race for the blind every December 3, the International Day of Disabled Persons, suggesting it considers such simplistic games as all the blind are fit for. Says Patwal, “We know our potential is underrated because we are blind. People can’t think beyond charity and sympathy for us. But we are not standard three kids.”
An accomplished right-hand batsman and the wicket-keeper for his team, Patwal first played for India in the first World Cup for the Blind in 1998, where he made his highest score of 156 against Australia. In 2004, he was chosen captain of the Indian team and after that there has been no looking back. A proud Patwal, taking a dig at “Team India”, says, “ We haven’t lost a single match to Australia.” But leading his team has been far more difficult for him than it has been for Dhoni or Kumble. “A training camp is set up just 10-15 days before an international tournament, which is when players from all over the country come together to practise,” he says.
Undeterred by the incessant problems that come their way, the Indian team’s record of victories in international cricket has been outstanding. They defeated England 5-0 in their last tournament and gave stiff competition to better teams like Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Coming up later this year is the fourth World Cup for the Blind, the fourth successive world cup to be held in the subcontinent.
Lack of funds is a problem that perennially ails the game. “If the BCCI can bail out the Sri Lankan cricket board from a financial crunch, why is it subjecting us to such a treatment?” asks Patwal. It’s not just the BCCI that is prejudiced. Patwal works with the Ministry of Social Welfare and Empowerment. According to government rules, any employee playing for the country is entitled to promotions and various allowances, but Patwal has to struggle even to get leaves for a tournament.
A trained mountaineer, Patwal says he plays to win. “When a player plays for his country, he does not think of himself as blind or disabled.”
With the winning average higher than the “Indian” cricket team, he needn’t say more.
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 10, Dated Mar 15, 2008