Even as India scripted a victory over New Zealand, MCL catches up with players from both the teams to find out more about their journey and love for cricket
The atmosphere was electric when India CAB took on New Zealand Blindcaps at KIIT University ground recently. As Bhubaneswar played host to a thrilling match of T20 Blind World Cup for the first time, the stadium was packed to capacity. Besides fans of the game, close to 1000 differently-abled children from special schools from all across Odisha were also present at the venue.
Amidst a lot of cheer and applause, the Indian team scripted an emphatic nine-wicket victory over New Zealand. New Zealand won the toss and chose to bat first. They were restricted to a score of 136/6 in 20 overs with Brett Wilson scoring an undefeated half century and Odisha star Jafar Iqbal and Ketal Patel picking up two and one wicket respectively.
In the second innings, Captain Ajay Kumar Reddy of Team India scored a rapid fire 75 of 28 deliveries which included 14 boundaries. And, Odisha boy Sukhram Majhi helped him reach the target with his 56 runs in 25 balls that included 11 boundaries. Majhi also bagged the Man of The Match Award.
While MCL congratulated both the teams, we also caught up with a few players from both the sides to know more about their journey and their association with the game.
Brett Wilson, New Zealand
48-year-old Brett Wilson, who started playing cricket in 1988, is presently the vice president of the New Zealand team. He has played over 70 international matches and has travelled to several countries including Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Australia and London, to play cricket.
Although Brett used to be an all-rounder when he was younger, he eventually groomed himself to become a batsman. “Batting has become my forte today. And, the most memorable match for me was the match between New Zealand and Australia in the first World Cup for the blind. Though our team couldn’t win the match, we finished at fifth position in the tournament,” says Brett.
Brett, who scored 52 not out in the current match against India, further says, “This is my fifth visit to India and first to Odisha. I have really enjoyed playing cricket here.”
Ask him who is his inspiration and he is quick to reply, “I am very inspired by the personality of Chris Gayle. I fell in love with his style of cricket. I like his front foot posture the most.”
On asking how difficult was it to play cricket, being a visually impaired person, he shares, “Yes, it was quite difficult for me to cope with the situation initially. I was introduced to blind cricket at the age of 18. I took it on board, and met some fantastic friends out here. Gradually, I developed the right skills and started to play different levels of cricket. Now, of course, I am used to it and the lack of vision doesn’t affect me anymore.”
Donna McCaskill, New Zealand
37-year-old Donna is the only woman cricketer in the New Zealand blind cricket team. She feels, being a woman it wasn’t easy for her to play the game initially. Donna explains, “As there was no women team, I had to play with the men’s team and that was quite difficult in the beginning as people had objections. But now, it’s a lot easier as all countries I have played with are used to my presence in the team.”
In her 17 years of international career, she has played over 30 matches including four matches in this T20 tournament. She got into the game when she was just 14, and started playing internationally at the age of 20.
She tells us how her family has been very supportive throughout her journey. Interestingly, two of her sons, Marquele McCaskill (18) and Deacan Dunn (15) are also playing along with her in the current tournament. “My dream was to play a World Cup with my sons, and as it has become reality, I am very happy,” she adds with a smile.
So, who is her idol, we ask. “I idolise a lot of people to be honest. It’s kind of hard to name any specific person. Adam Purore, former wicket keeper of New Zealand mainstream cricket is one of them, if it has to be from the field of cricket.”
Donna, who mostly likes to field, hopes to continue enjoying cricket for a couple of more international matches before taking up retirement. “Don’t be afraid to try anything new in life. Don’t let your hesitations hold you back,” this is what she has to convey to the visually impaired young mass.
Thomas Robert Mark Patterson, New Zealand
Back in 1996, Thomas had played cricket for two years, then he lost interest in the game and called it quits. However, two years back, he convinced himself to start playing cricket again. “You see cricket is a team sport and so everybody gets involved easily. Although I had stopped playing cricket, I could not keep myself away from the game” explains Thomas.
According to him, ‘companionship’ is the foremost thing in cricket and team spirit is what is needed to play the game. On being asked about the difficulties he has faced while playing the game, Thomas shares, “In New Zealand, it’s hard to find volunteers for the game. The payment is not every encouraging and it’s also difficult to get volunteers from outside since New Zealand is geographically almost isolated. It’s far away from most countries.”
What about other challenges, we ask and the 36-year-old batsman quickly replies with a smile, “I find Indian bowlers hard to face.”
Thomas has played two international matches so far, the one with Indian team in Bhubaneswar being his second one. He has, however, been playing provincial cricket matches and other local matches organised by several cricket clubs. The count would be around 40, says Thomas, who had never been into any sports activities before taking up cricket.
Thomas believes his most memorable moment was facing the first ball in the current match. He tells us his inspiration and favourite cricketer is Richard Hardlee, who was also a former all-rounder of New Zealand.
This being his first visit to India as well as Odisha, Thomas adds, “I like the place. And I love Indian food, especially traditional ‘butter chicken’. But I haven’t yet got a place where I can taste authentic Odia cuisine. I am very anxious to taste Odia food.”
Deepak Malik, India
Deepak Malik has been ‘cricket crazy’ since childhood. And, had it not been for an unfortunate mishap, Deepak would probably have been playing mainstream cricket today. “I still remember it was the occasion of Diwali in 2004 when suddenly this rocket got burst in my eyes and I became blind,” he says matter-of-factly.
In 2008, when Deepak was in Delhi, he came to know about cricket for blind. Later, in 2011, he got a chance to play the game at school level. Subsequently, he got selected in the national cricket team in 2012 and in the Indian cricket team in 2013. He made his international debut through a Pakistan tour in 2013. Since then, he has been consistently performing for the Indian team.
Deepak says, “I feel proud to have been a part of the team when we won the fourth ODI World Cup and Asia Cup, both against Pakistan. The most memorable match for me was the ODI World Cup final at Cape Town in South Africa in 2014. India had beaten Pakistan to become the champion. My role in the team was that of an all-rounder.”
Having played in over 20 international matches, Deepak proudly says that Sachin Tendulkar is his inspiration and favourite cricketer. He further adds, “I have learnt a lot from him, and I respect him from my heart. He is a legend.”
Talking about his family, he shares, “In Haryana, ‘wrestling’ and ‘kabaddi’ are more popular than ‘cricket’. So my family encouraged me to take up any one of those two sports instead of cricket. But I was determined to play cricket and gradually won several trophies playing regular matches. After seeing my enthusiasm for the game, my family extended their full support to me.”
His message to differently-abled youngsters – “You should make yourself strong. Every human being has certain abilities and disabilities, so you shouldn’t lose hope. God has given a special quality to each individual, but you have to find it within you and nurture it. The path may be far away, but it is always under your feet. You must try to make your country proud.”
Md. Jafar Iqbal, India
Jafar Iqbal is one of the two Odia players, currently playing for the Indian team. Iqbal had started playing cricket from school in 2000 and got selected for Odisha team for the blind in 2003. Later, in 2010, he became the Captain of Odisha team and 2011 was the year when he became the captain of the ‘East Zone India team’. The same year in November, he was selected to play for the Indian team and made his debut during the Pakistan tour. Jafar has been a consistent player in the team since then.
Having taken two wickets for just 19 runs in the current match against New Zealand, Jafar goes on to share memories of earlier victories with us. “In the first T20 World Cup (2012), we had beaten Pakistan at Bangalore. Also, in the ODI World Cup (2014) and Asia Cup (2016), we became champions by defeating Pakistan at Cape Town and Kochi respectively. It was overwhelming for me to be a part of the winning team,” says Jafar, who wishes to win this World Cup and also hopes to play in the coming World Cups.
Jafar, who has played more than 50 international matches so far, says his inspiration is Ketan Bhai Patel, another player in the current team. He adds, “Ketan Bhai has made his presence felt in the entire world. He has been the ‘Man of the Series’ three times. I admire him and have learnt many things from him. I like his attitude because he hasn’t ever boasted about himself despite being a brilliant player.”
Jafar also feels obliged to his Odisha team coach, Chandrasekhar Patnaik, who had put in a lot of efforts to help Odia cricketers play for India, and Sannyas Kumar Behara, Secretary, Cricket Association for the Visually Impaired (CAVI), Odisha, who he believes has given him the platform and opportunity to go ahead and play for the country.
Jafar, who was born completely blind, is an all-rounder and admires M S Dhoni as his favourite cricketer. Talking about his family, Jafar, who feels they have been very supportive throughout his journey, says, “There has been a social taboo related to people with disabilities. The society is concerned about how a blind child would study and establish himself as a successful human being. My parents were apprehensive at the beginning but now they give my example to everyone and ask people never to question one’s abilities. They are proud of me because they know I have made my nation proud.”