Spurthi Vision Care Society’s Fair Play cricket offered a new hope for visually impaired players
It was a cloudy Sunday when Hyderabad Public School opened its gates at 6 45 am. A sprightly 82-year-old Pushpa Venugopal of Spurthi Vision Care Society walks in enthusiastically. Chirping birds invade the early morning surroundings as volunteers prepare for Fair Play cricket to begin in an hour’s time. A frail-looking Pushpa will not sit back to watch the hustle and bustle of preparations but quietly joins the team. “She is our strength and inspiration; If she can do so much in her age, we can do much more,” says Arut Ramalingam of the Society for 15 years now.
Two teams — players from Telangana Under-19 and Devnar Foundation for the Blind arrive, each sporting a vibrant blue and yellow jersey. A small crowd of 75 consisting of friends, volunteers and relatives get ready to turn into cheerleaders for the players. A breakfast followed by a quick warm-up run, the players are ready to play the game. Unlike a competitive match, Fair Play gives every member a chance to bowl and bat in a 11-over game. The match begins at 9 am and members of Devnar take the ball. A slight rain sets off alarm as volunteers rush to put shamiana for cheerleaders. Players from Telangana Under-19 score 102 and Devnar players score it in 8 overs but continue to play so that their other batsmen also get an over to bat. Amid a huge round of applause, the short match is over by 10:45 am and both teams are declared winners.
One of the players, Ayya Kumar walks in with a swag like his idol Shikar Dhawan. He hit the first four and enjoys all the attention. “My inspiration is Shikar Dhawan. He is a free-spirited player like Virender Sehwag. Even when he is at 99, he doesn’t play cautiously but hits hard,” he observes. M Rahul of Devnar Foundation, an all-rounder keeps calm on ground like his idol MS Dhoni. In fact, bowler Narsing Rao’s idol too is Dhoni and he proudly shows off his jersey number 7 (Dhoni’s jersey number.) It has been more than a decade since Praveen has been playing cricket and loves to be like Yuvraj Singh. Commenting on the ongoing series against New Zealand, he says, Virat Kohli’s captaincy is good. His friend Naini Sandeep Kumer is a medium pacer and has began watching cricket because of Ishant Sharma. “I like his style and long hair and want to grow hair like him.” A IX std student, Sai Vamsi loves watching kabaddi and playing cricket.
After friendly banter and a photo session with Pushpa, the members disperse only to cheer for a fair play chess game organised at the venue. Pushpa, fondly called ‘granny’ by volunteers is relieved at the proceedings. “The clouds looked dark and I was worried it might lead to a heavy downpour. My prayers were answered and I am happy it went on well,” she says and feels energised seeing the younger team of volunteers from a multi-national IT firm. “I am 82 and I don’t know if I will be able to continue to hold this event next year. So many people have been helping me in this cause but I cannot always make others do things for me.”
The Society has been organising events to encourage and create a day of joy for the visually-impaired every year. Arut mentions three categories in visually-impaired playing cricket. “There is total blindness, partially blind and partially-sighted.” In 2007 and 2008, the Society’s cricket tournament had Sridhar, Mahender Vaishnav and S Pushparaj, the three visually-challenged cricketers who also had represented India in series played against Pakistan and South Africa. “Our event was a two-day one with professionals and eight participating teams including the ones from Tirupati and Visakhapatnam. Ours was a platform for visually-challenged who love and play good cricket but get less opportunities.” For the last few years, the Society has been holding multiple events and a mini marathon for visually-challenged, hearing and speech impaired and teenagers with motor disabilities. It was heart-warming to watch even volunteers run along with the participants not to hand-hold and and run but just to make sure they are running in the safe zone.