Cricketers with different abilities yearn for a level playing field

It is around 5 p.m. and A Shanmugam apologizes when this reporter calls him. He’s at work – this time at a wedding where he beats drums for a living. Otherwise, he accompanies his father who plays the seems (kind of drum) at funerals. Cricket is Shanmugam’s first love and knows Sachin Tendulkar’s records like the back of his hand.

Born with his left arm ending just below the elbow, disabled athletes consider him an all-rounder. He can hit a ball for a very long time. With the ball, he is quite lively off the pitch. For the first T20 PhysicalDisabilityWorld CricketSeries held in England in 2019, Shanmugam was among the shortlisted 30 Indian players.

Although his peers think there’s nothing the 29-year-old, who has a teacher training qualification, can’t do on the cricket pitch, the sad fact that he leads a life in the day to day remains.

Cricket for the physically disabled has yet to gain prominence in the country, so finding a job or earning a living from the sport is a distant dream for many players like Shanmugam.

Tamil Nadu Para Cricket Association for Disabled, affiliated with Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan, an autonomous organization under the Ministry of Youth and Sports, and Physically Challenged Cricket Association of India, has gathered many such players under its banner in the hope to showcase their talent.

cricket is life

The team’s coach and manager, M Mukunthan, an athlete with poliomyelitis, is struggling to make ends meet himself. After his cold drink outlet on Marina Beach suffered extensive damage during the rains, Mukunthan devoted himself full-time to building the team.

More than 80 disabled players, aged between 18 and 40, from various districts including Madurai, Vellore, Tirchy and Tiruchengode, have registered with the association. They come from small towns and work as day laborers or are in agriculture. They play athletics, volleyball and other sports, but cricket is their first love.

Training at the nets is a luxury, so they play ravine cricket and their daily routine becomes a training drill.

Giving them a level playing field is not easy.

“We ask able-bodied cricket teams in colleges to play with disabled players and that’s how I select players for tournaments,” says Mukunthan. In every competitive match, at least three players are new faces.

He says there is no shortage of talent, but these players are not getting any help.

Bringing players together in one space is another challenge. “We usually train as a team only one day before the tournament, that’s because we can’t afford the accommodation, food and travel expenses for the players,” says Mukunthan.

A majority of them devote themselves to sport. Shanmugam, for example, jumps on a bus to try his hand at the nets which are 20 km from his small village of Kancheepuram. Anthony, the team captain from Arakkonam, tied a ball to a banyan tree next to his house to practice hitting and shooting.

ravine cricket

As most players juggle work and the love of cricket, it’s not easy to get them to devote a month or two exclusively to training before a tournament.

V Hari commutes daily from Chengalpattu to Chennai where he works with a packaging company. “My boss knows I play competitive cricket, but I get little support. I leave work and there’s no pay, so it’s hard to make ends meet at home,” says Hari, whose the highest high jump record is 175 meters.

P. Victor also shares a similar story. The joy of playing well in a tournament is overshadowed by the fear of losing your job when you return. Victor works as a two-wheeler collection agent in Thiruvallur and has a family of three to support, including two children.

His employer has already warned him that he will have to quit if he often takes time off for cricket. “Last year, I played in three tournaments held in Varanasi, Kolkata and Haryana and it was only in the first that I got permission. The other two were loss of pay,” says Victor who scored 99 points not eliminated in the 2021 HAP Cup organized by BCCI.

The prize money for these tournaments is paltry.

Recently, the team won third place in the Andhra Tanuku South Zone Cricket Tournament, competing with five teams.

“We received ₹7,000 as prize money but the expenses I incurred for buying shirts and travel tickets were way more than that,” says Mukunthan, who won bronze in athletics at the 11th Paralympic Games in Malaysia and is also a medalist on the board. tennis.

As cricketing groups with different abilities combine to form the Differently Abled Cricket Council of India, Mukunthan’s team hopes to play in recognized national and international tournaments.

“We don’t just play for the prize money, but to show that we are in no way less talented than others,” adds Mukunthan.

Chennai School Aid

Recently, the management of the CSI School for the Deaf in Santhome came as a savior for the players of the Tamil Nadu Para Cricket Association for the Disabled, offering them a practice space. It was the Tamil Nadu Disabled People’s Federation who facilitated this process, approaching the management. Thus, 16 players were able to gather a few days before the start of the South Zone cricket tournament in Tanaku in Andhra Pradesh on January 27. The players took the opportunity to train as a unit. Their accommodation and food were also taken care of.

“This is the first time in three years since the establishment of the Association that we have received such help and it has made a huge difference,” says Mr Mukunthan, Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Para Cricket Association for the Disabled and Head of ‘team.

As the players come from different districts, meeting in a common place to practice is a challenge unless someone shows up to offer food and accommodation. “Besides the motivational talks we do through video calls, every player needs to find ways to practice in their city/home,” Mukunthan explains. Pre-game practices are useful for analyzing the players and the new skills everyone has learned as a bowler and batter.

Mukunthan says each of his players has huge potential and will do well with a little hand and support.

“We want individuals or organizations to come forward to pay the travel expenses of these players,” says Mukunthan.

S Karpagam, a member of the Tamil Nadu Federation for Persons with Disabilities, explains that the Federation brings together coaches from various sports to train many players with disabilities. “We have requested permission from the CSI school for these cricketers to use the space whenever they need to practice. In March, we are organizing an event to help these players find jobs,” explains Karpagam, adding that they want other organizations working for people with disabilities to join the Federation.

Mukunthan can be reached on 9841702338 and Karpagam on 9094686187

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