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World Blind Cricket Council Vice President Rajanish Henry, 43, lost his eyesight at the age of six, but that did not stop him from embracing his favourite game. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: If you think seeing is believing, visiting Indian teacher Rajanish Henry will have you rethinking.

The 43 year old, who is 100 per cent visually impaired, is an English teacher at a mainstream government higher secondary school in the Indian state of Kerala. “But I must confess that I learnt much of my English, not in the classrooms, but by listening to cricketing greats like Ian Chappell and Bill Lawry when they delivered match commentaries,” he tells you.

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Such is his passion for cricket that he never let his loss of eyesight at the tender age of six stop him from embracing the game. Having taken part in international tournaments specially designed for the visually impaired, he is now on a field mission to motivate others like him to strike it big.

As Vice-President of the World Blind Cricketing Council (WBCC), a body that administers international blind cricket, a version of cricket that has been adapted for the blind using an auditory ball, bat and modified stumps and bail (see box) - Henry shared his inspiring story with Gulf News.

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What is Blind Cricket?
Blind cricket is a version of cricket developed for blind and partially sighted players. It is governed by the World Blind Cricket Council (WBCC).
Blind cricket was first developed in Melbourne in 1922 by two blind factory workers who improvised the game using a tin can containing rocks.

He was speaking on the sidelines of the just-concluded Friendship Triangular Cricket Series for the Blind between India and Pakistan in Dubai over the weekend. His journey could well be reflective of many cricketers, who are visually impaired in varying degrees.

The Pakistani Blind Cricket team that played in the just-concluded Friendship Triangular Series in Dubai. Image Credit: Supplied
Team Blind Cricket India at the Friendship Triangular Series tournament in Dubai. Image Credit: Supplied

‘When my whole world went blank’

Henry narrates how he was a diehard cricket fan even when he was a toddler. “My uncles were cricket players and I would spend most of my time with the bat and ball. But as luck would have it, my vision gradually began to blur and by the time I was six, I could not see anything. My whole world went blank,” he recalls.

It was not easy for him to come to terms with the harsh reality. “Everything changed for me – my school, my friends, my entire life. Wherever my parents and I went, my blindness would be the subject of discussion. So much so that we stopped visiting even the local church,” he says.

Rajanish Henry as a young boy. He lost his eyesight at the age of six. Image Credit: Supplied

The days were dark, the nights darker. But if there was one thing that could still lift Henry’s spirits, it was cricket.

“I could no longer watch matches, but I would invariably sit by the television and keenly follow the game by listening to the commentary. I would also find myself trying to play with the bat and ball and in the new blind school environment that I was in, we started making adjustments in the game to suit our requirements. It kept me going and I soon learnt not only to cope with my condition, but also express myself with confidence,” he says.

It was the same story with other visually impaired friends with whom he played. And to their delight, they discovered there was a whole tribe of blind youth elsewhere in India and abroad who shared their passion for cricket. The more they researched, the more they realised their untapped potential.

How is Blind Cricket played?
Like regular 20-overs cricket, blind cricket too is played over 20 overs and there are 11 players in each team: At least four players who are totally blind (B1 category), three partially blind players (B2 – up to 2 metres clear vision), and up to four partially sighted players (B3 – up to 6 metres clear vision).
The ball used is larger than a regular cricket ball, large enough for partially sighted players to see it. It is also filled with ball bearings to provide sound cues to the blind players. The wicket is larger and made of metal tubes, enabling blind players to touch it and orient themselves accordingly. It is also painted in fluorescent colours, so that partially sighted players can see it.
Umpires and players freely use verbal cue. It is only after the bowler shouts ‘Play!’ that he can bowl. The ball pitches at least twice when delivered to a completely blind batsman (once when bowled to a partially sighted batsman), but will not roll. Completely blind batsmen cannot be stumped out, and must be found to be LBW twice before going out. Similarly, 100 per cent blind fielders can take a catch on the bounce.

“When we got a chance, we visited the grounds where regular matches were being played. We even got to meet star professional cricketers from different teams. Talking to the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting and Ajay Jadeja in the dressing room was like a dream come true for us. It motivated us to organise ourselves too and take our game to the next level,” says Henry.

Having played various blind cricket tournaments, he then upped his game to organising matches, which in due course, earned him a place in WBCC.

Rajanish with his wife and daughter in native Kerala, India. Image Credit: Supplied

“There has, literally, been no looking back for me since,” adds Henry, who is also a proud father to Foncy, a one-and-a-half-year-old girl.

Cricket for the Blind in the UAE

According to E.K. Radhakrishnan Nambiar, a Dubai-based businessman and chairman of Triangular Cricket for the Blind in the UAE, the just-concluded friendship tournament is the second year of blind cricket being played in Dubai. The friendly tournament was played between India and Pakistan between February 22 and 25 at the ICC Cricket Academy Grounds in Dubai Sports City, with India lifting the trophy.

Rajanish Henry with E.K. Radhakrishnan Nambiar in Dubai. Image Credit: Supplied

“At the launch of the tournament, the attendees were given a black band and invited to try at their hand at cricket with their eyes covered. It was a symbolic gesture, but one that brought tears to some in the gathering, including myself. What these players have achieved in spite of their condition is indeed remarkable,” he says, adding that he hopes to create a Cricket for the Blind team for the UAE some day.

In a post on social media, Indian cricketer Robin Uthappa said, “I was truly humbled by the experience. I witnessed a disability being turned into a superpower by the power of passion and pure determination.”