The Indian cricket team could not win the 2019 World Cup in England. But what it couldn’t do, India’s physically challenged squad achieved.
Exactly a month after the Virat Kohli-led squad returned home empty-handed, skipper Vikrant Keni and his physically handicapped team won the World Disability Series, which was a six-nation T20 tournament hosted by the England Cricket Board in July 2019. Having remained unbeaten through the tournament, India also won the power-packed final against the hosts by 36 runs.
A concept that is new to many cricket fanatics and is still evolving found its place in India when the All India Cricket Association for the Physically Challenged (AICAPC), founded by former India captain, late Mr. Ajit Wadekar, took charge of the team’s management.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) permitted the AICAPC to field an official Indian team for the World Series, but did not provide any funding. Lack of funding is a problem plaguing all branches of mainstream cricket, which was also a reason for the team to have missed out on the second edition of the World Series, but the Indian board is not too heeding towards it. It was only earlier this week that the BCCI acknowledged the team’s efforts in clinching the World Series, and awarded them a cash prize of ₹ 65 lakh.
Who is Anil Joglekar?
One might wonder how the team which isn’t getting support from the world’s richest cricket body entered the World Series. The credit of making the phrase differently-abled a reality with this team goes to Anil Joglekar, a close friend of Wadekar and the managing director of Mumbai based IT firm CS Infocomm Pvt. Ltd, after he funded the needs of the squad.
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“I had known Ajit (Wadekar) for 25-30 years. He was a family friend and we had worked together on other projects too. Practically I wasn’t involved with physically challenged cricket at all because they have an independent association. But when Ajit passed away in 2018, I had attended the condolence meetings with his family everywhere. One of the meetings was in AICAPC and that was when I got to know the challenges of the association, and along with Vinod Deshpande (BCCI official for more than 25 years) decided to take Ajit’s dream forward,” Joglekar told The Federal.
“Luckily, BCCI approved our participation for the World Series and a lot of other professionals too joined us. Mr Sulakshan Kulkarni turned down Mumbai head coach’s job to coach the differently-abled team. And the results were seen. India played so well. We remained unbeaten throughout the tournament,” he added.
Too many cooks spoil the broth
The 2019 tournament was the third international series for physically challenged cricket. India could not participate in the second one due to lack of funds.
The first international series, conducted by International Committee for Red Cross (ICRC) in association with Bangladesh government and Bangladesh Cricket Board which took place in 2015, featured the Indian side. However, even that was made possible with the BCB providing the logistics and the ICRC funding the team.
India managed to participate in the tournament after ICRC took care of the local expenses. But it wasn’t the case during the second edition, hosted by ECB, as India missed out due to lack of financial aid.
“We had approached the BCCI back in 2015 too but there wasn’t any favourable response”, said Deepak Jadhav, the current joint secretary of the AICAPC.
“Around that time a lot of small associations had mushroomed up, claiming to be the representative of India. They would go and play in local clubs in other countries and claim it to be an India against that country game. Even now there are certain associations which do that. So BCCI didn’t want any legal holders. If they helped one association, other associations would also claim for similar rights and benefits,” he added.
For the third edition which India added to their kitty of victories, the ECB communicated with the BCCI directly and asked them to send a team.
Saba Karim, the BCCI General Manager, Cricket Operations, took the initiative and brought all the four primary associations together — the AICAPC and three other associations — which agreed to merge under AICAPC.
“Once a single association was formed, we brought professional selectors on board. We had five ex Ranji players who formed the selection panel. Vinod Deshpande and Anil Joglekar also came on board. Almost 70% of the financial aid was done by Joglekar. All the well-wishers of Wadekar took it upon themselves to make this happen,” recalled Jadhav.
“With all experience people in their respective field coming on board —coach Kulkarni, video analyst Saurabh Walkar and physio Niranjan Pandit — the other associations which were trying to make a business out of the game lost in the process,” he said.
Even as a lot of ungoverned associations still run in the country and the BCCI is unsure on how to approach the multi-association problem, the top cricket body has been conscious to stay away from any legal challenges.
“BCCI has been quite supportive. But it doesn’t want to go through any legal challenges. Somebody from the board should sit down with us and put a structure around this. There should be some qualification to become an association. They should enquire into it. In BCCI, if you want to be a coach you have to have played certain number of international games. Similarly, they need to set qualification criteria for associations. As for us, this time we gave the boys anti-corruption and anti-doping training as well. We do everything a professional association should,” revealed Jadhav.
Meanwhile, Jadhav believes that India doesn’t have the sufficient number of grounds for disabled-friendly cricket and the existing pitches are not disability-friendly. At present, 27 associations work with the AICAPC, which conduct divisional tournaments.
“The BCCI needs to be a little steady on how infrastructure can be provided. We have around 26 to 27 associations that work with us. Mumbai has a very limited number of grounds, so conducting tournaments in the city becomes challenging. Other states too have similar problems as not many sports complexes are disabled friendly,” he said.
Jadhav pointed out that even as a lot is being done to make the concept of disability cricket more familiar to the public, lack of proper infrastructure is a major barrier in the process. “On women’s day we organised a game for physically challenged women’s cricket team. We are also having a selection trial in Hubli for next the international tournament followed by another league in North Zone. So there is a lot happening but we’ll need better infrastructure.”
BCCI could take a leaf from other boards
Interestingly, Jadhav revealed that three proposals were made by the AICAPC to the BCCI regarding the help and push which is needed to make the physically handicapped squad as big as the Men In Blue.
“We’ve been proposing many models to the BCCI. Last time when we went to Bangladesh we proposed three models to the finance committee which included Shashank Manohar and Ratnakar Shetty and showed them the models of how handicapped cricket is managed across various boards but we are yet to find the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
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Among the three models, one is the ECB, which has constituted a separate division and a disability shelf within the board headed by a single entity EN Martin who controls the operations of the physically disabled, blind, and cricket for people with a learning disability.
As for the second model by the Bangladesh Cricket Board, the squad is funded by the Red Cross, the board allows the team to use their name.
“ICRC managed everything. But the challenge in this model is that they are based in Geneva and it’s a project related funding. So BCB right now has a roadblock in front of them. Initially, they were well funded but right now the funding has declined. This model is not too assuring,” explained Jadhav.
Even as the Pakistan and Afghanistan Cricket Board, in the third model have adopted an association that manages the team, it more of an outsourced idea. “They have adopted an association which runs physically challenged cricket. But the board has adopted the team. So whenever there is an international tournament the board supports them. This is a model of outsourcing,” he added.
However, none of the three models have been considered by the BCCI as yet.
India needs a Mashrafe Mortaza
The very first international series for physically challenged cricket, which was held in Bangladesh, saw former captain Mashrafe Mortaza as its mascot. As the face of the tournament, Mortaza actively attended press conferences, made surprise visits to the dressing rooms and also acted in a TVC in which he was seen encouraging physically challenged cricketers.
“If the BCCI can lend us some star players who can be the face of handicapped cricket, it will help. In 2015, sponsors and the media was forthcoming because of Mortaza being the mascot. Hypothetically, if we have someone like Kohli as the face of India’s physically challenged cricket team, there will be an automatic surge of sponsors,” feels Jadhav.
— Mashrafe Bin Mortaza (@MortazaOfficial) September 1, 2015
For the Indian team, it is not just the BCCI that needs to care. From the media to the cricket lovers, everyone needs to contribute.
“Women’s cricket team is now getting visibility. Who would have thought this 10 years ago? Only the BCCI cannot help. This is something towards which every part of society needs to contribute. Of course, the BCCI needs to take a lead but cricket enthusiasts need to pick it up,” concluded Jadhav.