The setting – a school playground
Players – eleven, as usual
The game – India’s favourite- cricket
The teams – four- made up of selected cricketers
Till now, the setting seems familiar. It is hereafter that things get a little different. The 11 players are not running around, they are wheeling across the playground. The batsmen and the bowlers are also on a wheelchair. The occasion is the Indian Wheelchair Cricket League (IWCL), being held in a school in Gurgaon, near Delhi.
Every minute of the three-day competition is well fought and the players put their heart and soul into their efforts. After three days of competition, UP Strikers emerge the champions against Delhi Sultans, proudly winning the trophy.
For spectators, wheelchair cricket can be breathtaking at times. It is not unusual to see the batsman hit the ball with only one hand holding the bat. When they need to take the run, the bat has to be left behind since both the hands are trying to power the wheelchair for them to complete a run.
Fielding can be an even more breathtaking sight. When the batsman hits the ball, which is heading towards the boundary and a fielder is looking to cut it off, there may be a gasp or two around the ground. On several occasions, the fielder leaps out of his wheelchair just to make sure he does not give away easy runs to the opponent team. The claps around the ground tell you how the spectators, which include schoolchildren, are enjoying the tough competition.
When UP Strikers finally manage to get a wicket, the entire team gets together in a huddle and lets out a victory shout.
Competition is so intense that no one wants to miss any of the action between the teams. Both the two teams playing are being cheered. If you were to close the eyes, it could be just another closely fought cricket match between two young teams.
The rules are slight different for wheelchair cricket, which started in 2012, with shorter boundaries and no fielding restrictions. A team of school teachers and administrators, along with a specially-abled couple Suvarna and Pradeep, decided to work towards building a league for the wheelchair bound.
“We now have a pool of nearly 200 cricketers across 16 states in India who are playing their cricket on a wheelchair,” Pradeep says, his eyes glued to the match. In between his words, he continues to cheer the good performance of the teams.
In April 2017, an India versus Bangladesh wheelchair cricket series was held. Now Pradeep is dreaming of hosting an Asia Cup to give a bigger platform for wheelchair cricketers. The national cricket body, Board of Control for Cricket in India, does not recognise wheelchair cricket, but Pradeep is hoping someday he will convince the cricket administrators that the champions of wheelchair cricket may have different rules to their game, but share the same intensity of passion for the sport as anyone else.
(Coca-Cola supports the Indian Wheelchair Cricket League)