‘Indian squad that won cricket World Cup travels in unreserved coaches’
They are blind, hail from financially weak backgrounds, lack training facilities and are not recognised by the Indian cricket board, but have more than made up for this with their fighting spirit.
Their valour and confidence saw India's visually impaired cricketers emerging champions after beating Pakistan in the quadrennial 40-overs World Cup in South Africa.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi shaking hands with the team members (Photo: IANS)
"It's a great feeling that we won the ODI World Cup for the first time. Prior to this, we lost in the finals of the first event in 1998 as well as in the 2006 tournament.
“So, the victory at the first T20 World Cup (in India in 2012) gave us a lot of confidence and motivation to do well in this World Cup. That victory also gave us the confidence that we can win big titles," said coach Patrick Rajkumar.
"We took inspiration from Mahendra Singh Dhoni. It was on the back of our minds that he did that and we can also do it. But it's also a matter of coincidence," he added.
And the victory couldn't have been more memorable and sweeter as it came against arch-rivals Pakistan. Though the coach ruled out the rivalry part, he takes sheer joy in beating a strong team.
"More than the rivalry, it was great that we defeated the two-time defending champions. They are a great team. But we defeated them in the T20 World Cup final and we had the belief that we can overcome the challenges in this final as well," Rajkumar said.
Holders Pakistan had set India a daunting task of chasing 390 runs and, after some initial hiccups, the Indian batsmen chased down the huge total with two balls and five wickets to spare.
Ajay Reddy and Prakasha Jayaramaiah shared an unbeaten 133-run partnership for the sixth wicket to change the course of the match that looked like going towards Pakistan till then.
"It was a tough match. We conceded 40 runs extra than expected. Pakistan posted a huge total. It forced us to change our batting order. Prakasha and Ajay are the experienced and basically they are top order batsmen. Because of the big target, we told them to play down and the decision worked for us," Rajkumar said.
The blind team has players of three categories - B1, B2 and B3. While the players belonging to the first category are completely visually impaired, the players belonging to the second and third categories can see up to six and nine metres. (A cricket pitch is a little over 20 metres long.)
Rajkumar and his boys have the same amount of hunger and passion to do well in the sport for the country. But their lives are completely different to the adulation and financial security enjoyed by the likes of Dhoni, Virat Kohli or Suresh Raina.
"First of all, we don't get good grounds to train. The Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) is yet to recognise us. So, we don't get to train in their facilities. This time, we trained at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack," he said.
"Most of the players come from financially-weak families. So, that is a genuine struggle. And when they play for the national team, they don't get anything out of it. They get to live in ordinary hotels. The team travels in unreserved (train) compartments."
Rajkumar also said that he couldn't concentrate on the development of individual players as he doesn't have support staff.
Skipper Shekar Naik however said that the sheer joy of representing the country helps them forget these problems.
"We don't think that we have any weaknesses. The joy of representing the country drives us forward. Once we get on the field, we don't think about these problems," said Naik.
"The BCCI doesn't recongnise us. Also, players don't have jobs to support their families. I earn Rs 12,000 per month in a city like Bengaluru. So, after this triumph, I am hopeful that we will get good jobs so that our lives can be better and we can bring more glory for our nation." - IANS