Handicap not a deterrent for them

Handicap not a deterrent for them

Players spend around Rs 30,000 to get wheelchair

Handicap not a deterrent for them
It's a sunny morning at Chaugan Stadium in Jaipur. The bowler moves his wheelchair towards the pitch and the batsman deftly manoeuvres his wheelchair with left hand and aims at the ball  with his bat in right hand. Ten more hands gripping the rims of their wheelchairs, close in.

Suddenly a player stumbles from his wheelchair in a bid to save a boundary. The umpire and other players rush and put him back on the wheelchair. They play with all seriousness. They are no less in passion and commitment to play the game like thousands of cricketers in the country. But they are variously challenged and wheelchair-bound. They play Wheelchair Cricket.

A rare sight for audience to watch the players batting, bowling and fielding in wheelchairs as the ground is filled with the sound of squeaking metal.  Parents and friends are happy to see the intense battle on the ground. The commentator also eggs on the players to give in their best. Every run scored or a good save draws a loud applause. Virtually every one in the ground is totally involved in the game.

Prithvi Singh Choudhary, captain of the Rajasthan team formed by his relentless efforts, is ecstatic: “Since 2009 I am part of the Indian wheelchair cricket team. But it’s like a dream come true,” the 35-year-old added. Prithvi who is the only disabled among five siblings gives the credit to his parents for encouraging him. His father Kishori Lal Singh, a farmer, feels proud of him. He told DH, “Among my children, Prithvi has done outstanding work and made me feel proud in the village.

His determination has brought laurels to him. He has given his best by overcoming his disability.”  Prithvi, who has master's in Hindi, is presently working as an agriculture supervisor and is married to Uma Devi, a para javelin thrower, whom he calls his lucky charm. “After I got married to Uma I found a partner in her as she could understand me better. She being into para sports (javelin) and shot put inspired me a lot,” added Prithvi.

Prithvi, who is afflicted by polio, was not deterred by his serious infectious disease. He has been taking part in sports activities like javelin  throw and cricket. His indomitable spirit helped him to train the team which includes players, mostly polio-affected, from different parts of the state such as Alwar, Bharatpur, Banswara and Phulera. “We are aiming at T20 Asia cup to be held in Nepal in May 2017. It’s my wish that more players from Rajasthan should represent India,” he added.

Considering restrictions in their movements, the game has been slightly modified. Prithvi's coach, Naresh Rathi, explains the curious rules of the game, “Here in  wheelchair cricket, if a ball touches a wheelchair in the front, the batsman is given leg before wicket. Similarly if the ball touches any of the side wheels it's declared a wide ball by the umpire. Also batsman has to be little cautious as his feet should not touch the ground which may result in cancellation of the run scored on that ball. If a bowler's feet touch the ground, then it is declared a no ball. Use of pads and gloves mandatory. Though leather ball is used helmet is not a must.” The umpire can lift a player if he falls while diving.

As they are special players, they face more hurdles while chasing their passion and dreams.  Twenty-four-year-old Rohit Singh, representing the Punjab team, told DH, “The lack of support from the government is a big hindrance. Procuring a sports wheelchair costs around Rs 30,000. Also holding the event  is a challenge as most officials think that wheelchairs will ruin the pitch.”

Experts feel that the sport is a good initiative.  D R Mehta, former chairman of Securities and Exchange Board of India and founder of Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti (BMVSS), the world's largest organisation for the handicapped in terms of free fitment of artificial limbs/calipers,  said, “Since our organisation is associated with specially abled people for last four decades we know that they are committed if they decide to excel in something. The idea was to encourage them. Hence we became part of their sport by providing them material and moral support.”

Mehta ,while comparing the enthusiasm of players with Douglas Bader, the inspirational Second World War pilot who battled Nazi Germany even after losing his legs, said, “Legs or no legs, these cricketers are the most mobile players.”

However, specialists treating differently challenged players say that the game should be chosen considering their capability. Dr M K Mathur, former Director Rehabilitation Centre at SMS Hospital, said, “Many polio-affected people are into discus throw or shot put but playing cricket is a little tricky. But here again it depends on the choice of the player. If a player is good at javelin throw, archery or shooting, he or she can play cricket as well. But the game should be moulded according to him so that his disability does not interfere."

However, the para athletes who have already achieved the recognition are unhappy that the government is not sensitive towards players. Arunima Sinha, first female amputee to climb  Mount Everest and a noted national level volleyball player, said, “If there can be a cricket for visually challenged why not for those who are physically challenged. Disability is in the mind not in the body because if  God makes one of the body parts weak he gives more power to another one. But at the same time the Sports Ministry needs to be sensitive and honour special players and pay them more attention.” Taking a cue from developed nations, Wheelchair Cricket started in India in 2009 and Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Gujarat, Delhi and  Rajasthan have teams.

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