Cricketers on wheels

When it comes to cricket, Pakistanis are unwilling to accept excuses for a bad game.

Natasha Raheel June 22, 2010

When it comes to cricket, Pakistanis are unwilling to accept excuses for a bad game. And for 110 people from across the country, the fact that they are bound to wheelchairs makes no difference to their desire to play the sport.

When a team of visually impaired cricket players from Pakistan bagged the top spot in an international cricket tournament, these 110 people decided that enough was enough. Teams from Karachi, Mirpurkhas, Mardan, Multan and Punjab decided to get together at the Karachi Parsi Institute (KPI) ground to compete in the Pakistan Wheelchair Cricket Tournament 2010 in May, with more than 1,000 spectators showing up to support the teams.

The team from Karachi won the tournament. “It is the love for the sport that allowed us to win,” said Javed Rais, one of the players on the team and president of the Disabled Welfare Association (DWA), who revealed that all the players in the Karachi team were representatives of the same NGO. The team had been unable to practice before the tournament, Rais claimed, adding that he believed that the team had won through sheer passion for cricket.

“The tournament not only provided us with a platform to be active, but also boosted our confidence,” players from the team told The Express Tribune.

Twenty-four-year-old Abbas Mumtaz, who scored 80 runs and took two wickets for the Karachi team in the final match, is a student of mass communications by day and an employee at the National Logistics Cell by night. He feels that while he has achieved everything else because of his abilities, he got to play cricket only because of his “disability”.

“I am proud of my wheelchair,” said Mumtaz, “I am proud because, without this, I know I would never have been selected for the Karachi cricket team.”

The players felt, however, that their team’s victory was marred by the lack of facilities to play and practice the much-loved sport on a regular basis.

“We neither have a cricket ground to play on, nor good wheelchairs, such as those provided to players who pursue cricket professionally,” said Rais.

He added that most of the cricketing authorities in Karachi refuse to let them play on the cricket grounds as they think that the wheelchairs will ruin the pitch.

“It was with great difficulty that we got the KPI ground for the tournament” he said, adding the team had put together the kit for the tournament, including custom-made wheelchairs, with their own money.

“We constructed our own wheelchairs, copying the design of wheelchairs made for international players, like the ones in Iran,” he said.

Naveed Khan, another player on the team, said that the people of the country also need to rethink their perspective regarding disabled people.

“I go to work like a normal person. I play cricket and enjoy the game like any other Pakistani. Yet, when I take my family out for dinner at a restaurant, I feel embarrassed because four people lift me up with my wheelchair as if it’s a coffin on four shoulders,” said Khan, who believes that disabled people are automatically treated like an amputated part of the society.

Facilities such as ramps and turf grounds, where cricketers on wheelchairs can play, should be provided to cater to people with disabilities, he added.

“Participating in sports means we can also live like normal people,” said Asadullah Khan, captain of the Mardan team.

Khan was the star of the tournament, bagging the “Player of the tournament” award after scoring 131 runs in two innings.

Talking about the importance of support from the government, Khan said that people on wheelchairs had decided to get together for the tournament to prove that they too can play sports and make the Pakistan Cricket Board realise that they should organise a cricket team for disabled people. “While there is already a team for blind people, people with other disabilities should also get to represent Pakistan if they can play well,” he added.

Published in the Express Tribune, June 23rd, 2010.


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