They can do it, too!

After visiting the third talent hunt camp of physically challenged cricket 2017, Muhammad Ibrahim Ibne Towhid writes about the passion and skills of these cricketers which are in no way less than those of cricketers in the national teams

ICRC Talent Hunt Camp 2017

March 8 was an especially lovely day at Chandra of Savar where winter was yet to bid farewell. Some cricketers had lined up with their gears at the cricket field of BKSP (Bangladesh Krira Shikka Protishtan) to prove their latent talent. This is the ground where legends like Akram, Rafiq, Mushfiqur, Shakib and Mashrafi had practiced. These youngsters have similar dreams in their eyes although they are physically challenged.

Despite the hurdles faced by them, these youngsters have come from corners of the country to take part in the third talent hunt camp of physically challenged cricket 2017 organised by International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in collaboration with the ministry of youth and sports, Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) and BKSP.

More than 250 players assembled in the field after pre-registering through SMS. After filling up the final registration form, they were all sent for medical assessment. People with visible physical challenges but sound knowledge of the game were encouraged to attend this camp to show their talents. Players with intellectual disability, visual & hearing impairments, wheelchair users and those with coordination problems were discouraged to attend due to the high risk of re-injuries.

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Medically-approved, the players were divided into two teams, batsmen and bowlers. All of them then went to the adjacent indoor net practice premise where their skills were tested. No matter the physical challenges they faced, most of these individuals had the mettle to be professional cricketers.

There were some who were so thrilled that they took photos of each other in action and also took selfies on their smartphones.

As these players were proving themselves inside the indoor net zone, others were playing in the fields outside. Dressed in sports attire with gears, Md. Ali Zinnah produced quality shots all around the field. Zinnah hails from Pabna and has been playing cricket since his childhood. He has a disability in his right leg.

Zinnah says to New Age Xtra, ‘Many legendary cricketers of the country have come from Pabna and I have watched them play. Children of my age used to climb trees just to get a glimpse of them during their matches. And they inspired me to feel that I can also take part in similar physical activities.’

Zinnah has already played in the third and second division teams where he scored two half-centuries. ‘Cricket is a game of uncertainty and one does not know what fate has to offer,’ he says. ‘But I hope to play at least one national game in my life,’ he adds.

Zinnah is a fan of the Pakistan cricket team and his favourite player is Shahid Afridi. He has studied up to class five and apart from spending hours in the cricket field, he is involved with a rural medical service. His love for cricket has also enabled him to learn English by listening to the commentaries and cricketers that he watches on television or listens to over the radio.

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Some parents were also at hand to wish luck to their young boys. Md Wasim is a bus driver in the Mirpur area. He has brought his elder son to take part in the hunt.

Although Wasim himself is not educated, he sent his son to school who passed SSC. With his little income, he has admitted his son to a cricket academy in Dhanmondi and is also determined to make his younger son a cricketer who is just aged four but already plays the game.

His son Md Rafiqul Islam (18) lost one of his fingers of the left hand during a road accident five years back. Islam says, ‘I took part in the challenge hunt last year but could not qualify to be in the top 20.’

He has still trained hard over the past year and hopes to do better this time around. Islam played the metro cup and under 14 BCB cup by picking up several wickets. The right hand pacer wants to establish himself as a professional cricketer one day.

He says, ‘I do not follow any one’s style but concentrate on my own action with guidance from my coaches. Last year I managed to be in the 22nd position out of 1,200 participants. Although Virat Kohli has some issues, I am one of his biggest fans. I love the style of Taskin and Mashrafee and hope to reach their heights in the near future.’

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Masud Hasan, the chief coach of BKSP, has been on the lookout for new bowlers for the existing physically challenged team. Hasan says, ‘I have found some bowlers who seems to have had practiced with physically fit players. I am selecting bowlers after evaluating their skills and how they can pace or spin the ball in the air.’

‘It is also a challenge to train the challenged players as their diverted action and force needs to be minimised and their deviant action requires pruning,’ he says. ‘Moreover, they are required to develop a cricket sense and become acquainted with the traditional cricket culture,’ adds Hasan.

Rashed Iqbal, the head coach of physically disabled cricket team, looks after the batting style of the enthusiastic players. He says, ‘We see their level and individual skills, at first. The existing team is a good one and BCB is planning to form a separate wing for physically-challenged cricket soon.’ Moniuruzzamam, the assistant coach, adds, ‘A player needs to have the courage to face the ball. We are looking into the movements of the players.’

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The ICRC’s physical rehabilitation project (PRP) helps disabled persons regain their mobility so they can lead a dignified life and play an active role in the society. It is designed to strengthen the rehabilitation services in countries where the ICRC operates.

In Bangladesh, cricket is a recognised torchbearer at national and international level where cricket is mostly played by the able bodied players. In 2013, the ICRC supported the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) with the creation of a cricket team for physically disabled people to play against the Disabled Sporting Society (DSS) of India.

The 5-nation Int’l T20 Cricket Tournament for cricketers with physical disabilities was held in September 2015 in Bangladesh with participating teams from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, England, India and Pakistan. During the tournament, Bangladesh along with other participating teams displayed excellent cricket braving all odds and stigma that was associated with physically challenged players. The English team emerged as a champion while Pakistan team became runners-up and BCB Physically Challenged Cricket Team was third among the five participating teams.

In October 2016, the team played against last year’s champion England and Pakistan in a tournament organised by the International Cricket Council (ICC) Academy in Dubai. The players were scouted through a talent hunt camp held in May 2016.

Gerd Van de Velde, the Physical Rehabilitation Project Manager of ICRC, came to work with Bangladesh on January 2015. The Belgian had never played cricket before starting this campaign of social inclusion here.

He says, ‘This year we want to find more good players. Some who have not been selected last year have practiced and returned this year. They did not give up. We plan to go to Sri Lanka with our team this year and play good cricket.’

Velde continues, ‘Our first job here is physical rehabilitation and providing orthopedic appliances. We want to involve the government and look forward to open a separate wing of BCB with players who have disabilities.’

He explains, ‘There are so many physically disabled people in Bangladesh but with few facilities and services available for them. Cricket can open the eyes of the people and show that more can be done. Many business institutions are now coming to sponsor the team and with more patronisation from the BCB and government, the potential team can go a long way,’ he adds.

Sport can help reduce the stigma and discrimination because it can transform attitude of a community about persons with disabilities by highlighting their skills and aptitudes while also reducing the tendency to see the disability instead of the person. And the new recruits from the talent hunt this year, who will participate in training camps, are sure to make the existing physically challenged team stronger and worthy of taking part in the world championship tournament.