Blind cricket to take off in match-mad Bangladesh

DHAKA (Reuters Life!) - Sporting dark glasses under a beating sun, the group of cricketers in downtown Dhaka look like any other enthusiasts in the cricket-mad city.

Bangladesh wicketkeeper Dhiman Ghosh (L) looks at Shahriar Nafees (R) as he fields a ball played by South Africa's Alviro Petersen during their third one-day international cricket match in Dhaka in this March 14, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Ashikur Rahman

But the young team are not just whacking balls far into the distance, they’re making history as the first blind sportsmen to take up the game in Bangladesh.

“I heard a lot about cricket from friends who are not blind and play cricket and watch it on television,” said Ferdous Hasan, one of more than 30 players attending a two-week training course run by the National Association of Sports for the Persons with Disability (NASPD).

The 16-year-old lost his sight when he was 5 years old after contracting typhoid.

Until the camp, his enjoyment of cricket was limited to listening to running commentaries on the radio and television.

“It pains me when I feel that I would have also played the world’s top game (cricket) had I not been blind,” Hasan said. “But instead of cursing my luck, I decided to join the cricket camp ... I want to make my mark.”

Invented in Melbourne in 1922, blind cricket spread to England, the home of cricket, in the 1940s.

Almost a dozen countries around the world now play the slightly-adapted game, played with a standard bat on a field that is two-thirds the size of a normal wicket.

A special white plastic ball has bells inside it to alert batsmen and fieldsmen on each team, which is made up of four totally blind and seven partially sighted players.

Bowlers shout “play!” just before throwing the ball underarm.

As it flies through the air, bells inside the ball create a ringing sound which the batsmen and fielders track and react to.

“Cricket for the blind is not new, but it is something that our children have never experienced,” said M. A. Baten, the secretary general of NASPD.

“This will help strengthen their self confidence and through cricket they can find a strong bond,” Baten said.

The camp’s 33 participants are all volunteers from a special school for the disabled in Dhaka.

The NASPD hopes the camp will catch the attention of the UK-based World Blind Cricket Council (WBCC), which organizes games in nine member countries -- Australia, England, Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand, India, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Nepal.

While it is early days for the sport in Bangladesh, if it takes off players could take on teams from neighboring India and the reigning blind cricket World Cup title-holders Pakistan; whose Pakistan Blind Cricket Council has run matches since 1997.

South Africa won the first WBCC-organized World Cup in New Delhi in 1988, while Pakistan clinched successive trophies at Chennai in 2002 and in Islamabad in 2006.

Writing by Nizam Ahmed; Editing by Gillian Murdoch