Tuesday, 23 July, 2024

Nepal’s Blind Women’s Cricket team–the forgotten fraternity


By Shaurya Kshatri
Kathmandu, Aug. 15:They come from different parts of the country - some from Butwal, others from Syangja, and some few from Chitwan while a majority from Pokhara. They are teachers, students, wives and mothers coming from diverse backgrounds, yet somehow united by their unflinching passion for cricket and their impaired vision. It is this group of 15 women that is recognised as the world’s first-ever blind women’s cricket team.
This is the story of how these women came together and conquered, only to be painfully forgotten.

The formation
In July of 2003, Major Pawan Ghimire lost his eyesight. Then, a young lieutenant, Ghimire was leading a foot patrol in Kalikot district when an improvised bomb went off rendering him blind. The tragic incident became a turning point in the life of the army man. Ever since that fateful day, he has dedicated his life to the uplift of the differently abled -- particularly catering to and empowering the blind. This humanitarian endeavour eventually led him to becoming the President of the Cricket Association of the Blind (CA B) Nepal.
Ghimire is the mastermind behind the world’s maiden blind women’s cricket team. The idea first took shape on August 7, 2006, during a week-long blind cricket training camp in Pokhara. “It was the first time that cricket of the blind was introduced in the country,” recounts Ghimire. The camp was hosted by two officials, Abdul Rajaq and Sultan Shah from Pakistan Blind Cricket Association who initially began by training a group of 31 boys and two girls from the Shree Amarsingh Model Higher Secondary School. Present at the camp, Ghimire was awestruck by the enthusiasm of the two girls who had clearly outperformed the boys. “Seeing those girls, who would otherwise remain reserved, go out in the field and compete made me realise that cricket had the power to empower,” shared Ghimire. Eventually, the group of 31 boys and
two girls was expanded to accommodate 35 boys and 35 girls. One among them was 13-year-old Bhagwati Bhattarai, now Bhagwatti Bhattarai Baral, the current national team captain. “I was in eighth grade. I had so much fun that, at times, I even skipped school to go attend the training session,” she said reminiscing her early cricketing days.
In much the same way, through similar training camps, Ghimire was able to train and form domestic blind women’s team in Kaski, Nepalgunj, and Chitwan. Like Bhagwati, 29-year-old Geeta Poudel got her head start in cricket participating in the CAB training camp held at her school, Shanti Namuna Secondary School, Rupandehi.
Inspired by the exemplary work being done in Nepal with visually impaired female cricket players, Beth Evans, a Development Officer at the Change Foundation, UK decided to form her own cricketing team, which became the UK’s first blind women’s team. Challenging the Nepali team, Evans returned to Nepal in 2014 with her trailblazing women to compete in the first-ever international blind women’s match in cricketing history.

The domination
During the three-day series played on October 26, 27, and 28, Nepal whitewashed the UK team with a crushing 3-0 victory. The match set the stage for subsequent games and inspired the world to form their own teams of blind women cricketers. Following suit, Pakistan, New Zealand, West Indies, and India have also formed their own national teams.
In 2019, Nepal reached another milestone by defeating Pakistan in the bilateral T20 series by registering a 4-0 victory. The 15 blind athletes had indeed made their country and themselves proud.
The achievement might pale in comparison to the popular international cricket, but away from the capacity crowds and the huge fan base, blind cricket is a tough sport. The ball is stuffed with ball bearings that make a jingle sound as it’s rolled along the ground to the batswoman. Since the ball travels low, Manakeshi Chaudary, the opening batswoman likes to play the sweep shot hard and often. It was perhaps because of her well-timed sweeps that she posted a mammoth 822 runs against Pakistan in the series. Chaudhary’s achievement made international news, albeit for a brief moment. But the news at the time overlooked one important fact: Chaudhary was, in fact, a month-and-a-half into her pregnancy.
Like her, all the 15 visually impaired women have weathered tough conditions to find their way to the playing field. Unfortunately, their contribution has faded away – the masses are oblivious to their achievements.

Fading away
After returning victorious from their Pakistan tour, the nation acknowledged the team’s effort by providing Rs. 50,000 to each of the 15 players. That was the first and the last time that the team got the national support it deserved.
More than two-and-a-half years since then, the national team has remained idle. In all these years, despite setting the benchmark for blind cricket, they have only played two international games.
Practice sessions don’t happen often. There is a dearth of funds and a lack of support from Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) and the government. As a result, the national men’s cricket team was unable to compete in the 2014 Blind Cricket World Cup held at Cape Town, South Africa.
Likewise, without proper resources, the blind women’s cricket team were deprived of participating in the second-ever international blind women’s cricket series in Barbados back in July of 2018. Instead, UK, the team that had been whitewashed by Nepal in 2014, registered a 4-1 win over West Indies.
Geeta Poudel, 29, the team’s Vice Captain misses competing. “The COVID-19 has only worsened the situation,” she bemoaned. Many of her team mates now connect via zoom meetings but they miss the heart-racing action of the field. Several women of the team have resumed their routine life. Captain Baral teaches Nepali at a local school in Pokhara. Vice-Captain Poudel looks after her child and spends most of her time home as a housewife.
The team were scheduled to partake in a tri-series tournament with India and Pakistan, as per CAB President Ghimire. However, the pandemic has eclipsed the prospect. Right now, all the 15 players are simply biding their time, eagerly waiting for an opportunity to pounce.
CAB will celebrate its 13th anniversary on August 16.