Blind cricketers set for their first taste of Ashes

Published: Friday, August 13, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
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Manchester:Nothing excites an English cricketer quite like the prospect of a series against Australia and now the nation's blind players are set for their first taste of Ashes action.

The inaugural series between the England blind team and their Australian counterparts gets underway at Bradfield College, a private school in Berkshire, southern England, on August 22.

The two sides will also realise the cherished ambition of cricketers all round the world when they play at Lord's on August 23 for the second game of their five-match series.

For Tim Guttridge, an England all-rounder and vice-chairman of the World Blind Cricket Council (WBCC), the series is the culmination of a dream.

"Blind cricket has been played in this country (England) for 55 years and in other countries for even longer," Guttridge said on Friday.

"There have been two (blind) World Cups, in Delhi in 1998 and Chennai (Madras) in 2002.

"But there has never been an Ashes series and I really wanted there to be one while I was involved in the game," he added.

The matches will take place under standard international rules for blind cricket with the fixtures scheduled for 40 overs per side.

They differ in several respects from the sighted game. Firstly, there are no bails on top of the stumps.

Meanwhile the ball, which is the same side as a conventional cricket ball, contains beads to help the players hear where it is going and is made of hard plastic rather than cork and leather.

There are also restrictions on the composition of teams.

"We don't bother with bails because we use the stumps to line ourselves up and help us get our position when we are batting and bowling," Guttridge, who had some sight up until the age of 35, explained.

"Also teams must contain at least four B1 players (totally blind) and no more than four B3 players (partially sighted)."

In England there are 11 clubs for blind cricketers with Guttridge playing for London-based Metro.

But like many 'minority sports', blind cricket - whose players are amateurs - receives little coverage in the British media.

However Guttridge, who as part of his work for the WBCC has been helping develop blind cricket in the West Indies, insisted it was a different story in other parts of the world.

"When we were in India the games there were televised and there was a lot of interest. But here in England, just like the women's team and the deaf cricketers, we struggle for attention."

England's sighted team have lost their last eight Ashes series but Guttridge was quietly confident about his side's prospects. "We went to Australia in 2000 for a tri-nations tournament where we were runners-up.

"Australia then were a far better side but we've come on 150 percent since then. The international game does differ a bit from our domestic cricket but we've got a very good side now."

But he modestly played down his own form. "I'm 47 now. I'm really too old for international cricket. But I'm wanted at present and I'd like to play at the next World Cup, in Cape Town, in 2006. We'll see what happens."

Looking ahead Guttridge said he hoped the series, which concludes with a trophy and medal presentation by Michael L'Estrange, the Australian High Commissioner, would lead to a renewed respect for the sport.

"It's not about 22 blind people having a good time. It's about 22 sportsmen.

"I've always loved cricket. All cricket is an exciting game and this is no different. Admission to the games is free and if people come they'll see that we are good cricketers."

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