How Kohli & Co put blind cricket into main­stream

The Cricket Paper - - FEATURE -

Ali­son Mitchell is bowled over by the T20 World Cup for the Blind which at­tracted 25,000 to the In­dia-Eng­land match

Eng­land’s Vis­ually Im­paired (VI) team ar­rived home from In­dia this week hav­ing reached the semi­fi­nals of the sec­ond ever T20 World Cup for the Blind, or­gan­ised and hosted by the CABI, the Cricket As­so­ci­a­tion for the Blind in In­dia.

It could be said that in the way CABI hosted it, they played a blinder too. Crowds in ex­cess of 20,000 reg­u­larly watched the home team and de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons work their way to the fi­nal, where they beat Pak­istan to lift the tro­phy at the Chin­naswamy Sta­dium in Ban­ga­lore.

When Eng­land, led by cap­tain Luke Sugg, played In­dia in In­dore, the noisy crowd peaked at 25,000. It may have been bol­stered by a few bus­loads of ex­citable school chil­dren but Eng­land’s VI play­ers had never ex­pe­ri­enced any­thing like it.

More than this, though, the event was watched on tele­vi­sion, and a sense of in­trigue and ex­cite­ment was built up be­fore the tour­na­ment had even started.

How was this pos­si­ble for a mi­nor­ity sport­ing event in a coun­try ob­sessed with the al­lure of the IPL and Bol­ly­wood? You could say the coun­try is first and fore­most ob­sessed with cricket, but that doesn’t au­to­mat­i­cally trans­late into crowds for cricket out­side of the main­stream. Com­pare the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup staged in In­dia in 2013 and hosted by the BCCI. No mar­ket­ing cam­paign, very lit­tle pub­lic­ity, and grounds were very quiet, even for In­dia’s matches.

The BCCI doesn’t have a hand in the run­ning of blind cricket in In­dia. It was the CABI who bought in help to pas­sion­ately plan and care­fully ex­e­cute a mar­ket­ing strat­egy to turn the Blind World Cup into a na­tional con­ver­sa­tion piece be­fore the first ball was even bowled.

It started with a sprin­kling of star­dust and the re­cruit­ment of for­mer In­dia cap­tain Rahul Dravid as of­fi­cial Brand Am­bas­sador for the tour­na­ment. They then pro­duced a high im­pact bill­board and poster cam­paign fea­tur­ing six mem­bers of In­dia’s su­per­star sighted team, in­clud­ing cap­tain Vi­rat Kohli.

Kohli, Gau­tam Gamb­hir, Ashish Nehra, Ajinkya Ra­hane, KL Rahul and Umesh Ya­dav were all pho­tographed pos­ing in black polo shirts with black blind­folds over their eyes. It is a strik­ing im­age.

Kohli then fea­tured in the video for a pow­er­ful T20 Blind World Cup an­them, with the strapline, ‘Beat The Or­di­nary’. The stars of the video, how­ever, are mem­bers of In­dia’s blind team, filmed play­ing the game and show­cas­ing not only their skills but also high­light­ing the features of the game which stand it apart from reg­u­lar cricket; the quick and skiddy un­der­arm bowl­ing, the hiss­ing sound of the ball bear­ings in­side the ball, the sweepshot which is so com­mon in this form of the game and the bowler feel­ing for the stumps at the non striker’s end so he can line him­self up be­fore he bowls. The video is up­beat, en­er­getic and cool.

Ad­mit­tedly the World Cup an­them was to­tally In­dia-cen­tric, with no men­tion of the other teams in­volved, but it spoke to its tar­get au­di­ence and has set a high bench­mark for how a mi­nor­ity cricket event can be mar­keted and pro­moted to its home na­tion. The open­ing cer­e­mony was a loud and proud af­fair, with In­dian play­ers walk­ing down a cat­walk arm in arm with stars from the world of In­dian TV and fash­ion.

The CABI pre­sented their play­ers as su­per­stars, and su­per­stars they be­came. By the end of the World Cup, the In­dian team were be­ing feted by the State Pres­i­dent of Kar­nataka at his res­i­dence and re­ceiv­ing tweets of con­grat­u­la­tion from Bol­ly­wood su­per­star (and IPL owner) Shah Rukh Khan.

The whole strat­egy re­minded me of the Chan­nel 4 ad cam­paign in the lead up to the 2012 Par­a­lympics ‘Meet the Su­per­hu­mans’, which in­tro­duced us to the stars of the Lon­don Games months in ad­vance of the event. It was Chan­nel 4’s big­gest mar­ket­ing push in 30 years. It was bold, un­apolo­getic and cen­tral to chal­leng­ing per­cep­tions of dis­abil­ity. It helped Lon­don 2012 be­come the first Par­a­lympic Games to sell out.

Blind Cricket was in­vented in the early Twen­ties in Mel­bourne. It started at a work­shop for the dis­abled where a num­ber of work­ers with vis­ual im­pair­ments were in­volved in bas­ket weav­ing. They wanted to play cricket dur­ing their lunch break and had the idea of putting nuts or stones in­side a jam tin to fash­ion a ball that they could track through their hear­ing.

The game has since evolved so that at in­ter­na­tional level it is played on a full length pitch, with a plas­tic ball filled with tiny ball bear­ings. A typ­i­cal de­liv­ery will in­volve the bowler reach­ing out for the stumps with his hand at the non-striker’s end to gauge where to bowl from. Once ready, he will call out to the keeper. The keeper shouts out the bowler’s name two or three times so that the bowler can use his hear­ing to judge his line. The bowler shouts “ready?”, the bats­man replies

The open­ing cer­e­mony was a loud and proud af­fair with In­dian play­ers walk­ing out with stars from TV and fash­ion

“yes” and the bowler shouts “play” as he lets go of the ball. The bowler can be noballed by the um­pire if the call of “play” is deemed to have come early or late.

The ball must be de­liv­ered un­der­arm. There is a line marked half way across the pitch and de­pend­ing on the cat­e­gory of bowler and bats­man, the ball has to bounce a min­i­mum num­ber of times each side of the line be­fore it reaches the bats­man.

Crick­eters are cat­e­gorised into dif­fer­ent lev­els of sight. Lo­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions can vary in their cat­e­gori­sa­tions but in­ter­na­tion­ally there are three, and the higher num­ber in­di­cates a greater level of sight.

B1 play­ers are to­tally blind and wear white wrist­bands so the um­pire can iden­tify their cat­e­gory. Some play­ers may have a slight per­cep­tion of light, so all B1 play­ers will wear dark glasses to en­sure fair­ness. B1 bats­men all have run­ners and runs count dou­ble. B1 field­ers can take a catch on the bounce.

B2 play­ers (red wrist­band) might only see two me­tres away what a fully sighted per­son would see at 60 me­tres. A B2 bats­man can have the op­tion of a run­ner.

B3 play­ers (blue wrist­band) might see at 10 me­tres away what a fully sighted per­son would see at 60 me­tres. They might have a field of vi­sion of less than 20 de­grees in their best eye.

In In­dia, at­ten­tion will now turn to the up­com­ing edi­tion of the IPL. In Eng­land this sum­mer the ICC Women’s World Cup is an event that has the op­por­tu­nity to at­tract crowds and be talked about if it is mar­keted and pro­moted in the right way. Per­haps not cat­walks for the open­ing cer­e­mony, but there is cer­tainly some­thing to take away from the loud and proud at­ti­tude that In­dia’s Blind World T20 took on. It is an op­por­tu­nity that shouldn’t be missed.

Top notch mar­ket­ing: In­dian play­ers pro­mote the tour­na­ment

Top at­trac­tion: the Eng­land Vis­ually Im­paired squad which was led by Luke Sugg in In­dia

PIC­TURE: ECB

Bat­tling to­gether: Eng­land’s Justin Hollingsworth with Peter Blueitt and Dan Field

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