By Owais Niaz
I started off playing cricket for fun during my break and lunch times at Joseph Clarke School. After some time playing, I started to improve which caught the attention of the teacher in charge of managing the school cricket team.
Noticing my enthusiasm for the sport, she asked me to help her manage the team, a responsibility I really enjoyed. My teacher was so happy with how I took on this task that I was then awarded the ‘Most Responsible’ and ‘Best Manager’ of the month, an award presented to me by Jack Patchy CBE, a businessman and philanthropist who started The Jack Patchy Foundation which was set up to inspire and motivate young people across London and Essex.
In one of our school PE lessons a coach came in to do a session of visually impaired cricket and invited us to come to a taster training session at Chigwell School. I told him that my mates and I were not able to play because of our disabilities, such as my visual impairment and that I felt cricket was for people who have good eye sight and have no problems with their vision. However, the coach told us that cricket is for everybody and that we should come along to the taster training session and give it a try. He reassured us that no experience was needed for the training session, so we decided to go along to see what it was like.
And so, we went along and as a result of the session decided to take things seriously and train weekly. Once we got into the training, we managed to improve a lot! We were very lucky and had an excellent coach who trained us really well.
The coach organised some cricket matches for us to play against other counties/teams who were also visually impaired, the game was 6/10 overs a side. The coach had a meeting with us to decide who would be the captain and manager of the team. We all came to a decision that to start off with I would be the manager of the team and also the captain of the Essex Junior Visually Impaired cricket team. My duties were, once the coach had the dates for the matches/training, to let everyone in my team know about them: when, where and what time the match would be taking place. To arrange meeting points for the team, to make them aware of where to meet up so that we could all set off to the cricket match together. I was liaising with the coach about the transport, tactics and fixtures of the matches.
We played in many different places, for example Lord’s Cricket Ground, Cricket for Change in Surrey and The Essex County Ground in Chelmsford. For 18 months we were undefeatable, we had a very experienced and excellent coach at the time, and he was awarded the best coach accolade from the England & Royals Cricket Board. Our coach got tickets for us to watch a game of cricket at the Essex Cricket Ground in Chelmsford which was a wonderful experience. During the lunch break, we went onto the pitch and did a demonstration of how visually impaired cricket is played in front of 50,000 people that were watching us. They were all astonished and amazed at how competitive visually impaired cricket is played.
When I was working with Cricket for Change, I was very lucky to be invited to go and represent an England Visually Impaired Cricket team in Jamaica. This was at international level which means the game is played with a small cricket ball which has bells inside for the players to hear. In the domestic league we play with a ball the size of a football which has bells inside it, the international level of cricket is more difficult because the ball used is hard and can inflict damage if we are not careful. This is why you need to wear the full cricket protection kit!
Before we went to Jamaica, I had to raise money for the trip, and I came up with the fundraising ideas myself and did lots of training beforehand. I was really excited and thrilled that I got the opportunity to go to Jamaica and play cricket. It was a very good experience, I learnt a lot and we were training a lot while we were there. Also, we had 3 T20 cricket matches to play against another visually impaired team. We found out later that the team that we were going to play against were more experienced than us! They had won cricket cups and they also played in competitions too. They beat us but we still had a very good time. The people were very kind and gave us excellent hospitality.
Once we were home, the manager at Cricket for Change invited 25-30 people from all over the world to come and see a demonstration of visually impaired cricket that my colleagues and I performed at Lord’s Cricket Ground. It was very good and lots of fun and the people enjoyed what they saw. They were amazed and proud of us after seeing how we played visually impaired cricket. I am please to say that after that meeting, we received some donations which we welcomed and they said that they would love to come back again. It was so successful that they decided to start visually impaired cricket in their own countries. I also did an interview about how it is to be visually impaired as well as what challenges/barriers you face on a day-to-day basis in life.
I did another demonstration of visually impaired cricket at the Cricket for Change ground in Surrey to professional footballer Gary Cahill who played for Chelsea at the time. We demonstrated how visually impaired cricket is played. He was very impressed by the challenges and barriers we had overcome to play cricket. He then joined in by wearing glasses which simulate being visually impaired and we then bowled to him while he was batting. After enjoying the experience so much, he told his colleagues all about visually impaired cricket and as a thank you gave a donation to Cricket for Change to invest in visually impaired cricket. As he found out that I was the only person that supported Chelsea Football Club, he shook my hand and said to me, “I wish I had something with my autograph on it to give you, but I don’t have it on me.” He did a special one-to-one interview with me which made up for it!
I highly recommend trying visually impaired cricket out for yourself. After attending a few training sessions, you can decide for yourself if you want to take it up or not. It is a fantastic sport and depending on your ability and with plenty of practice, you can take your skills to the highest level from beginner to experienced. If possible, you can also find a role model to inspire you and if you’re lucky, you could even have the opportunity to meet celebrities! Going to the training sessions and playing matches will also give you the chance to make new friends as well as improve your level of fitness. So if you think visually impaired cricket might be something you could enjoy, give it a go!