Club Cricket Conference

Sunday, 30th April 2017

England's blind cricketers face their Indian mission impossible

By Charles Randall

6 February 2017


England's visually impaired players started the  World T20 blind tournament  in Delhi this week under the captaincy of Luke Sugg, and their task looked tougher than Eoin Morgan's on the main tour after two heavy defeats in their first three games.

The ECB announced a 15-man squad , knowing that  England had never reached a major final let alone won any match against India on Indian soil. Sugg, an all-rounder from Warwickshire, replaces another key player Matt Dean at the helm, having led England in the inaugural blind T20 in Bangalore in 2012 before Dean took over for the 40-over World Cup and series against Australia and India.

England's worst fears were realised when they faced a 20-over score of 296 by Pakistan in their opening game and lost  by 97 runs, with an undefeated  70 by Peter Blueitt, a totally blind player, providing a little consolation. The third game, against India, ended in a 10-wicket humiliation, suggesting that the final will be India versus  Pakistan as expected. Very high scores such as Pakistan's are not uncommon at this level, and England will probably finish as the third-best side.

England would certainly expect that Sugg, a fine all-rounder,  Dean,  an experienced and prolific run-maker from London, and the Somerset bowler Ed Hossell, named as partially sighted player of the year for 2016, will earn a semi-final berth.  Hossell's brother Rory has been selected for the first time.
While Blind Cricket England have made major strides under the ECB umbrella in recent years, the subcontinent's sheer numbers and passion for the game has ensured India and Pakistan supremacy, with India's power of batting verging on the incredible.

International blind cricket plays different rules to most impaired cricket, using a smaller plastic ball, which must bounce at least twice after delivery. All cricket balls are filled with carbon granules, though at a lower level  the ball is much larger, similar to a rattling small football. International bowling is brisk underarm, and runs tend to be scored by violent sweeps past understandably speculative fielding, with a 50-yard boundary. Each side must comprise  players in three categories of impairment from B1, meaning totally blind, to B3, with ailments such as retinitis pigmentosa.

All runs scored by a totally blind batter (B1 category) count as double, and he is never considered to be out of his ground. He cannot be stumped and can only be run out if his runner fails to make his ground. When adjudged lbw, he is "half out" and can resume until next time the umpire gives him out, with the bowling credit going to the second time.  If the first bounce is outside leg stump, there can be no lbw even if the second bounce is in line.

The normal  Laws apply for any catch except for a totally blind fielder, who can make a catch after one bounce. As to be expected, there is always noise in the field to guide fielders. Catches are quite rare and are celebrated in a suitably euphoric way.

There are strict rules covering sunglasses. At all times on the field of play  totally blind players, B1, must have their eyes fully covered by approved blackout shades to the satisfaction of the umpires. The only exceptions are players with no real eyes.

The rules allow  a player to adjust their shades between overs and they must seek umpire's permission to adjust during an over when the ball is dead. Accidental removal of shades while batting means an immediate dead ball if advantage is gained. The same applies to bowlers and fielders.

If any player deliberately removes their shades or adjusts them so that they can see around them, the umpires will spring into action with a formal warning. A second incident would incur five penalty runs and a third would mean suspension for the rest of the match.

England have been unable to challenge the dominance of India or Pakistan since the start of serious international competition in 2002. In the inaugural World T20 at Bangalore in 2012 England reached the semi-final through the round robin format and were demolished by nine wickets by Pakistan. The host nation India won the final.

To give an idea of the totals made, in England's opening match they conceded a phenomenal 329-1 off  20 overs against Pakistan and then 325-3 against India. After that shell shock England lost to Sri Lanka without humiliation and, as expected, defeated Australia, South Africa, Nepal and West Indies as usual. Matthew Dean batted especially well, hitting 139 not out against South Africa, and 95 against Australia.

A  form guide could be found more recently in a trip to Adelaide where England drew 1-1 against Australia in a T20 series in March 2016, with Dean in fine form. In the 40-over format Dean was the leading run-scorer, hitting two centuries and 96 not out,  England winning the series 4-1.  Sugg, outstanding as an all-rounder, finished with the highest score of 119, but the bowling plaudits went to Ed Hossell for producing a return of 5-35, the best analysis by any England bowler to date.

The previous year in 2015 England hosted India and lost the T20 series 3-0 at the Oval and Arundel Castle. The tourists proved too strong all round, winning longer format games easily at Wolverhampton and Leamington. At Arundel rain ended play when India were on their way to another huge score.

The 2014 World Cup in South Africa, 40 overs, was easily won by India, defeating Pakistan in the final. England beat the sides they expected, starting with a 41-run win over South Africa in Cape Town, with Sugg scoring 162 not out - the first of four centuries in the competition - and Dean 133.

Since the start of properly organised and funded world competitions, England have failed to reach any of the four finals. In the last few years India's batting has been simply too strong for all opposition, seemingly on every occasion, and nobody should bet against them in the forthcoming Delhi T20.

England's coach Ross Hunter naturally remained upbeat. "We know that we will need to play two of the best games that we’ve ever played to win the tournament," he said, "and I think we have the ability within the squad to do that. I think that would be a first for England Visually Impaired cricket, which is fantastic."

England Visually Impaired for World Blind T20 (Delhi) 

Luke Sugg  (Warwickshire, captain)
Amin Afshari  (Kent)
Peter Blueitt  (Yorkshire)
Matthew Dean ( London Metro)
Nathan Foy (Warwickshire)    
Daniel Field (Sussex)
Justin Hollingsworth (Warwickshire)
Edward Hossell  (Somerset)
Rory Hossell (Somerset)
Gareth Jones  (London Metro)
Mahomed Khatri (Warwickshire)
Simon Ledwith (Sussex)
James Millard  (Sussex)
Matthew Page (London Metro) 
Mark Turnham  ( Warwickshire)

England fixtures

Jan 31:  Pakistan
Feb 1: New Zealand
 Feb 2:  India
 Feb 3:  Sri Lanka
 Feb 4: South Africa
 Feb 5: Bangladesh
 Feb 7: Nepal
 Feb 8: Australia
 Feb 9: West Indies
 Feb 11: Semi-finals
 Feb 12: Final

For clubs wondering how players become eligible to play blind cricket there is guidance laid down.  Partially sighted players are defined as anyone not registered as B1 or totally blind.

Blind Cricket classify all players under their own sight categories, Total, Low Partial, Mid Partial and High Partial. These categories are largely based on the BBS sight categories, B1, B2, B3 and B4.

BBS Sight Categories

B1 - No light perception in either eye up to light perception, but inability to recognise shape of a hand at any distance or in any direction.
B2 - From ability to recognise the shape of the hand up to a visual acuity of 2/60 or visual field of less than 5 degrees in the better eye after correction.
B3 - From visual acuity above 2/60 up to visual acuity of 6/60 or a visual field of less than 20 degrees in better eye after correction.
B4 - Blind Cricket would define a B4 partially sighted player as, for example, someone with a substantial and permanent sight impairment and their visual acuity is 6/60 to 6/24 with a full field of vision.

Low Partial - Players may be classified by a Blind Cricket panel as low partial. This category is designed for those players who fall in the lower half of the B2 category and who would struggle to bat or field when playing as a partially sighted player due to insufficient sight. A player could be classified as low partial by discretion based on how they manage while playing, not purely on acuity measurements.

Any new players who fit this category is given a grace period at Blind Cricket's discretion, unless the panel has a strong reason to believe that he has too much sight for this to be reasonable. The classification shall then be reviewed.

During a competitive game any team claiming one of their players to be low partial category, when the Blind Cricket’s records show otherwise, will lose the game by default.