24th National Cricket Tournament for the Blind kicks off in Mumbai

The chiming of cricket balls and cheers of fellow players marked the opening day of the 24th National Cricket Tournament for the Blind at Mumbai's Shivaji Park. Eight states are fighting it out for the title of India champion.

Last year's champion Andhra Pradesh cut a bright figure on the field in orange and white, while hosts Maharashtra were in blue and grey. Andhra Pradesh had a good start beating Maharashtra quite easily.

Andhra Pradesh won the toss and chose to bat, scoring 380 runs, with no loss of wickets. Venkatesh Rao was the high scorer with 279 runs off 82 balls, while T Krishna came second with 75 runs off 41 balls.

In the other match of the day Gujarat beat Odisha. The final match will be played on 3 November.

Blind cricket started in 1922 in Melbourne, Australia. Over the years, India has started making its presence felt in the game, winning the T20 World Cup two times, including this year.

There is also growing support and popularity for blind cricket. "Earlier we had no sponsors but this time we have Sony and IndusInd Bank supporting us", says John David, General Secretary, National Association of Blind Cricket. "Now we are able to give players double and triple sharing rooms while earlier they would all stay in one hall".

There is also more care given to their physiotherapy needs. "Blind cricketers have special fitness needs", says Dr Bhavika Parekh, who is the physiotherapist for all the teams. "Unlike other players who play over arm, blind cricketers play under arm. So they need a slightly different routine. They are also more vulnerable to joint problems and skin rashes as they play closer to the ground."

The Indian cricket board has also started to recognize the blind cricketers. This year, cash rewards were given to members of the T20 winning side. Next year, there are plans to start a Blind Cricket League on the lines of the Indian Premier League. Clearly, blind cricket in India is set to go leagues ahead.

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