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3 teams in Mumbai battle it out for a spot in T20 national wheelchair cricket final

Cricket crazy Mumbai is in for a treat this week, with the city playing host to the 2nd T20 National Wheelchair Cricket Tournament.

The matches will be played on 8 and 9 March at the Bhavan's College grounds in Andheri and fighting it out for a place in the finals are Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka.

The winner here will qualify for the final stage, which are the semi-final and final matches in New Delhi on 15 March.

"It is an honour for Maharashtra to be hosting this national level event", said Nisha Gupta, Member, Organizing Committee, Para Wheelchair Cricket Association, Maharashtra. "'Wheelchair cricket is becoming very popular across India and we are happy to promote the game further".

The Maharashtra team, busy practicing at the grounds of the Mumbai University, and are looking to make their mark. Much attention is on Maharashtra wheelchair cricket captain Surendra Kasare, the only player in the side with experience in international wheelchair cricket.

I have played in Bangladesh and Pakistan, so I have that experience but the teams we are up against are tough. The Karnataka captain is particularly tough to beat. I am hoping that we have an edge over the others as we are playing on home ground and have the advantage of crowd support. - Surendra Kasare, Captain, Maharashtra Wheelchair Cricket Team

Kasare started playing two years ago and credits wheelchair cricket for transforming his life. "After I was left disabled in 2012 following an accident, I lost all hope and sank into depression. Wheelchair cricket has given me new life and opportunities. Today, people know who I am. I want others to feel that sense of passion and excitement for the game too, so I urge the fans to come and support us".

Also looking to make his mark is fellow Maharashtra player Imtiaz Khan. Khan. A wicketkeeper and batsman, Khan got introduced to wheelchair cricket by chance.

"A year ago, I went to a local municipal office for some work and happened to meet Kasare" , recalls Khan. "He saw my strong arms and suggested I take a shot at wheelchair cricket. I went for a few practice sessions and my arm action was found to be good. This is my first national level tournament and a big moment for me".

Vast fan base

Khan and Kasare are up against good teams. Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are formidable competitors although wheelchair cricket is relatively new in south India. It has found a vast audience in that region and much of the credit for this goes to Divyang Maithri Sports Academy (DMSA), an organization dedicated to encouraging and supporting para sportspersons.

"Wheelchair cricket started in north India first and we wanted to promote it in the south", says Karnataka wheelchair cricket captainShiv Prasad, who is a key member of DMSA. "We have held many camps to promote the game in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and it has picked up quite well".

Karnataka reached the finals last year but lost in a closely fought game. This time Prasad is determined to lift the trophy for his state. "As far as we are concerned all the teams are formidable opponents. Like mainstream cricket, wheelchair cricket is evolving constantly, and we cannot take any player or state lightly".

With such competitive contenders, Mumbaikars can look forward to some stimulating wheelchair cricket.

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