CAPE TOWN — Always keep your eye on the ball is the first rule of cricket, but when batting in a blind cricket match you are better off keeping your ears open.
"The ball is pretty much the same size as a standard cricket ball, but made from hard white plastic and filled with ball bearings that make a rattling sound," says the national co-ordinator of Blind Cricket SA, Armand Bam.
He says batsmen listen for the sound it makes when bowled down the pitch.
Bam is also the coach of the Blind SA Cricket Team. Its members — some completely or almost blind, others only partially sighted — jet out on Monday to take part in the first Blind Cricket Twenty20 World Cup in Bangalore, India. They will compete against blind cricket teams from eight other nations: Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the West Indies.
The tournament’s opening ceremony is on December 1 and the first matches will be played in Bangalore’s Kanteerava Stadium the next day.
Bam says the rules for blind cricket are based on the Marylebone Cricket Club rules that apply to standard cricket, but are adapted for blind players.
"The stumps, made from wood or metal, have no bails and are a luminous orange. And the boundary is closer in, 40m to 50m, with a 20m inner circle."
As in standard cricket, there are 11 players a side, but there are strict rules about the team’s composition. Players are categorised as: B1, totally blind; B2, partially blind; or B3, partially sighted.
According to the rules, "teams should have a minimum of four totally blind players (B1); three partially blind players (B2); and a maximum of four partially sighted players (B3)".
The rules reveal the degree to which partially sighted players can actually "see" the pitch. They define B3s as those with "visual acuity above 2/60 up to visual acuity 6/60".
According to Bam, 6/60 vision means: "What a full-sighted person can see at 60m, someone with 6/60 sight can see at six."
A B1 batsman is allowed to have a runner, while a B2 batsman can choose to have one or not.
The rules further state that "all runs scored … off the bat of a B1 batsman will be doubled and credited to that batsman".
Further, a B1 fielder "is entitled to take a one-bounce catch to end a batsman’s innings".
Bam says the preferred stroke of most blind cricket batsmen, who all use a standard cricket bat, is the sweep shot. "The predominant shot is a sweep shot, from off side to leg side."
He says sixes are not unheard of, but "you need good technique to lift the ball over the boundary". This is especially the case because bowling is restricted to the underarm technique.
"Bowling is underarm, with the ball rolling along the ground. A good bowler has the ability to make the ball bounce," he says.
The rules state before making a delivery the bowler must first ask the batsman if he or she is ready. "The batsman will then respond with a shout of ‘yes’.… at the point immediately before releasing the delivery will shout ‘play’."
The bowler’s delivery is required to pitch at least twice when bowled to a completely blind batsman, and once when bowled to a partially sighted one. Totally blind batsmen cannot be stumped out, and must be judged lbw twice before being dismissed.
And, in local games at least, sighted umpires are not immune to having their legs pulled by the players about some of their decisions. "You get a totally blind player asking the umpire if he can see!" Bam says.