Sport

Hamish Mackenzie on the rattle and hum of blind cricket. By Richard Cooke.
Credit: SUPPLIED

Tricky wicket: Hamish Mackenzie, 46, blind cricketer

The ball in blind cricket is a lot lighter than a cricket ball. A couple of hundred grams of plastic shell with ball bearings inside it. That’s what makes the noise when the ball’s bowled. The ball bearings jar and rattle as it rolls across the ground. You get a pretty constant sort of buzzing, humming sort of noise.

It started off in the 1920s. In Victoria, down in Kooyong or something. It was the guys returning from the First World War who had lost their vision. The initial idea was just they had a plank of wood, and a jam jar with a few stones in it, and the game has developed from that over the years. We’ve just completed our 33rd annual national carnival. 

I’m one of the totally blind guys. There are four of those, and the other seven are partially sighted (though all legally blind). 

The totally blind guys end up fielding in the four corners. Point, mid-off, mid-on and square-leg and obviously as the overs rotate we’d be mid-off or a square-leg and vice versa with point and mid-on. But me, personally, I’m normally at square-leg.

We’re not any worse at sledging than sighted cricketers. But we’re certainly not any more polite, shall I say. There’s a fair bit of banter and obviously the end of the exercise is the same thing: to try to distract people, put people off their game, make someone laugh, however we think we can get into someone’s head.

Last year we played with Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath. At the SCG – we blindfolded them, and we played a bit of blind cricket with them and they were surprisingly good at the bowling but not much chop at the batting as you would probably expect. Especially Glenn McGrath. Still, they’d be a very welcome addition with the pace that they were still getting out of the ball even underarm.

If there’s a totally blind bowler the way he lines up is that the wicketkeeper will stand behind the stumps and sort of call his name out three times. We then have to ask the batsman, “Are you ready”, they’ll say “Yes” and then we have to actually say “Play” as we’re delivering the ball. All just to let people be aware of what’s going on.

The Indians and Pakistanis are head and shoulders above anyone else. It comes down to a numbers game. You’ve got 20,000 guys playing blind cricket in India and about 9000 in Pakistan compared with, you know, we’d be lucky if we’ve got 300 people who are playing. 

These guys play some amazing shots as well. The Pakistani wicketkeeper has got a sort of pitching wedge shot where he chops down on the ball and off it goes. If it doesn’t snap in half, it’s flying over mid-wicket for six on a regular basis.

My first introduction to international blind cricket was at the World Cup in India a few years ago, and my first ball disappeared straight back over my head for six with a sweep. It was like, “Okay, this is a little more difficult than a domestic game, I think.” At least I didn’t have to look at it. I do tell the Australian guys that as a Scotsman I like it just as much as them when we beat the English.

It’s a batter’s game. Same as the sighted game of cricket seems to be at the moment. It’s very much a batsman-dominated game. 

The quickest guys in the world are bowling up around the 90k mark underarm. So they can get a bit of hop to go with the pace. And because the ball’s so light as well, it does tend to swing around. You can see some dramatic swing on the ball, as you would in mainstream cricket. It’s certainly interesting for those of us who are totally blind.

But the totally blind batters get double runs. It’s a bit like a power play, that’s the plan. We need to be going at a run a ball to maintain value if you like and, yes, there might be a bit of barbecuing if we’re not scoring quick enough. The riskier runs start getting taken.

We also play against sighted opposition. We’ve got a number of vision simulation sets of glasses that these guys can wear to simulate different sorts of eye conditions when they’re out there trying to bat, so it flows both ways. They’re always played in good sport; everyone’s having a bit of a laugh and a joke.

The funniest thing is how hard some of the sighted guys are on themselves. Especially when they realise it is actually quite difficult. I don’t think we have to do too much sledging in those games, because most of them are getting well and truly stuck into each other.

 

This week’s highlights…

• Cricket: Australia v New Zealand, 2nd Test, day 1

Saturday, 8.30am (AEDT), Hagley Oval, Christchurch

Southern Stars v White Ferns, 1st ODI

Saturday, 8.30am (AEDT), Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui, New Zealand 

• Soccer: A-League: Newcastle Jets v Wellington Phoenix

Saturday, 5.15pm (AEDT), Hunter Stadium, Newcastle

• Canoeing: Slalom Oceania Championships

Saturday and Sunday, Penrith Whitewater Stadium, NSW

• Basketball: WNBL – UC Capitals v Bendigo Spirit

Saturday, 7pm (AEDT), AIS Arena, Canberra

• AFL: NAB Challenge – Adelaide Crows v West Coast Eagles

Sunday, 1.35pm (ACDT), Unley Oval, Adelaide

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 20, 2016 as "Tricky wicket". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.