By Jill Scanlon
I went to the cricket recently.
It was a beautiful morning in Melbourne’s leafy inner suburbs under a blue sky bathed in the warmth of early sunshine: bustling traffic, a large park and a cricket pitch – a glorious setting for a day of cricket.
No, it was not the MCG!
It was Fawkner Park in South Yarra and I was rolling up to watch the final of the National Blind Cricket Championships.
After twelve days of competition, Victoria was taking on South Australia.
The National Championship occurs every two years and is fondly referred to by the participants as the Carnival. This year is the 34th Carnival and – if you do your maths – that means this competition has been running for almost 70 years.
Surprisingly though, most people are unaware of blind cricket as a competitive sport.
At first view from the sidelines, it looks like it’s a men’s competition but there are in fact female players involved – the teams are mixed – but due to significantly fewer numbers of female players in the sport, not all teams have women in their ranks.
Queensland is one of the exceptions.
23 year old Chrissy Brincat has been the sole female playing for the team from up north over the last fortnight but admits she’s relatively new to the sport having taken it up only five months ago.
“It’s nothing like any sport I’ve ever played before. That’s why I wanted to play Carnival so I could get a proper feel for what it’s like at this level. I’m actually surprised they let me play because I haven’t been playing for very long,” she told The Delivery.
Brincat is classified as a B1 player -- the highest level of blind classification in the sport. She has some light perception and can see just shadows.
She admits that as a child she actually disliked sport.
“At school I really hated sport because I was the only blind child in my school, so sport was something I actually found quite traumatic,” she said, but added she now thinks promoting Blind sport is really important – especially for kids like herself who hated it.
As a young teenager she took up Swish -- blind table tennis -- and has played ever since. But last year she decided to find out what other blind sports are out there, turning her hand to something very different in cricket, and it’s proven to be a challenge.
“It’s pretty hard; I still don’t know all the rules and I’m definitely still learning. It’s probably the hardest sport that I’ve played,” said Brincat.
Another woman taking part in the Carnival has been Donna McCaskill, playing with the New Zealand team. Donna’s cricket life has been quite different to Chrissy’s.
She is 35 years old and has been playing the sport for 22 years. She’s played at international level representing New Zealand at a World Cup and is the President of the New Zealand Blind Cricket Association – quite an achievement for a sport which has few women involved. But McCaskill says they’re slowly working to change that and awareness is growing among females.
“It is (growing), mainly because I’m the President, so I’m encouraging the girls to get involved.”
McCaskill says the Association also gets some support from the Blind Foundation back home through publicity to the membership raising awareness of the sport.
“We’re getting a huge response. Two years ago we weren’t even dreaming of doing a development tour … or sending a team over to play in the Carnival – so that’s been quite big for us.”
She says they are getting some support from Cricket NZ and starting discussions, looking at the model which Cricket Australia has initiated in an effort to do more with disability cricket.
McCaskill says while the Kiwi team did not do well in the Carnival, the benefits for the new players have been great.
“For a lot of the players it was completely brand new and it’s given them a realisation of what we’re pushing for back home -- why Blind Cricket New Zealand is doing things in a certain way. We need to reach a higher level and they didn’t understand that until they played in this competition, so it’s been really good in that sense,” she said.
So if you ever get the chance to pop along to a game, do.
As Cricket Australia would like us all to embrace the notion of cricket as ‘A Sport For All’, Blind Cricket is an outstanding example of exactly that.
About the author:
Jill Scanlon is a sports journalist and has previously written for the Huffington Post. She is also a Sport for Development advocate.