Support Through Sport UK's Helen Barratt talked to Jemma Brown, Publicity Director for Blind Cricket England and Wales, and player for Hampshire Visually-Impaired Cricket Club (VICC).
Thanks for taking time to talk to us, Jemma. As part of our work we want to raise awareness of just how many different sporting opportunities there are out there and we’re really interested to hear about blind cricket.
So, first off, what do you love about blind cricket?
I love the camaraderie. We are all in the same boat, and experience similar frustrations- like not being able to drive. I've been into sport since I was at school but being the only partially-sighted kid meant I couldn't really compete on an equal level. At Team Hampshire VICC, we all have a good laugh about our mishaps, and our minibus journeys to away games are always entertaining. And, although we have a laugh off and sometimes on the pitch, there is a serious side too - we have a national governing body and play in both league and cup tournaments, and our umpires all umpire ‘red ball’ cricket, some of them at county standard. Also, it’s great that totally blind players are able to play alongside partially-sighted players who can see a lot more. On the pitch, if there are spectators around, they often don't realise we are blind and partially-sighted.
How did you get into playing?
I got into playing when I was in college. I'd gone to a totally mainstream school and at that time had enough vision to play for my school women’s football team. When I went to college, the referees of the college league refused to let me play, saying I would be a danger to other players - I was devastated - I had never injured anyone else playing sport. I thought that would be it for my participation in sport, but around that time a group of parents and teachers at a local school for visually-impaired children saw that there was a huge need for more sporting opportunities for visually-impaired young people in Hampshire - and HVICC was born. Five years later, I'm the welfare officer for the club, so I sit on the committee and I also sit on the committee for Blind Cricket England and Wales.
Are the rules for blind cricket different to normal cricket? And are there rules about who can play?
Everyone who plays blind cricket has to have a sight classification. This is a document which is filled out by an optician or an eye consultant, which states distance vision and field of vision. From this form, people are given a sight category which is used for all visually-impaired sports, ranging from B1-B4+. To play blind cricket, you must be in categories from B1, who are totally blind, or almost totally blind, to B4 (for example, players who can see the crease from the boundary). B4+ players have too much vision and are not eligible to play. In blind cricket, there is also the discretionary sight category of Low Partial (or LP) - I am an LP. As for our rules, we try hard to keep them as close to what we call 'red ball' cricket as possible. However, we use a size three football filled with ball bearings, as this makes it easier for players with some vision to see and the ball bearings allow for the ball to be heard for the B1s and LPs. Communication is very important! When the bowler is ready to bowl, they have to ask the batsman or woman if they are ready, the batsman will then say yes (if they’re ready!) and then, as the ball is released, the bowler shouts “play” so that the batsman knows it’s coming. B4 players are the only players allowed full toss deliveries and for B1s and LPs, the ball must bounce twice before reaching them at the crease. For B2s and B3s, the ball must bounce once, and, when fielding, B2s through to B4s must catch the ball cleanly without it bouncing - the same as regular cricket. For B1s only, they can catch someone out after the ball has bounced once - so they typically field very close to the bat. B1s also score double runs - so if they hit a four it counts as an 8! As well as the ball being larger, it is white, as are the stumps, and we play in colours - nothing else white is allowed on the field of play. The stumps are also taller than average and made of metal so they can be tapped to allow players to be positioned. They also don't have bails as we would knock them off all the time, as many players feel the stumps when batting or bowling to line up! When batting, B1 and LP players have a runner. Our umpires undergo specialist training in visual impairment awareness and etiquette, and, in addition to using the signs used to signal things like no ball and four, they say them verbally, allowing all the players to have an idea of what is happening.
What are the most important skills for playing blind cricket?
Communication and team work. When fielding, for example, we have to communicate our positions by clapping so that everyone can get their relative position by sound. We also do a running commentary so the person closest to the ball will say they are getting it and their name (this stops us running into each other). Once they have the ball, they will shout who they are throwing it to. Also, as a team it’s important we have an idea of each other’s level of sight and how to maximise this. For example, sometimes a player with more sight will shout that the ball is going to be coming on my left side. This allows me to start moving and have more chance of finding it quicker than if I was just using my ears.
What would you say to someone to persuade them to give the sport a go?
Sometimes it’s great to be around other people where you are not the odd one out, the only one that’s visually impaired! It can also be quite difficult trying to play a team sport or going to the gym because of access issues or fears. With blind cricket, everyone is in the same boat. It’s also a lot of fun and a great laugh. I would also add that we are totally different and from totally different backgrounds, from businessmen to students, and we accept everyone - no matter what their ability, level of visual impairment or sex. We also work hard to include players with additional disabilities, whether that be hearing impairment, learning disability or conditions like cerebral palsy.
What one piece of advice would you give someone just starting out playing a sport that’s new to them?
Try and be open minded and give it a bit of time before deciding if it’s for you or not.
And, finally, what are your ambitions? Who inspires you?
I would love to play internationally. It’s a big step up but I would love to achieve it. The people who inspire me are the players who keep playing, even as their sight is deteriorating, and the more senior players too. I've only been playing about five years but there are players in the league who have been playing for much, much longer - there is even one player in his 80s!
Thanks Jemma! Hopefully now that people know a bit more, they might be inspired to play too.
To find out more about blind cricket nationally, check out http://bcewblog.wordpress.com/. You can also follow BCEW on Twitter - @UKBlindCricket.