Bhubaneswar: When we talk about the differently-abled people making the state proud, we certainly talk about the Odisha visually impaired cricket team. Led by international all-rounder Md Jafar Iqbal, this team has won the national championship last year and are East Zone champions for six consecutive years.
Apart from Jafar, Odisha has also produced two more international players Sukhram Majhi and Pankaj Bhue. All of them have represented team India in various blind cricket world cups. Jafar and Sukhram were a part of the recently concluded T20 Cricket World Cup for the blind in which a game against New Zealand was played in Bhubaneswar.
Speaking to odishatv.in, international cricketer Jafar Iqbal said, "We started playing seriously in 2011 and have come a long way after that. We have won six times in the zone. We are also the defending champions of the national T20 tournament. I hope more players will come forward to represent India from our Odisha team."
"I left cricket for three years to focus on my career since the blind cricket team was not getting much support. But now with the Central Government taking note of our team, I am happy to come back to the game and live my dream again playing for the country," informed another international player Pankaj Bhue.
Since 2004, the team is under the guidance of coach Chandrasekhar Pattnaik who believes that the team's success is a result of the hardwork of the players making Odisha one of the best teams in the country since 2011.
"I have been working from 2004 but the results came in 2011. We entered the semi-final of the national competition after which three players from our team went on to play international cricket," said Chandrasekhar Pattnaik.
Despite their constant performance at the national level, the visually impaired team is yet to get basic infrastructure like proper ground as well as cricketing equipments. Apart from few cash awards, neither the state government nor the state cricket association is providing the team enough support.
"We are getting good support from the people but I always feel the state government should come forward to support us. I hope Odisha Cricket Association (OCA) will give us recognition after BCCI gifted cash awards to all the players of the Indian team," said Jafar Iqbal.
After winning the East Zone tourney in Kolkata last Sunday, the cricketers are working hard just before the 40-over national championship which will be played in Mumbai from October 30. With an aim to win this championship and represent the nation, youngsters in the team are looking forward to follow the footsteps of their seniors.
"Lingaraj, Nakul and Kalia can certainly do well to play for India. There are other players who are performing well, so I hope they will continue to excel in the future," hopes Sukhram Majhi.