Mahantesh Kivadasannavar's name is synonymous with Indian blind cricket. He is one of the champion creators and leaders of the sport in the country. Being the President of the Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI) and the founder of the Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled along with his role at the World Blind Cricket Ltd. (WBC), he juggles three roles convincingly and with great tenacity.
In this interview, he shares with us his journey in blind cricket, lessons learnt, and visions for the future. Let's take a look at the excerpts from this interview without further ado.
1. Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and how you got associated with the World Blind Cricket (WBC) Ltd. and then formed the Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI)?
My first introduction to cricket came via the radio. As a little boy, I was tasked with listening to India’s Test match scores and relaying that to a friend of my father on the telephone. From there, when I moved to Bangalore for my education at the Shree Ramana Maharishi Academy for the Blind, my interest only grew as I could now play with boys who were blind like me.
Those days it was mostly school teams, such as the one from SRMAB, that took part in the nationals and I used to help the then Association for Cricket for the Blind in India (ACBI) with forming the school teams from South India.
In 1997, we formed the Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled with the main purpose being to organise cricket for people like us who were out of school but still wanted to play. As Founder Managing Trustee of Samarthnam, I didn’t expect it to grow as big as it has done so far and move into so many fields.
Seeing us organising tournaments regularly, back in 2010, George Abraham, the father of blind cricket, decided to hand over the organisation of blind cricket to my friend Nagesh and I. He went to the extent of disbanding ACBI and allowed us to start afresh and thus the Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI) came about. George got us affiliated with the WBC.
A little down the line, we successfully conducted the inaugural T20 Blind World Cup in India in 2012. Then at the WBC AGM during the 2017 T20 World Cup in India, the then president, Syed Sultan Shah of Pakistan, suggested that since India was back in the scheme of things, the President of the world body should once again be an Indian. I was, thus, elected as head of the world body.
2. What were the early memories that you have of CABI?
We registered CABI in 2011, and in 2012 here we were organizing a World Cup. Raising funds proved to be a huge challenge, but thanks to my team at Samarthanam, we pulled it off. The success of this blind cricket tournament and the confidence we gained from that gave us a huge impetus.
3. How has the organisation evolved over the years? What have been some lessons that you have learnt?
The conducting of our national tournament for state teams every year from 2010 onwards has helped us grow the association. Starting with zonal tournaments, we moved to an inter-state competition. At the recent 10th AGM of CABI, we added five more states to take the total number of affiliated states to 30.
The main challenge has been to get funds and then recognition from official bodies such as the government and the BCCI. We learned to take nothing for granted. For example, when we decided to host the first T20 World Cup in blind cricket in 2012, we thought that the sponsorship would flow since it was a World Cup. We understood very quickly that we would have to work hard to convince people to invest in blind cricket.
4. Can you talk about the players? How are they selected and how do they practice?
The players are selected mostly from their performances in the national tournament. The states hold camps, bilateral matches between neighbouring states, and so on to select their teams for the Nationals. Then, we take over. A camp for 30-odd players is held by CABI before every series or tournament from which the final 14 or 17 are selected.
5. India has been quite successful in the blind cricket arena. Can you please share your thoughts?
As we all know cricket is a religion in India. It's no different with the blind community. Our success is mainly due to the large numbers available for us to choose from. Form quantity we are able to produce quality. Some of the other nations suffer on this count as they don’t have too many blind kids playing or following cricket.
6. What is the current scenario of Indian blind cricket?
The pandemic has hit us like it has any other organisation. We had to put off a South African blind cricket team’s tour to India in March. Fortunately, we completed our 2019-20 domestic season before the lockdown. We are hoping to start off the 2020-21 season at least in late November or early December, in which case we can still have a complete season, including hosting the South Africans.
There is some worry about funds too as a lot of CSR funds have already been employed to tackle the pandemic but we hope our regular donors will still back us.
7. What are your future plans with CABI?
We want to make CABI a National Sports Federation under the Union Sports Ministry and also get BCCI to recognize us and provide funds and infrastructure. Last year, our long-standing dream of conducting a Women’s National in blind cricket became a reality. Sooner rather than later, we hope to similarly organize an IPL style Blind Cricket League and have players from all over the world take part in it.
8. What advice would you give to other change makers and aspiring players?
Creating change is a very satisfying effort. My sincere advice to change makers is that bringing change is not easy, you have to really work hard and be what you expect others to be. You need to create what you would like to enjoy and enjoy what you create.
For the players, there are opportunities in blind cricket. They should consider this as an additional career opportunity. It gives you a chance to realise your potential, play for the country, travel to different places, and also earn some money. You can get recognition too.
Our former blind cricket team captain got the Padma Shri, our vice-captain got a National Award. There are also many blind cricket players getting promotions in their respective jobs. In the future, there are going to be a lot of more opportunities in blind cricket, like playing in an IPL-style Blind Cricket League. Thus, one needs to stay focused and start playing. It will not only help you from many angles, but it will also keep you physically and mentally very active and fit.
9. What has been the most challenging aspect of your position and how have you dealt with it?
Holding multiple positions - President of World Blind Cricket and President of Cricket Association for the Blind in India and Founder Managing Trustee of the Samarthanam Trust – is a huge challenge. All the organisations are inter-connected, so balancing all of them, making sure the interest of all the three organisations is upheld, have their challenges.
You have to make sure you win the confidence of the members of all three organisations because you have to align all of them. Any rift between any organisation or the members is going cause a certain amount of trouble. Fortunately, I have managed to keep it very open and simple, allowing for proper coordination between people in all the three organizations. That has helped me manage the positions effectively.
10. What has been the greatest moment in your career as President of the CABI and President of WBC?
The greatest moment as the President of CABI came when we successfully hosted the first T20 World Cup for blind cricket in 2012. Sitting in the presidential box and watching our boys win the trophy was huge.
And when the boys got big cash awards, I felt so vindicated. It was all topped when the team members were invited by the Prime Minister. I was so glad to be a part of that meeting. These are some amazing moments that I will cherish for life .