In the first part of our series exploring what cricket means to us, Dylan Nichols meets Hamish McKenzie, a current player and administrator of Blind Cricket in Australia. This month, we’ve seen India beat Pakistan to take out the Fifth Blind Cricket World Cup, and New South Wales beat Victoria to Australia’s National Cricket Inclusion Championships Blind and Vision Impaired Division, and while there’s a long way to go to ensure blind cricket gets the profile and support it needs, there’s no doubt this unique version of the game is becoming more visible than ever before.
A mild-mannered bank employee during the week, Hamish is an avid participant in cricket on weekends. He is also Treasurer for Blind Cricket Australia, and a Committee Member for the Victorian Blind Cricket Association.
Hamish lost his sight in the mid-nineties at the age of 26 in an accident and, after rebuilding his life, found blind cricket as a way that not only offered a sporting outlet, but a competitive one.
“I was always into cricket. Growing up as a Scottish ex-pat in Dubai, I got to go to a lot of the exhibition games that were held there that featured many of the greats of the era including (Ian) Botham, (Viv) Richards…the games were played in front of big Asian crowds, so it was pretty exciting”
Hamish had played cricket, hockey and rugby before the accident, taking advantage of the ex-pat lifestyle in the UAE. After the accident, Hamish moved back to the UK and discovered blind cricket as one of the only sports available to him. He had no prior experience with blind people or blindness, so it was all very new to him.
Adding to his trepidation was the English tradition of maintaining formality over practicality; blind cricket in the UK is played with a size 3 soccer ball, rather than how the game is played everywhere else: using a ball with a bell in it.
I asked him if his background playing hockey has helped him with a game where the ball is bowled under-arm at the batsman: “Mate, I bat at eleven” came the reply, in an accent that is a rich mix of the Hebrides and Melbourne.
After moving to Australia in the late 90s, Hamish became increasingly involved in blind cricket, even representing his adopted country in the sport, and taking part in his sport’s equivalent of the Ashes, versus England.
“I’m a Scot so I have no issue beating the Poms, they’re all up themselves anyway.” he said.
One of Hamish’s favourite cricket memories was batting at eleven for Australia in the World Cup against Pakistan, which – along with India – is one of the powerhouses of international blind cricket.
“I came in at the eighteenth over and managed to hang around for 15 overs, and even hit the only four of my career,” said Hamish. “I was taking the piss out of their version of Shoaib Akhtar, [who’s] a seriously quick bowler, which forced me to wear a helmet when batting. It was good fun though and even the umpire was laughing.”
India and Pakistan success in Blind Cricket is largely a result of the enormous pool of players they have to draw from, it is estimated that there are 15 million blind people in India alone, making up nearly 40% of the worlds population of Blind People.
Furthermore, many of these contract blindness later in life due to poor health services, meaning that there are a large number of ready-made cricketers for their National Blind Team to draw from.
Winning the Ashes for Australia in 2006 is also a special memory for Hamish, as are the memories of playing at the International Test grounds at Galle and Kandy.
Cricket has provided Hamish with what he thought was lost to him after the accident.
“It’s a good way to play sport at a high level, which isn’t always available to disabled people. It gives you the ability to not only participate, but achieve.” The ability to participate in National and International tours is a real incentive, both for the fun and the competition.
As well as remaining a participant of the game, Hamish still follows international matches. The lack of circadian rhythm he experiences as a result of his blindness, something that affects many blind people, has one benefit – it enables him to follow games at all hours of the day or night.
Had the summer of cricket been disrupted, it could have had a double impact on Hamish. The loss of professional games to follow would have been felt; but the potential loss of $25-$20 million funding from Cricket Australia to grassroots cricket, including Blind Cricket, had they not been generating revenue from the international game would have had an even greater impact.
“There are big numbers [of players] coming through and the engagement [with CA] has helped provide finances to fund tours and enabled people to participate at carnivals,” said Hamish.
Now on the board of the BCA, Hamish is looking to help bring new young players in and give them the opportunities that exist through blind cricket.
“There is a much greater spread of sports and outlets available to blind people now, as well as technology … it has become more of a challenge to attract players.”
Hamish believes he will always be involved in the sport, and continue to help it grow and be more accessible, to ensure as many blind people as possible can access the game and opportunities it offers, and have the enjoyment he has experienced.
Feature image credit: Victorian Blind Cricket Association
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