What an opportunity. I’d been playing blind cricket since the age of 15, 1980 was the first time played. It felt as if I’d spent a life time in the game, but they say hard work eventually pays off.
And it did.
The opportunity to establish the game on the world stage finally came in 1997. I was appointed as one of three Australian Delegates to visit India and meet with seven other countries with a view to establishing a world cup of cricket for the blind. Wow.
I grabbed the opportunity and before I knew it I was immersing myself in the culture of India.
From the time the doors opened on the plane until the time they closed again a week later, you only had one option, immersion. Not only the culture, but the sights, sounds, stench, people, traffic, noise, haze, heat. It oozes into your pores, your senses, your being as you are consumed in the cacophony of the streets of New Delhi.
Duck, my traveling companion, and I, are somehow greeted at the airport and whisked off to our hotel. We joke that we’ve been kidnapped and will wind up in a ditch somewhere. The trip is long and takes us away from the madness of New Delhi airport.
Our room is basic, almost prison cell like. A shared bed, shared bathroom. Nothing but the best for the Australian Delegates!
Somehow we work out sleeping, showering and toileting arrangements. Its not pretty, but it gets us through the night.
The next day we start to meet with delegates and an impromptu game of cricket kicks off in the courtyard of the hotel. We meet delegates form other countries, including England, Pakistan, India, New Zealand and South Africa. The Sri Lankans arrive a little later.
We play cricket for a couple of hours. Its a great time we each country uses a different type of ball, so we are all sampling a different cricket ball for the first time. The English and South Africans with their soccer ball with bells in it, the sub continent countries with a small hard plastic ball with ball bearings and us Aussies and Kiwis with our plastic woven ball with bells and bottle tops.
After the fun and shenanigans, we move inside and commence the formal part of the trip. The establishment of the World blind Cricket Council and the planning of the first world cup of blind cricket. The game I have played and loved for over 17 years is finally truly hitting the internationals stage. I’ve toured New Zealand previously and won test matches home and abroad, but to now have an opportunity, maybe, to play in a World Cup was fantastic.
The conference went well and a lot was agreed upon over the three days. An international ball was agreed, the Indian variant. A venue for the World Cup, India, New Delhi was agreed to. And we hammered out a full set fo rules for the international game.
I was appointed as treasurer of the inaugural world blind cricket council committee and got to work on setting up the organisation.
After the hard work was done, Duck and I had a few days in India sight seeing before we headed off to South Africa and England with the delegates to continue the conversations and assist future planning efforts.
We did strike one snag while sight seeing. We planned a trip to see the Taj Mahal in Agra, around a three hour drive. The night before we booked a car, with air conditioning, to take us there. all seemed in order.
The next day the car arrives, around 45 minutes, which isn’t unexpected and we commence our journey. We ask the driver to turn on the air conditioner, its around 40 degrees by 10.00am. He obliges, by winding down his window and exclaiming, “good air, good air.” Duck and i aren’t impressed.
We pass a range of things on the road, from cows and bullocks, broken down trucks, just left there to rot, beggars, shanty towns and an endless parade of foot traffic moving from one place to another.
About half way into the journey, our driver turns to us and says, “oh, I forgot to tell you, Taj Mahal is closed today.”
Ahh, what? We’d paid a couple of thousand Rupee for this trip.
The driver continues to explain that he knows how to get in, even when its closed. We just need to be willing to pay some bribes.
The rest of the trip, Duck and I stare out of the windows, hot air blowing in our faces as we breathe in the smells, sounds and sights of the trip to Agra.
We arrive around 1.00pm and are taken to a large red brick wall to the south of the Taj Mahal complex. There is some yelling from our guide, some yelling back and we venture into some scrub and a large metal door appears in the underrowth. Our guide bashes on the door. It opens and a hand pops out.
“Rupee, Rupee” This would become a common call over the next 30 minutes. We hand over some money.
We are let through the door. We continue to walk through scrub and reach another door.
The scene is repeated.
We are now in dense scrub, the sun can’t be seen overhead, but its overwhelming heat can be felt. The humidity is rich. Stagnant and ripe. Both Duck and I are dripping in sweat and our guides and assistants are both dripping in sweat and carry with them a sweet aroma of dirty money and the forest floor.
After walking for about twenty minutes, we reach another wall and we are instructed to climb in. i look at Duck, “Are we really going to do this? Like break into the Taj Mahal?”
“When in Rome Michae!” Duck responds.
So we scale the wall, its about twenty feet and there are ample trees, branches and foot holds to get us to the top quickly. Our guides, as nimble as monkeys or cats, find their way up and stand with us atop the wall.
“Ahh, behold, Taj Mahal!” one exclaims.
Duck and I peer into the distance, seeing nothing! Have these guys forgotten we are with the blind cricket delegation?
“What, where?” I ask.
I follow his arm and finger pointing. All I can see is more forest and every now and then as I swing my head from right to left, a glimpse of one of the spires of the Taj Mahal.
We then walk along the wall to a clearing. The view becomes a little better. All we can see is a spire and the large dome.
But our guides are saying how wonderful it was to see it and we should be happy and pleased.
We then hear voices from the ground and in front of us and our guides hurry us away.
“Guards, they say.”
We are quickly escorted away and back to our bus.
Duck and I complaint to our driver, but its no good. The language barrier all of a sudden comes up, as does the care factor as he starts to drive us home. He does, however agree to show us around the city of Agra and the Red Fort.
The streets are filthy. The people are filthy. Disease is all around as beggars with horrible deformities and birth defects approach us for support. Duck and I hand out money and chocolates. Its little comfort for a generation of people born to a life less fortunate than ours. Its really heartbreaking walking around bearing witness to such human suffering.
We re-board our bus and make the three hour journey back to new Delhi. Three hours turns to five as the roads are clogged.
Friday night seem to be busy. We learn later that the Taj is closed every Friday, pity we didn’t have another few days in India and we a little better informed. Oh well, you live and learn.
We return to our hotel and pack, our flight is in the morning, Home here we come!