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Bhalaji Damor is now a farm hand

AHMEDABAD: For Bhalaji Damor, man of the series in the first cricket world cup for the blind, life has bowled a googly. The ace all-rounder, who took India to the semi-finals of the tournament in 1998, now tends buffaloes and does odd farm jobs for a living.

The 38-year-old’s career record is impressive — 125 matches, 3,125 runs and 150 wickets. To this day, he remains India’s top wicket taker. The completely blind cricketer, who played eight international matches, was feted by President K R Narayanan after India lost in the semis to South Africa.

While the gentleman’s game brought Bhalaji recognition all over the country, life’s slog overs began as his career ended.

“After the world cup, I had hoped to get a job. But I couldn’t get in anywhere even through the quotas for sports or the handicapped,” he says. All he got from the Gujarat government was a citation many years ago.

Today, the one-acre farm he shares with his brother in Piprana village in Aravalli district isn’t enough to meet his family’s basic requirements. Even work on other people’s farms is hard to come by because of his impairment. His wife Anu is also a casual farm worker. She and their four-year-old son Satish have normal vision.

What stands out in the family’s ramshackle one-room home, where the tiled ceiling is falling apart, are the numerous certificates he got as a star cricketer.

Bhaskar Mehta, vice president of National Association for Blind, says the Indian blind team hasn’t seen another all rounder of Bhalaji’s caliber. “During the world cup, my teammates used to call me Sachin Tendulkar,” he recalls.

While cricketers with normal vision get huge applause for knocking down the stumps from square leg or gully with just one wicket in sight, Bhalaji as a bowler could hit the stumps, ball after ball, without seeing anything at all. With an amplified hearing sense, he timed his shots sweetly.

The class XII pass now occasionally goes to the blind school at Idar, the nearest big town, to coach students for a small fee. All put together, the family earns around Rs 3,000 per month. That’s less than the Rs 5,000 cash prize he got as the player of the 1998 world cup 17 years back.

“Bhalaji used to herd goats as a teenager and had a rare gift for cricket, so we encouraged him to play local tournaments. Unfortunately, it didn’t get him anywhere after the world cup finals,” says Mehta.

“It is a sad truth that sportsmen in the special category are not recognized or rewarded at all,” says Bhushan Punani, president of Blind People’s Association of India. – [TNN]