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December 2, 2020

The Chhattisgarh

Beyond The Region

Bound by wheelchair, free by spirit – Indian cricket’s superfan makes a request

Just before the start of the first India vs Bangladesh Test match at the Holkar stadium in Indore, officials informed that around 9000 tickets have been sold. Also, there were estimates that around 12,000 fans would pack the stadiums across all the five days. Make no mistake, these numbers matter, especially after Virat Kohli reiterated his point that he wants BCCI to earmark 5 Test centres for India. This is only Indore’s second Test, but the ground is ticking all the right boxes.

And the fans thronged the stadium on Day 1, making their presence felt. There were adequate arrangements in place, the stands are quite close to the actual action which makes the spectators be in the contest at all times. A stroll across the gallery and one can get the sense of pride the locals have in hosting Test cricket. None more than Shahzad Ali, a member of Indore wheelchair team, who is a cricket fanatic.

For Shahzad, cricket is not an escape from the daily tribulations of life, but it has been his life. An ardent supporter of the Indian cricket team, he makes it a point to be in attendance whenever the side pays a visit. However, while the rest the crowd absolutely glide in, Shahzad has to crawl his way into the stadium.

“I put my slippers on my hands and then drag myself across the road and enter the stadium. Today, I was lofted by the security staff and a couple of policemen and they brought me into the ground. But, well, you see the game and these struggles do take a backseat,” Shahzad told Hindustan Times.

He has been in the Madhya Pradesh cricket team since 2017, but says, there is absolutely no support from the state associations. So much so, they do not have a ground to play.

“Forget the ground, we have to clamour to get any attention. We registered in 2017, but receive no funding either from the government or the association. We pool in our funds, go play matches and then distribute the prize money amongst ourselves,” Shahzad said who works as secretary in a private company.

“After jostling for 6 years, we finally got tickets in 2017 when there was a stand put up for the disabled in the India vs Sri Lanka match. As far as facilities are concerned, there is none. We are getting tickets, we are happy with it. Cannot expect anything more,” he added.

It is not only a game for him, the avid fan in Shahzad believes that this game gives him an opportunity to be recognised. It makes sense as during the conversation, we are surrounded by a group of people who bring out intermittent shrieks even as Shahzad keeps his calm and tries to answer the queries.

“This game is what gives me some sort of recognition. Although, I do social work too, but when on the ground, either playing or watching the game, the rest of the world does not actually matter.”

After being given another nudge, he finally speaks about what he wants and well, it is nothing which should even be a matter of discussion.

“We expect few wheelchairs to be present in the ground. We love the game, always want to be present, but then when there are no wheelchairs, how will we enter the ground in the first place? Yes, people helped us today, but how can we expect this help to come about every day. Even we are part of this crowd, we are fans, I just hope we are not left out,” he says as the players take the ground.

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