Cricket isn’t just another sport in India, it is considered to be a religion. A religion that is followed by many in the country and one amongst them is Bhima Kunti. A man whose dedication and efforts for cricket were recently praised by Harbhajan Singh and VVS Laxman on the second day of the fourth test match between India and England.
But what makes Bhima different from others? Bhima is 80 per cent disabled, he plays with one hand to balance himself on the wheelchair, this is what makes Bhima different and a player to look up to. Bhima, captain of the Gujarat wheelchair cricket team is the 1st wheelchair cricketer to have three consecutive half-centuries on the national level to his name. It was Bhima’s leadership and the collective efforts of the Gujarat team that they were in the 2nd National Wheelchair cricket semi-finals. But Bhima is not alone, there are many like him who play National and International cricket and are associated with Wheelchair Cricket India Association.
Bhima Kunti, from Porbandar, Gujarat, the star cricketer of Wheelchair Cricket India Association (WCIA) interacted with Sociotab and shared anecdotes of his journey and much more:
Ques: Please tell us more about your journey
My cricket journey started in the year 1992, but I started playing professionally only after 2015 when I got to know about Wheelchair Cricket India Association (WCIA) through social media and I got associated with it, but I have been playing cricket since childhood. Cricket is in the blood of Indians. But it was a little different for me, I batted while sitting on the ground and had faced a lot of struggles. I did not have a tricycle or a wheelchair back then and for something as small as a haircut, I had to wait for 4 to 5 months for somebody to carry me to another village. I had no hope. Kahin see bhi koi Kinara nahi dikh raha tha.
Then later when I came to know about Wheelchair Cricket India Association, I told myself, Bhima this is the only chance, if you want to do something in life you have to grab this opportunity. And then I shifted to Porbandar from my village, I asked people for a wheelchair, ball, bat and helmet to play and like that I was selected to the WCIA.
Ques: When did you play your first international cricket?
My first tour was to Malaysia in the year 2015. It is a lost memory now. However, we did not win in Malaysia. Later, I was selected to Wheelchair Cricket India Association and we had many memorable victories.
Ques: How have things changed after getting associated with WCIA?
The Bhima Kunti who had to wait for months for somebody to take him to another village for a haircut was now travelling to Nepal and Bangladesh to play international tournaments and represent India. Cricket has given us everything. There is no looking back since I got associated with WCIA. We defeated Nepal with 2–0, where I was the Man of the Series; then we defeated Bangladesh with 2–0. The journey since then is really beautiful, and the journey has just started, there is a long way to go.
Ques: What problems did you face while playing cricket sitting in a wheelchair?
Cricket itself is a very technical game, it is easier to comment from the outside, but it is very different on the ground. And for a guy on a wheelchair, it is thousand times more difficult. All the shots from cover-drive, straight drive to cut shots, all have to be played sitting at one position. A normal player would move ahead for a cover-drive or move backwards for a straight drive, but we have to play all the strokes from one position. But you have to play the shots perfectly, and there can be no excuse if you are representing India. There is no measure of how much hard work and struggle I had put in in last six years, and it is only because of the hard work that Virat Sir congratulated me or Star Sports gave me recognition. It is not just me but all the members of WCIA put in a lot of hard work.
Ques: What people around you said when you first started playing?
I cannot even say the words that have been said to me in my initial years of playing cricket. I was mocked, laughed at, and called out things I can’t speak about. The words still haunt and pain me sometimes.
Ques: What do they say now?
Those are the same people who now talk about my struggle and say itna struggle karke apne yeh achieve kiya hai. It was very different in the beginning, I had nothing and nobody, but now everything is changed.
Ques: Why Cricket?
I used to play cricket since I was 6–7 years old. My father used to listen to cricket commentary on the radio, and from there I got to know about the sport and I started following cricket. When I started playing with my friends, I fell in love with sport more than my father. I can still not think of anything else other than cricket. Cricket hai toh mai hoon, cricket nahi hai toh mai nahi.
Ques: Are the rules different for Wheelchair cricket?
The rules are the same for wheelchair cricket as well. For eg, the boundary which is 50, 57, or 60 for normal cricket, it is almost the same for wheelchair cricket as well. We have to put the same efforts and play the same stroke for a six which is played by normal cricketers.
Ques: It is known that you play with one hand, please tell us more about it?
I have polio in both my legs, and I am 80 percent disabled, so I cannot play with both my hands as I need to support the wheelchair from one hand to find balance. But I can hit a six with one hand also (Bhima laughs) and I am not the only one, there are many wheelchair players like me.
Ques: Tell us about your fitness routine.
I have trained myself thoroughly, we are playing for India, and representing India so we have to be at our best. Usme India wali baat toh honi chhaiye.
I reach the ground by 7:10, and for around an hour, I undergo a physical session which includes running and exercising. I have gym equipment at home, so I workout for 35 minutes. Later from 5 to 7:30 pm, I am back to the ground for practice and fitness.
Ques: Recently Harbhajan and VVS Laxman congratulated you, how did you feel?
I thank Harbhajan and VVS Laxman, it feels great to have been recognized by them, but the journey has just started, and the road is very long for me and Wheelchair Cricket India Association. We have achieved a lot but there is a lot more to achieve.
Ques: What else would you like to play other than cricket?
Not just cricket, there are many sports I have played in the state like javelin throw, shot put, discus throw. I have a gold medal in rifle shooting as well.
I had two dreams since childhood, I loved playing cricket, and I wanted to join the Army, but I couldn’t join, so after being recognized for my game, I asked myself what can you do for others? So I decided to train young boys and girls for the Indian army and police in Gujarat, and around 50 boys from them are serving in the Indian Army today.
Ques: Is there any cricketer you look up to?
I have grown watching Sachin Tendulkar play, and as many Indians, he is someone I look up to, and I wish to meet him somebody and talk about cricket with him.
Ques: Where do you see yourself in the future?
The journey ahead could be more beautiful. We know BCCI recognizes Blind Cricket Association and Women Cricket; we know BCCI will support us too. And we will be able to achieve and do more.
Just like IPL and other cricket events are supported by big brands and companies, we wish to be provided with the same support from brands. Many of us face financial problems. We are also playing for India, we are also making our country proud, we are also defeating Pakistan with 3–0 (Bhima Laughs), so we also deserve the same love and support. It will push us to challenge our limits and work harder. The support in the background of the victory is much needed; we receive a lot of support from organizations but, there is a lot that can be done.
Ques: What do you have to say to the budding wheelchair cricketers?
Don’t think that you have problem in your legs or hands; you might not have everything, but you have a lot of things. Many of us think that our organs are not functional, so we won’t be able to do this but, this is completely wrong, either we don’t want to work hard or we don’t believe in ourselves. There is nothing that we cannot achieve. I have wholeheartedly invested myself in the game for six years, and now nobody can stop me. Nobody can replace hard work and nobody can stop you from moving ahead thereafter.