“I have a spinal cord injury and I am a wheelchair user since childhood. But thanks to my family, and friends I started playing cricket in childhood only. I think playing cricket was my destiny. My professional journey started in 2015 when I just randomly searched for wheelchair cricket on Facebook, and I found current Indian wheelchair cricket captain Somjeet Singh and the Delhi Team Captain Sonu Gupta. I sent them a request and we started talking. They told me that wheelchair cricket has started in India. I never thought a concept like a wheelchair cricket could actually exist.
They asked me to give trials and send a video of myself playing. I sent my video of playing shots and with a few follow-up processes and trials, I got selected for the Allahabad tri-series between Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Delhi. I was selected for the UP team and that’s how my journey with Wheelchair Cricket India Association (WCIA) started.
In 2018, during June-July, there was a selection process for the International series in Bangladesh, I was selected to play for India. I delivered a good performance. I made my first international half-century, taking 4 wickets. We defeated Bangladesh 2-0. I was over the top of the world. I could see my life-changing. I was overcoming the challenges. The journey made me so confident.
In September 2018, I was selected for India-Pakistan in Dubai. I delivered a good performance there also. We defeated Pakistan 3-0. Then we had the Indian Wheelchair Cricket League (IWCL) in Gurgaon. I was the captain of the UP team, we delivered a good performance there also.
We won the tournament and the journey continues.”
What were the initial struggles?
“One of the biggest challenges of the initial days were everyday mobility issues in the government wheelchair. It has no speed, no proper sitting position, I cannot describe how difficult it is to move in those wheelchairs.
However, thanks to cricket and my exposure through it, I switched to an active wheelchair. It has not only improved my performance but my years of struggle finally came to an end.
“Cricket se phele struggle bahut tha.” To face people, to converse with them everything was a struggle. People carried a stigma that I am disabled so I won’t be able to do anything.
But since I am officially associated with cricket life has changed completely. Now the only struggle is what the future holds for the wheelchair cricket association.”
What is the change in attitude in people before and after you started playing for India?
“There has been a drastic change. First of all, I will tell you how the perspective of people in my home town changed. Fellows in school knew me because I was on a wheelchair. ‘1000 mai ek baccha wheelchair peh alag se dekhta hai.‘ You know right the sympathy, the judgmental stigmatised way people look at you. It is the same for every individual in the disability community.
But when I came back from Bangladesh playing for India, I received a grand welcome back at home. But when I returned from Dubai, I won against Pakistan. We received a majestic welcome at the station, so many people came to welcome us. Everything changed. I never thought people would welcome us like that, that people would love us like that. From the airport to the station to my villages, it felt like an ever ending celebration of our triumph. I was thrilled and overjoyed.”
How do you think sports can rehabilitate a disabled person?
“The role of sports to empower disabled individual is immense. I cannot emphasise enough. The sport can be anything, be it cricket, para-sports or anything, but sports in the life of the disabled can change a lot of things for them. Sports make you active, it brings camaraderie, it fills you with confidence as you get to travel so much. “Wheelchair par hone ke baad bhi yeh nahi sochta ki woh wheelchair par hai.”
“Yeh sochta hai ki woh bande khade mai mai baitha hoon,” (Anmol says laughingly) “Puri ki puri life change ho jati hai.”
“I learnt to take the pressure myself, to motivate the team members in grey times. One thing we often underestimate is to motivate ourselves. We must learn to motivate ourselves. When you become a captain of the team and take over the leadership role, you need to know how to manage it on the ground. Every player deals with the pressure differently.
I never think that I am the captain when I am on the ground. This works for me to manage my pressure. I always tell my players “aap sab captain hai.” I tell my players to communicate anything freely, I tell the players you have the freedom to tell them if you can bowl a player better or have a better fielding setup. When I go for batting I forget that I am a captain. The only thing that matters to me at that point in time is my performance on the ground.
I think my role as a captain is largely to increase the morale of my players. Even if my bowler is performing badly, I encourage him and motivate him to deliver that one ball that can take the wicket. And the course of matches changes in our favour. I learnt this approach towards my game and towards my team from Dhoni. You see me talking to everybody, interacting with each player. I observe Dhoni very closely on the ground. Maine unko adarsh maankar hi kaam kiya hai.
My team members like me in captaincy because I listen to them, I give importance to their opinions, and I think that is very important.”
Sportsman Sprirt at the time of Corona
“In cricket, you don’t necessarily need a big playground. In India, people play cricket in very galli and mohallah, you just need the junoon for the game. You can play anywhere. Like I come from a village in Meerut, so I made a pitch and fixed a net and practiced there during the lockdown. We didn’t leave the practice even during the corona times.”
Changing the mindset: Beyond Disability
“When Deepa Malik won the medal in the 2016 Paralympics, her victory at the International level started the discourse around disability sports. Nobody knew about it before that. They paved the way.
The Tokyo Paralympics changed the mindset of people, media and the government towards the players altogether. It has given a much-needed boost to disability sports. Now people ask about our upcoming events, they want to know about it. People have started talking. Of course, there is a long road ahead of us, but we are moving ahead and that is important.
“I also started para-javelin throw in 2020. In 2021, in the National Championship at Bengaluru, I won a bronze in para-javelin and para-shot put. Mujhe lagta hai body chalti rehni chahiye, agar hamare pas power hai, so why not?“
Education plays a major role in the understanding of disability rights. Today, with the advancement of digital platforms, social media is a crucial factor to click with the right audience and fill the void of lack of awareness. Today the ones who are not socially updated.”
Along with cricket, Anmol is also practicing for the Para- Asian Games to be played in 2022.