Possessing a proud history as pioneers and sports lovers, it’s no surprise that Australians paved the way for people living with disability (and mixed gender teams) - with gusto - inventing the game of Blind Cricket.
The cane wicker ball, created as early as 1877 in response to a need for safer play for blind cricketers in Victoria. Designed with objects placed inside which would make a rattling sound, it would not injure the blind cricketers if hit by the ball. Because of it's light weight, the ball would be soaked in water to add needed weight for bowling. The new cane ball's success enabled formal cricket matches, facilitating further development of blind cricket into the new century. The cane ball was used until 1974, replaced by a black nylon ball.
Incredibly, the game of blind cricket developed rapidly enough for all the modifications of the game to be established by 1913. States such as Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and South Australia had adopted the modifications, with playing teams in the states Blind Institutions. News publications helped circulate accounts about blind cricket - such as this Tasmanian article in 'The Mercury' - describing a group of blind boys at New South Wales' Institute for the Blind, who played modified games of cricket and football for enjoyment.
Article in 'The Mercury' describes the modified game's development by 1913; Such as modified ball (with bell inside); the wickets pivoting, with bell hung; the bell rung by batsman for direction; shorter pitch; batsman's scooping bat along the ground; and underarm bowling.
1926 - The First Interstate Match
Australia's cricket enthusiasm was incredibly high throughout the 1920s. Contemporaneously, enthusiasm for blind cricket and its subsequent development thrived throughout this decade. District and state teams were formed and regular matches were held throughout Australia's south eastern states. The first Blind Cricket Association was formed in Victoria in 1922. Notably, the first Interstate Blind Cricket Match was held between Victoria and South Australia during Easter of 1926 (April 3-5th), with Victoria winning the tournament.
'...of recent years a system of cricket has been evolved by which blind men have been able to spend comparatively happy hours on the sports field. For the first time in the history of Australia an interstate cricket match was played by a team of blind and partially blind men from Melbourne and a combination from Adelaide at Queen's School ground on Saturday and Monday.' - 'The News' Adelaide. April 7, 1926.
Admiration for the blind cricketers of that time was great in both states, especially for Claude Anderson of Victoria. Anderson, who had lost sight in both eyes, was a formidable cricketer, named 'best all-round blind cricketer of Victoria' in 1926.
A 1928 photograph at Kooyong, Melbourne Victoria. Demonstration of a blind cricket match before spectators.
Blind Cricket's first clubhouse and sports ground were established in Kooyong, 1928.
Courtesy National Library of Australia.
By 1929 Australia's blind cricketer's were making regular headlines in newspapers for their sporting prowess. Adelaide bowler V.P. McCulloch dismissed three batsmen from 'The Renowns' in a hat trick - one of the most difficult feats to perform for any bowler.
McCulloch bowled for 'Blind Institution Adelaide'
'The trickiest game in the world!'
Sighted players attempting blind cricket (blindfolded) were struck by how challenging the game was to play, requiring the use of keen auditory and proprioceptive senses and employing incredible communication skills amongst teammates.
One Australian journalist in 1953 noted '...if there is a harder game than this it must be the trickiest game in the world!'
1953 article in 'The Argus Magazine' also documents the establishment of the first women's blind cricket team through the Royal Institute at St Kilda Melbourne, circa 1922.
1953 - A National Game
The Australian Blind Cricket Council formed concomitant to the inaugural National Australian Blind Cricket Carnival - a national championships.
Held between states at Kooyong Victoria, in January 1953, blind cricketers competing in the first Blind Cricket Carnival required donations to help cover their team's expenses for the upcoming tournament.
Article features prominent Tasmanian blind cricketers Ian Nichols and Nat Sonners. Sport section of 'The Mercury' September 16, 1952.
'A record of triumph over adversity... probably unequalled in Australia.'
The National carnival's success naturally drew attention to some of its brightest cricketing stars. An Adelaide born Tasmanian batsman, Ian Nichols was a celebrity of blind cricket throughout the 1950s, and for good reason. Although blind since age six after a motorcycle accident, Nichols proved a gifted student, graduating in a Bachelor of Arts from Adelaide University. He went on to teach Latin and became one of Hobart's best Barristers. He was also a great cricketer; In 1950 he scored 100 not out in Tasmania during an interstate match, taking the highest score for any blind cricketer in Australia at the time, several weeks earlier he'd broken the existing record at 78.
Nichols exemplified the spirit of excellence and determination amongst Australia's blind cricketers at the time, setting a high example in both sport and academia.
Blind Cricket: 1970s
Australian Blind Cricket Carnivals were conducted bi-annually in State rotation. State badges donated by blind cricketer Glenn Siddins include his own NSW badge and badges collected from fellow players, 1970 to 1979. (NSW, VIC, QLD, SA)
NSW's Glenn Siddins batting at Melbourne Carnival, Kooyong Victoria 1968. Glenn Siddins donation, Bradman Museum Collection
NSW's Glenn Siddins bowling in a club game with his father Bill Siddins acting as umpire, 1973. Glenn Siddins donation, Bradman Museum Collection.
The black nylon ball was introduced in 1974, replacing the cane wicker ball in blind cricket matches. Like the cane ball, nylon balls are hand woven around a wire frame, containing weighty lead pieces and bottle tops in the centre for creating sound when bowled or hit.
Team portrait of New South Wales Blind Cricket team at the 1997/98 Blind Cricket Carnival. Brisbane, Australia.
Players and attendants:
Back Row (L to R): Lorraine (Team Manager & Scorer), Bruce Whitney, Charlie McConnell, Cameron Roles, Rick Gumbleton, Jason Sheldrick, Nick Hayden, Mustata, John Basket, Deanna Linke. Front Row (L to R): Phillip Scard, Glenn Siddins, Rodney Fitzgerald, Michael Linke, Michael Vickers, Vaughan Roles, Michael Sullivan.
NSW Blind Cricket Cap
Glenn Siddins represented New South Wales for two decades and captained them to their 1984/85 and 1986/87 national titles.
He was selected many times for the Australian XI. However, at the time only Australia and England had national visually impaired sides, and due to short finances no international matches could be played.
Blind Cricket maintains most of the rules of sighted cricket, but uses special modifications for play. This image demonstrates a blind cricketer in 1991, showing the standard technique of bowling underarm, with a black nylon ball. The ball, being audible, must bounce twice. The stumps and bails are metal to allow the players to hear when a batter has been bowled out. Verbal signals are also used. Batting can be either standing or a sweep shot. Bowlers touch the top of the stumps with their hand to gauge their delivery.
Early 20th Century wickets were conventional timber stumps, with a bell hung from the bails. The bell allowed players to hear when a batsman was bowled out. It was also used by the wicketkeeper to direct the bowler as to where the stumps were.
Teams are today classified into three categories, according to medical-based Paralympic classification for blind sport: B1 (totally blind players), B2 (partially blind players) and B3 (partial sight players).
New Millennium: An International Sport
By the new millennium Australia's humble invention of blind cricket expanded into a sophisticated, elite and truly competitive global sport. Since the establishment of the World Blind Cricket Council in 1998, multiple Blind World Cups and T20 Blind World Cups have been held predominantly throughout the sub-continent.
In 2012, India hosted the Blind Cricket World Cup, going on to win the tournament after defeating Pakistan in the final. Subsequently, the 2017 Blind Cricket World Cup was held in a T20 format for the second time in India (January 30 - February 12). The knockout tournament included ten teams; India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, England, Bangladesh, West Indies, South Africa, Nepal, Australia and New Zealand who played a total of 48 matches. India defeated Pakistan by 9 wickets in the finals to win their second Blind T20 World Cup. The final of this tournament was held in M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore, with legendary cricketer and former India captain Rahul Dravid acting as ambassador for the tournament.
Abhishek Iyer, Programmer and cricket lover, wrote at the time,
"From being played with a tin can and a stick to audio balls and metal stumps, blind cricket has come a long way. The enthusiasm of the visually impaired for India’s favourite game and the determination of the administrators to create a level playing field for the disadvantaged have ensured that the game is now played professionally at the national and international level. It is governed by the World Blind Cricket Council and the rules have been made in such a way so as to accommodate the challenges faced by the Visually Impaired.
Not only does this format give the blind a much deserved opportunity to play the game and boost their self-confidence, disabled cricketers are also exposed to other facets of the sport that they might have not encountered on account of their disability- discipline, teamwork, fitness, strategic planning and the spirit of competition! This naturally translates into all aspects of living, leading to a productive life of dignity and pride.
The hard white plastic cricket ball was first officially used in the 2003/04 seasons in Australia. Containing bottle tops, the holes were designed to allow sound to release better. The ball is now universally adopted by competing countries.
2017 'Inclusion' A Sport for All
In January 2017, Cricket Australia's inaugural National Cricket Inclusion Championships (NCIC) were held in Geelong, Victoria. The groundbreaking competition featured Elite Blind and Low Vision cricketers who were joined by Intellectual Disability teams, and also Deaf and Hard of Hearing teams, each competing in their divisions, in mixed gendered teams.
The annual NCIC features 14 teams and over 200 players from across Australia. Cricket Australia became the first non-Paralympic sport to fully fund the national disability teams.
Nathan Lyons, 2017 co-ambassador with Alex Blackwell, said of the championships,
"To see these players in action is truly inspiring and something I am extremely proud to represent as an ambassador.”
"One in five Australians live with a disability, so it is important opportunities are available for all cricketers. The NCIC provides cricketers who are blind or vision impaired, deaf or hard of hearing and those who have an intellectual disability a chance to represent their state or territory. Cricket plays a key role in so many lives of the Australian public. Representing your State/Territory is always a tremendous honour, but to do so alongside other cricketers identified as the best players in the nation is particularly special which is why these championships are so significant."
Kevin Roberts, Chief Executive Officer, Cricket Australia (2019)
Former Australian Women's cricket captain Jodie Fields tries her hand at Blind Cricket. Wearing blockout glasses she demonstrates the blind cricket batting technique during a practice session at the National Cricket Centre, Albion QLD.
In 2019, the Australian Blind Cricket Team were presented with a handpainted bat by renowned contemporary Indigenous artist Chern’ee Sutton.
Blind Cricket History by Chern'ee Sutton
Chern'ee Sutton's Dreaming artworks are known for their vibrancy. In her Artist's Statement she describes the visual elements of her Dreaming and of blind cricket's history, represented upon both sides of this cricket bat. Chern'ee's heritage is of the Kalkadoon people from Mount Isa, Queensland.
A proud past, a bright future
Today, blind cricket has inspired a global game, and an all-inclusive national tournament - it is a highly competitive, skilled, elite game. Its origins reveal the pioneer spirit of Australians, alongside their love for the national game of cricket; beginning with a few Melbourne men who loved cricket, and although blind, found a way to play the game together. Utlilising whatever they had on hand, these players organised the first game of blind cricket with a tin can. Goodwill and community spirit helped them establish the rules and equipment needed. The game has continued to thrive and inspire ever since.
2019 - National Blind Squad
Blind Cricket Australia have managed the Australian Blind Cricket team for the best part of 40 years. Cricket Australia recently signed Blind Cricket Australia to fully fund the National Blind Squad and take over the management of the team. A nine day training camp held in 2019 (pictured) in Brisbane was the first time Cricket Australia selected a National Blind Squad.
Players (pictured): Brendan Spencer (Vic), Lindsey Heaven (NSW), Mike Hamilton (NSW), Sean Kendrick (Qld), Brad Brider (WA), Stephen Palmer (SA), Aaron Lyall (SA), Dan Pritchard (Vic), Sean Fitzpatrick (NSW), Vaughan Roles (NSW), Ned Brewer Maiga (Vic), Oscar Stubbs (NSW), Ben Felten (NSW), Steve Obeid (Vic), Steffan Nero (WA), John Boland (Vic), Matt McCarthy (Qld), Sean Brown (NSW), Matt Cameron (Vic), Cory Heberley (Qld).
Authors: Monica Donoso, Rina Hore
Art Direction: Monica Donoso
© Bradman Museum 2019
Aaron Dradwidge, Cricket Australia.
Objects: Bradman Museum Collection.
Blind Cricket NSW State Cap. Donation Glenn Siddins.
A.B.C.C. Badges - 1970 - 1979. Donation Glenn Siddins.
Photographs, 1973, 1968. Donation Glenn Siddins.
NSW Team photo, 1997. Donation Glenn Siddins.
Cane Wicker Ball, Black Nylon Ball, White Plastic Ball.
Object Photography: Monica Donoso for Bradman Museum.
All Newspapers, Courtesy National Library of Australia.
The Argus, Melbourne. (January 6, 1952).
Australiasian Supplement (May 26 1877).
The Mercury (September 16, 1952).
The Mercury (April 17, 1951).
The Mercury (January 31, 1913.)
The News, South Australia. (April 7 1926).
Photograph. Blind bowler, 1991. Tim Clayton.
Photograph, Blind cricketers at Kooyong C.1928. National Library of Australia.
Inclusion National Championships 2019 (cover). Cricket Australia.
Images, Chern'ee Sutton, 2019 players, cricket bat. Cricket Australia.
National Blind cricket Squad 2019. Cricket Australia.
Jodie Fields and Blind Cricket team. Cricket Australia.
Artist Statement Audio: Chern'ee Sutton. Cricket Australia.
Video National Blind Cricket Squad 2019. Cricket Australia.
Archive footage authorised for use by Bradman Museum for non-commercial gain.