The captain of the Pakistan blind cricket team, Zeeshan Abbasi, was once a shy and awkward child who relied on his family and friends to get by in a country where disability is a major stigma.
Growing up in the mountainous northern Ayubia District, his earliest memories are of clutching his mother’s hand as they climbed a winding path to a school where he was never fully accepted.
However, having recently led his team to the final of the World Cup and triumph in a series over traditional foe India, he credits cricket with turning his life around.
“If I didn’t play cricket, I would have not enjoyed this status as a national celebrity,” the 30-year-old said.
Abbasi said that as a child he was punished for not being able to keep up at his first school.
“My teachers did not know how to teach me,” he said.
Realizing the youngster’s difficulties, his uncle arranged his admission in a school for blind children in the city of Rawalpindi, where he was introduced to cricket.
“I started playing at the age of 10. Later, myself and a group of friends founded the first ever Islamabad blind cricket club. We used to spend our pocket money to buy the cricket gear,” he said.
Even then Abbasi initially faced opposition from his family.
“I was beaten by my parents several times for playing cricket because they thought I was wasting my time and I should study for a better future,” he said.
“Once while practising with normal cricketers, the ball struck my left eye and I lost the little sight I had,” he said, adding his right arm was fractured six times while playing.
Abbasi persevered, finally making his debut as an 18-year-old against South Africa in 2000 and later becoming captain in 2011.
A blind cricket team comprises a maximum of four partially sighted players, three partially blind players, and a minimum of four totally blind players. A white ball made of hard plastic and filled with small ball bearings is used so that batsmen can hear it coming.
Abbasi’s 2000 debut came as Pakistan was beginning to establish itself as the format’s foremost team.
With two World Cup victories under their belts, they also regularly play India, in contrast to their able-bodied counterparts whose ties are hobbled by ongoing political tensions.
And victory over the visiting India side in the three Twenty20 and as many one-day matches has lifted the team to new levels of confidence.