Growing up, Ajay Kumar Reddy only wanted to become a soldier and serve the country. He was heartbroken when he got to know that the visually impaired cannot enter the army. But Ajay, who became partially sighted at an early age, soon found another way to serve India: by playing cricket and winning the World Cups. For his contributions, he will receive the Arjuna Award next month, becoming the first to win the honour from blind cricket.

Born in Gurazala, Andhra Pradesh, the Indian blind cricket team skipper lost his left eye in a freak accident when he was just four.

“My parents were farmers. One day I wasn’t able to sleep when my parents had gone to work in the field,” Ajay told PTI.

“I wanted my mother. As I got up, the latch of the door went inside my eye. I had surgery but I lost all vision in my left eye.

“I had some vision in my right eye but by the time I turned 12, I couldn’t see the letters on the board.” To avoid complete vision loss, the doctors advised Ajay’s parents to take him to a blind school.

Ajay’s parents thus moved to Narsarapet to enrol him into the Lutheran High School for the Blind in 2002, and he embarked on what would become a life-changing experience.

“I got to know about blind cricket at that school. I also heard that Pakistan was the number one team, that Pakistan has beaten India and they had just won the World Cup.” It was a time when tensions between the two neighbours were at a high. The Indian Parliament had been attacked by militants and there was mass mobilisation of both nations’ military forces at the border.

“I felt very angry. I had always wanted to become a soldier and at that time I kept hearing about the issue at the border. So my mindset was simple – India losing is wrong.

“Without knowing the rules I decided will play for India and make them win the World Cup.” But life was one big ordeal for Ajay then.

“It was a very hard time for us. My parents only knew farming. We started having financial issues after a month. We needed to borrow money to eat,” recalled the 33-year-old.

“My parents started selling tea and set up an idli-dosa stall. They kept me in the hostel so that I get proper food but I didn’t stay. I felt they were abandoning me.” Ajay tried to help his parents.

“I used to support my parents by cleaning tea cups, bringing water, make dosas, serve the customer.

“But sometimes because of my vision, I had problems and people used to abuse me ‘dikhta nahi kya, andha hai kya?’ (Can’t you see, are you blind?) But I wanted to help my parents.” He found succour in cricket and would play all night, sleep in the morning and then wake up at 1pm and start playing again.

In 2010, he made his India debut and was part of the T20 World Cup-winning team. But that did not give him much joy.

“The first time we won a T20 World Cup. Pakistan cricketers said ‘Oh this is a new format, you were lucky that’s why you won. In ODIs we are number 1’.

“Beating Pakistan in the 2014 ODI final was the best moment of my life,” said Ajay, who scored 74 not out in the title clash while battling an injury.

Since then he has captained India to a ODI World Cup win, two T20 World Cup victories and an Asia Cup title.

The Arjuna Award is the recognition that the blind cricket community has been waiting for a long time.

“We have won so many World Cups but we didn’t get the recognition. This is not my individual achievement but a recognition for the cricket for the blind.

“We get Rs 3000 to play for India. Our players are not playing for the money, they play to make the country proud. But we also need to survive. We need financial support, we want recognition, we have also served the country,” he said.

His vision is fading slowly. And Ajay might have to switch from B2 (players who can see up to 6m) to B1 classification, where athletes are totally or almost totally blind.

But Ajay doesn’t plan to go away from the sport.

“I’m having vision loss, I am running around for treatment. If it work I will continue in B2 category, otherwise, I will have to move to B1.

“But I will be involved in cricket till the time I die. It has given me everything.” PTI APA AH AH

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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