16 informonline.org.au Feature ‘Normally in the mainstream world, people just go people with vision impairment should not be playing sport…but really, it’s probably one of the best things to do.' Getting Into The Game Like most members of the team, twentyyear-old Johnny Boland was introduced to the game by others with vision impairments. ‘They suggested because I was losing my vision gradually that I should get involved in blind sport and cricket was the one that I was shown,’ he said. Johnny has cone-rod dystrophy, a condition that affects the light-sensitive cells of the retina. The condition affects his depth perception and peripheral vision. After joining a local team, Johnny quickly progressed to the state team. And now the national team beckons. ‘I’m in the [Australian] squad at the moment. So, I’ve been to a training camp to be selected and they’ll select the squad after our national carnival in January.’ Coach Brett has plenty of praise for the young cricketer. ‘He made the squad, the Australian squad, through determination and he’s still pretty humble about it,’ Brett said. ‘He underestimates himself… The first couple of years he was very tentative, and I could see that he wanted to progress. ‘But now, I’ve seen that his game has actually picked up. He’s got more aggressive with his shot selection, he’s attacking the ball. His bowling’s faster.’ Above: Johnny Boland has his eye on a spot in the Australian squad. Communication Is Key Like any sport, fitness is important for cricket, but so too is communication. And so too is communication. For blind cricketers, communication is far more than simply a valued part of the team experience. Each team fields eleven players, four of whom must be totally blind, or B1 classified players. Another three must be partially blind (B2) and up to four can be partially sighted (B3). The combination means that partially sighted players must use their voice to help direct their teammates. For Matt Cameron, his ability to communicate effectively is just as important as his fitness. The top order batter describes communication between players as vital. ‘If I’m on the boundary and I’ve got a lesser sighted player, like lesser than me, in front of me, I can tell them left or right, tell them where the ball is so we can get them to be our first line of defence to stop the ball.’ For Matt, that four of his teammates must be totally blind adds an extra challenge to the game, but it’s one he values. ‘Not a lot of sports favour totally blind people,’ he said.
Feature informonline.org.au 17 ‘It’s great to see those guys represent their state and country. Because normally in the mainstream world, people just go "people with vision impairment should not be playing sport"… but really, it’s probably one of the best things to do.’ Matt has Usher Syndrome, a condition characterised by both hearing and vision loss. He was born deaf, but it wasn’t until he was 16 that he began to lose his vision. ‘It’s basically like looking down a tunnel. So, I have no peripheral, just central vision.’ The twenty-two-year-old is originally from NSW, where he started his cricket journey playing locally and for the state team. A move to Victoria in 2018 brought him to the Victorian team where he has been a welcome addition to the side. ‘[Matt] excels at most sports,’ Brett said. ‘He’s very fit, he trains a lot.’ ‘His batting is fantastic, and his fielding is excellent. You can put him anywhere in the field and he can track that ball, whereas most of us can’t do that. We lose it at some point, but he can track it all the way which makes him a decent boundary fielder,’ Brett said. ‘It’s basically like looking down a tunnel. So, I have no peripheral, just central vision.’ Modified To Our Needs While the rules of blind cricket are based on the traditional laws of the game, there are some adjustments that make the sport more inclusive. The ball is the most significant adjustment. Instead of the traditional leather, it’s plastic and larger in size. The stumps too are different, larger and fluorescent in colour. The size and colour of the stumps helps the players, both partially sighted and blind to orientate themselves. While the differences in the ball help players to hear the ball coming, Johnny says they also help the batters to connect. ‘Most people playing blind cricket will sweep the ball rather than stand up and hit it. So you have to sweep your bat along the ground and you’ll swing across, the idea being there’s more surface areas to cover and therefore you have a better chance of hitting the ball,’ he said. There are also slightly different rules depending on the player: with totally blind players allowed to take catches after the ball has bounced and unable to be given out stumped. In addition, bowlers can only bowl underarm and they must call out ‘play’ when they release the ball. According to Matt, these modifications make the game more inclusive. ‘The game’s modified for [our] needs. ‘It’s honestly fun,’ he said. ‘Especially with the style of cricket we’ve been playing lately, it’s a lot faster and a lot more enjoyable. ‘ Left: Matt Cameron demonstrates the sweeping batting style used in blind cricket