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What a year!

Posted in Disability Cricket

Ian Martin

Umesh Valjee, captain of the deaf team, won the England disabled player of the year

This year ended as it started for me, at a cricket ground overseas, watching one of our disability squads take to the field for their final game of a tour looking to hold on to an unbeaten record.

Sadly for our Deaf team in Australia last January it was to end in tears as they were beaten by both a damp pitch and a team whom they had outplayed over the previous two weeks in all forms of the game.

Last month, however, our Learning Disabilities team held their nerve to clinch the Tri-Nations title for the first time in their history by beating the hosts in the final at De Beers Oval in Kimberly, South Africa. They completed the tour unbeaten by winning all five of their matches against the Proteas and Australia. The performance of the LD team gives all of us involved in their development immense pride.

This was the fourth Tri-Nations tournament, England did not win their first game until the third event in Melbourne two years ago. So for us to overtake both South Africa and Australia in those two years is testament to the input of a dedicated coaching and management staff, supported by a governing body who pay more than just lip service to the development of the sport for disabled people.

The outstanding Umesh Valjee, captain of the Deaf team, won the England disabled player of the year after his three centuries in Australia. Key contributors to the success of the LD team were batsman and bowler of the series Chris Edwards and James Dickens but two debutants stood out for me too, James Higgins and Callum Rigby who both made significant contributions with the ball.

The most exciting development announced in 2011 is that the first series between international teams of physically disabled cricketers will take place between England and Pakistan in Dubai next February. The series will coincide with the contest between the senior England sides taking place in Dubai at the same time (the suggestion of David Collier).

I can't overstate the importance of this series. It's a real opportunity to put physical disability cricket on the world map. Whilst I understand the reasons why it hasn't happened sooner, it still baffles me. Our squad have been working very hard, obviously playing in the winter months does not help us and it is a challenge to ensure that the guys have enough time doing bat and ball work when away from the squad.

Fitness will also be a key factor when playing in the heat of Dubai. One of the most pleasing parts of the LD trip was the fitness levels of our team. I don't recall Rachel, our physio, needing to deal with any serious injuries at all and so we were able to pick a consistent XI.

Looking forward to 2012, its a big year for PD cricket as I mentioned before and also Blind cricket. We host Australia’s Blind team in May and June and then there is the Blind Twenty20 World Cup in India at the end of the year.

So it's all happening and in Paralympic year as well! With over 43,000 disabled children accessing Chance to shine sessions last year, who is to say that one day, with the right levels of support, that cricket should not be challenging swimming and athletics as one of the most popular sports for disabled people.

I wish you all a happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.