Almanac Cricket: Blind Cricket and the folly of assumptions

Presentation to Cricket Australia All Abilities Carnival launch

MCC Long Room, MCG Melbourne.

January, 2015


I was a member of the first Australian Blind Cricket international team. We toured Sri Lanka in 1981. That was a long time ago – many of you were probably not born – and I hope that my cultural awareness has improved somewhat in that time.

Anyhow, having admitted my failing, let me tell you a story from that trip.

One of the ways in which the game was played differently in Sri Lanka is that totally blind players ran for themselves. This did not happen in Australia, so when we played Sri Lankan rules, I was running for the first time. My mate Chris, a B 3 player (a player with some vision) stood beside the bowling umpire calling for me.

My first ball arrived at a good pace, just outside my leg stump, so I flicked it away through square leg, and sprinted off to score my first run outside Australia. Unfortunately, having pivoted as I played the shot, I sprinted more towards mid-wicket than towards the other end of the pitch. The Sri Lankan captain Simon, who was also totally blind and a bit shorter than me, was fielding at mid-wicket.

I must have realised what was about to happen just before it did, because instinctively – coming from a Rugby League state – I dropped the right shoulder and caught him neatly under the jaw. We both fell, and my nose hit the top of his head as we did so.

Immediately mortified by what I had done – I’m sure these days it would have constituted a code of conduct breach – I bent to help him up, and make sure he was OK. Chris, clearly somewhat more of a competitor than I was, yelled from the other end “don’t worry about him, finish your bloody run”.

Both of us were bleeding, so while the game continued, Simon and I were taken to the local hospital.

Picture the scene. I was the only Australian with Simon, and two other Sri Lankan volunteers, none of whom spoke much english. I was guided into a waiting room where quite a few other people sat, and somewhat shocked when someone – without saying anything to me – grasped my arm and started to roll up my sleeve. I pulled my arm away and started to protest, but on her third or fourth repetition of the word I realised that she was saying “tetanus”, and agreed to the jab.

Then I was ushered in to see the doctor. “This will be tricky I thought, I need to explain what has happened.” As the door closed, I stood up, and my words were accompanied by dramatic gestures. “Cricket,” I said. “Batting, running, cannot see, hit other player, shoulder, nose, blood.”

Thinking that I had done all I could, I sat down to await the results. He had waited calmly through my explanation, and then quietly said, “In Sri Lanka, before we go to medical school, we study english. I did my medical training in London.”

I hoped for that hole in the ground so I could disappear, but it just did not show itself. I had made the classic tourist assumption.

In my role as a Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission, and since that time, I get to make a lot of speeches. But I can’t tell you how pleased I was to be invited by Aaron Dragwidge to make this one. Cricket forms a significant part of my psyche. I have followed the game since about age eight or ten, played it at school and for my State, and toured Sri Lanka. My wife of 26 years still chides me because I took a short-wave radio on our honey-moon in Florida. Well, the Third Ashes test was taking place in England, and I was appalled that I could only get two five minute summaries each day. And when there is, to quote Greg Champion “cricket on the radio” my family are used to having somewhat less of my attention. So clearly, I’m a cricket tragic.

I told that Sri Lanka story because its about my assumption. And I’m sure all of you participating in these championships in the next few days have had assumptions made about you, and what you can’t do. As a person with a disability, I certainly have. We don’t get jobs we know we can do because people think we can’t. We are not included in community activities because people either don’t think we will be able to participate, or just don’t think about us at all. We make up 20% of the population, but we are limited by the soft bigotry of low expectations.

So isn’t it pleasing that Cricket Australia no longer makes those assumptions. James Sutherland, Cricket Australia CEO, talks of “our obligation to ensure our game touches the lives of all Australians … including Australians with a disability.” Cricket Australia have developed an “all abilities cricket strategy” which sets out a detailed programme for inclusion of people with disabilities throughout the game during the next four years.

The strategy aims to make cricket a sport for all, and to develop role models throughout Australia. So as well as playing here in this carnival, you have the obligation to ensure that our sport becomes a sport for all, particularly in the disability groups from which you come. It’s a well accepted truth that as players, and officials, we are just custodians of the game.

Starting with the Milo introduction to cricket, this strategy sets a pathway, through clubs and indoor cricket centres, to the high performance squads which you have reached. It sets out a plan for a national all-abilities championship, a plan which will be implemented during the next few days in Melbourne. And pleasingly, the International Cricket Council has joined in, by putting on a small subsidiary event to support your championships, throughout Australia and New Zealand. I think its called the World Cup.

I was excited when I carefully read this strategy. Throughout my life I have been passionately committed to diversity and inclusion. I have also been passionately committed to cricket. For me, this strategy draws these two passions together, and I am both proud and humbled to be involved in this carnival, one of the early events planned in the strategy.

So, as I did all of those years ago, enjoy the cricket and the camaraderie which will occur at this carnival. And grab the chances it gives you to take your cricket to a higher level. Just be a bit more aware than I was if you represent Australia overseas.

But remember that with the lifelong pleasure that cricket provides, both as player and spectator, comes that obligation to play your part in ensuring that cricket becomes, and continues to be, the sport for all in this country.





  1. Graeme,

    Wonderful sentiment behind that wonderful speech.
    That’s a powerful and recognisable hit you make with: “we are limited by the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

    May it awaken at least a few, who may then educate a further few. And so on.
    Thanks for sharing it here.

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