No blind alleys in visionary pursuit of flying rattlesnakes

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Blind cricket. A subtle oxymoron. It conjures up Pythonesque visions of fielders running the wrong way and careering into one another, bowlers felling midwicket with wild beamers, batsmen swinging wildly at a ball that passed them five seconds earlier. And can you imagine what a blind scorer would get up to?

Well, there are a few rule changes to take account of the players' handicap, but this is unmistakably cricket. The pitch may be slightly shorter, the lbw rule somewhat generous (two and out), and the ball oversized. But bats are the same, fast bowlers work up quite a pace and spinners win matches (so maybe it's not much like regular cricket after all). The only white sticks you'll see are the stumps. A caricature of cricket? Tell that to the sighted teams that strut along to humour sides like Hegarty's London Sports Club. A couple of weeks ago, a Prudential XI found that blind cricket wasn't as easy as it looked.

"Usually we see off sighted clubs," says Philip Carmichael, London's opening bowler. "They think it is easy, but they hit the ball in the air and find it hard to bowl." Carmichael, a Richmond legal executive, may be partially sighted but he's an intimidating 6ft 7in. "I knew how to play before I went to the Royal College for the Blind in Hereford, but I wasn't good enough because of my eyesight. When I discovered blind cricket, it was like a godsend."

It proves even more so for those like Tony Sharpe and Nick Murkin, who cannot see a thing but can play a game they could otherwise only listen to. Each side must have four blind players and Hegarty reckons that London's success is down to this quartet. "I think we probably have the best blind players in the country," he says proudly. "They make valuable runs, and take some astounding catches." Their only advantages are that the ball must bounce twice when it is bowled to them, and that they can catch the ball if it has bounced once.

Murkin, 34, a computer programmer from Chelmsford, Essex, says blind players field close to the wicket because they can hear the ball better. Sharpe, an opening bat, says his favourite position is silly mid-on. But crouching there has its downside. "Yes, you can get a lot of bruises," Murkin admits. Blind players rely on 150 ball-bearings clanking away inside the ball to anticipate its path. Trying to catch a flying rattlesnake hit off the meat of the bat is frightening enough with your eyes open. Imagine what it's like when you can't see.

The London club has been going since 1930 and has won the national final, which takes place at Lord's in August, twice in the past three years. This weekend they play Hebden Bridge away in the semi-finals. But there will be no Test places in prospect for those who play well. Other countries where blind cricket is popular, like India, New Zealand, Australia and Pakistan, play under different rules. "I don't want to sound elitist, but our kind of cricket is superior to theirs," Hegarty says. "They still use wicker balls, which we gave up many years ago," Murkin, London's secretary, concurs. "It may be a game they are playing, but it's certainly not cricket."

More information on visually impaired cricket from Tony Hegarty on 0171 793 1827.