By Idhries Ahmad
NAGPUR, 23 March 2016 It was an intensive fortnight of frenetic search for information that 21 children from rural Chandrapur district in Maharashtra had immersed themselves into ever since they were told of a dream meeting with ace West Indian cricketers at Team Swachh WASH clinic. Hardly able to contain their excitement, the kids were armed with newspaper cuttings, old magazines and notes from teachers in anticipation of any question that might be bowled at them.
And prepared for answers they were.
So when West Indian ace leg spinner and star cricketer, Samuel Badree asked them the most important reason for playing cricket, the young guns immediately rattled off.
“To become successful cricketers,” said chirpy, 13-year-old Disha.
“True. It is good reason, but not the most important reason,” said Samuel as other West Indian cricket icons, Jason Holder, Andre Fletcher and West Indian assistant coach, Andre Coley stood by his side.
“We play cricket to become healthy and not fall ill,” offered Disha’s classmate, Sourabh.
“Again, very important reason. Playing sports makes us healthy as we exercise our body. But it still isn’t the most important reason why we play any sport,” Samuel replied, and then added, “Let me tell you what it is.” The children had, by now, exhausted all their responses, including ‘gaining fame’ and ‘getting rich’.
“We play cricket or any other sport to have fun. To enjoy and bring smile on our faces. Are you ready to have fun? Lots and lots of fun,” Samuel asked the enthusiastic group. The children replied in a unanimous affirmative. Prodded by Samuel and the cricketers, the children again replied with a resounding ‘Yes!’
This time, their vociferous ‘Yes’ reverberated in the empty stands at the Vidarbha Cricket Association grounds in Nagpur and reached everyone present at the ground. The curator, grounds men and supporting staff at the ground left whatever they were doing and started watching what the children were up to from the sidelines.
And what fun they had! The rising mercury couldn’t play dampener as the children, over the next hour and half, had the time of their lives. They started with warm-up exercises under the tutelage of Andre Coley. This included extensive fielding, batting and bowling drills.
After that, the children were divided into teams, one captained by Jason Holder and the other by Samuel Badree. This was followed by a short but exciting three-over match between the two. A treat to the onlookers, the match saw many a hilarious moment with pedigreed bowlers from the West Indian team getting hit for huge sixes by the little players. The match ended in a tie, with both teams literally taking Samuel Badree’s maxim of ‘only enjoying and not winning’ to heart.
After the end of the match, it was the time for tables to be turned and the West Indian stars to learn something from the children—the five steps of handwashing.
“If we wash our hands before eating food and after using the toilet, we can never be ill,” said nine-year-old Akshita with a command and poise that belied her age.
Akshita then quickly got her team to huddle around the cricketers and sang the lyrical rendition of the five steps of handwashing, followed by teaching the players the five steps. The cricketers, who were by now joined by their captain and star cricketer, Darren Sammy, were glued to the proceedings and listened attentively as the kids repeated the steps of handwashing—a crucial way to avoid diseases such as diarrhoea.
At the end of their teaching exercise, the children put the star cricketers through a tough test on the subject which the players passed with flying colours. The WASH clinic ended with the cricketers and children pledging to support Team Swachh campaign which advocates for toilet use in India.
"Please pinch us. We cannot believe this,” the children kept whispering to each other and to their teachers as they left the Vidarbha Cricket Association grounds. “It still feels like a dream,” Akshita sighed with a smile. It is, after all, not every day that you get to meet, learn, and teach something to star cricketers!
Team Swachh WASH clinics are part of a unique and remarkable CSR initiative under the aegis of ICC Cricket For Good and Team Swachh, where cricket players at the World T20 Tournament engage with children on sanitation and toilet use as one essential step towards ending open defecation in India.
Team Swachh is an integrated nationwide initiative that aims to build a social movement for sanitation and toilet use, thereby leading to an open defecation-free India. This visionary collaboration between ICC and UNICEF aims to raise awareness about challenges faced by the most disadvantaged children and focuses on improving sanitation. The ICC WT20 is the launch platform to advocate for children, leveraging the reach and popularity of cricket in India.