Australia

Fresh funding boosts deaf cricketers' dream of first-class debut

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For the first time, Australia's national deaf cricket team will head to next month's deaf T20 World Cup.

They say cricket isn't life or death. For Andrew Park, who captains Australia's nation deaf team, it's much more important.

"Cricket is a very big part of my life. I've played from a very young age with my family. Then I played at school. That's how I got involved with the deaf community, through cricket, and that's how I made lifelong friends, through the deaf community,” he said.

Likewise for Indian-born Sydney cricketer Austin Anish Phillip who migrated to Australia at the age of six months.

Phillip was confirmed deaf at the age of two but hasn't let that hold back his ambitions: after receiving his cochlear, Phillip learnt to speak by identifying and naming the world’s top cricketers.

The Tendulkars and Warners of the world have long been his heroes and now he wants to emulate them.

The 18-year-old plays grade cricket for Parramatta in the NSW mainstream competition – and he’s set his sights on the big time.

“Grade cricket is really difficult. In deaf cricket we have to take our cochlear implant off but grade cricket I don't, so I can listen to the sounds of cricket and it's amazing," he said.

“I have a lot of goals. My first goal is to play first-grade and then Big Bash one day. And then to be a role model for all kids who have a hearing loss and with cochlear implants, too."

Kurt Williams, 25, who joined the national deaf squad after also representing Australia at junior levels in football, also has lofty ambitions.

Since swapping sports, he's picked up a few tricks for when the cochlear comes off.

"We try to get the batsman's attention and sometimes we give them a little wave," he said.

"We say things like, 'stop blocking' and try get them to play some shots. We say, 'You're letting the team down, you need runs. What are you doing?’

“We play with their minds and next thing they take a big swing because it’s T20 and they get caught or bowled,” he says.

Williams, Park and Phillip are all on the verge of a potentially career defining international tour. Next month, they're off to India for the T20 Deaf World Cup where they'll vye  to become the best deaf cricketers in the world.

Cricket Australia has fully funded the tour for the first time.

There are many challenges for deaf and hard of hearing cricketers and one which has proved elusive has been breaking into first-class cricket - mainstream interstate and international level competitions.

It's now hoped the fresh support from Cricket Australia can help some of these players realise that dream.

"The first deaf person to play for their state or country, that's just an amazing standard. That would be a big achievement,”  Phillip said.

While Andy Park says it's the stuff of dreams.

"Back in the old days we didn't have any support, so we had to pay our own way to be involved in these tournaments,” he said

“But now, with support and funding for the national deaf team, it's an amazing opportunity. And it's not just the funding but also the pathways set up by Cricket Australia from club, to the National Cricket Inclusion Championships and then the national team."

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