Perhaps you take some World Cup with your breakfast. Or maybe you prefer some late-night Wimbledon or a soupçon of Tour de France. A side of grand prix, or a shaving of Australian men’s cricket, some New Zealand women’s cricket or a Virat Kohli surprise? What – you’re feeling a bit full? A digestif? No problem – Ronaldo’s late-career move. Ah, something less chewy, more low key and played purely for love – I’ve got just the thing.
Forget Wednesday night and, perhaps, Sunday, and maybe there is an England side playing in an international final this very day.
But unless you’ve been very alert you won’t know much about it, as the behemoths of sport have pulled on the sweatbands and flexed their muscles to dominate this long hot summer.
At 11.30am BST on Wednesday, the England physical disability team took the field in the final of their round-robin competition between the three best sides in the world – Pakistan, Bangladesh and England. It is the first time there has been a PD tournament in this country.
Unlike in visual impairment cricket, where you have three categories of visual impairment and have to play a certain number of each player, in PD cricket you either pass an assessment or you don’t. Which means you have a real range of players in the team, some with prosthetic legs, others with club feet, others with cerebral palsy, others again are arm amputees.
The standard of cricket is incredibly high – power hitting exists in PD cricket just as it does in other forms of the game. And the stories are pretty mind-blowing.
Take Matt Askin, a lower-arm amputee, who used to bat with a prosthetic left-hand resting on his bat, but found it awkward and fancied becoming more of a Jason Roy as PD cricket too moved towards the T20 game. He spent the winter of 2015-2016 learning how to bat with just with his right hand. Now he hits sixes.
Or Callum Flynn, a promising teenage all-rounder, who was told on his 14th birthday that he had bone cancer of the knee. A life-saving operation, a couple of years of physiotherapy and a titanium knee later, and he was back. He made 64 not out on Tuesday to guide England to the final and in the words of his England captain Iain Nairn is “the best PD cricketer in the world. A batsman who plays shots that, if Joe Root was playing them, would be in a highlights package for many a year.”
Or Liam Thomas, he of the internet meme-fame, whose prosthetic right leg came off as he dived and then rolled over to stop a boundary against Pakistan in Dubai in 2016. He hopped after the ball, threw it back in, and then hopped back to retrieve his leg. Stuart Broad was among those who shared the clip on Twitter, and it went viral – with CNN calling the ECB two weeks before the Trump election asking to show the clip.
Or the captain Nairn, an insolvency practitioner, who played Durham age-group cricket up to under-19 level, despite losing his leg below the knee when he was 16 months old.
England lose Tri-Series final to Pakistan
Pakistan took the Physical Disability Tri-Series trophy at Chester Road on Wednesday, with a commanding 45-run victory over England in the final. The top three in Pakistan’s batting line-up – Hasnain Alam (48), Muhammad Shahbaz (34) and wicketkeeper-batsman Saif Ullah (31) – all scored quickly to get their innings off to a strong start, but their tally of 189 for 7 still looked reachable for an England side who successfully chased 196 against Bangladesh on Monday.
However, Pakistan’s left-arm seamer Abdullah Ejaz tore into England’s top order, with Alex Hammond the only one of his side’s first five batsmen to reach double figures, and the game soon slipped from their grasp. Liam O’Brien – contributing a savage 75 from just 40 balls to add to his 2 for 32 with ball in hand earlier – offered a glimmer of hope, but he was last man out with his side still well short and only 10 balls remaining. Ejaz finished with a superb 5 for 22 from his four overs.
“I had a cricket bat in my hand before the operation,” he says, “and a few days later I had a cricket bat back in my hands. I played school-boy county cricket right up to when in effect the disability then held me back and it was the end of my dream of playing for England.”
He was then lost to the game for 14 years until he found PD cricket in 2012, or rather it found him. Prior to that he’d never played disability sport.
“It was just one of those things. The Paralympics in 2012 highlighted the different sports that disabled athletes could participate in, but prior to that it wasn’t necessarily an exciting option.
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“I’d always been a cricketer, but cricket was my passion and there wasn’t a disabled national cricket team. I don’t really class myself as disabled – it is more anything you can do I can do better. The only thing I can’t do is hop on my right leg, but I’ll have a very good try. All of us are quite stubborn in that way, all of us have been playing club cricket with able-bodied cricketers – the key is to find your level.”
The key is also having the right equipment. Nairn sends a text over with a photograph of his prosthetic limb. It’s a smart looking bit of kit – matt black, looking a bit like a giant shin pad with a foot attached. PD cricketers can’t wear the running blades you see on the track at the Paralympics as cricket is more of a static sport. Players need a heel.
“It is an NHS high-mobility leg that I wear all the time. Maybe one day we’ll have different legs for batting, bowling and fielding but we’re very lucky, we’re definitely the most mobile of the teams because of the NHS supply of legs.”
Whatever the different limbs on show on Wednesday, Nairn sees it as a huge opportunity to show people what PD cricketers can do.
“It’s as big a game as we’ve played. As with anything, when your team is winning the enthusiasm and support for the game grows. We’re seeing it with the football, and we’re hoping we can do the same.
“We always look to have a rallying cry for people to get in touch and get involved, we’re quite certain that there are people who don’t count themselves as disabled but who are classified as disabled and could play for England. We are proud of our disabilities and proud of the way of the way we overcome them. This is not somewhere where we come to feel disabled and sorry for ourselves.”
If you miss them on Wednesday, you can catch England playing the Rest of The World at New Road on Friday, before the T20 blast match between Worcestershire Rapids and Northamptonshire Steelbacks.
This is an extract taken from the Spin, the Guardian’s weekly cricket email. To subscribe,just visit this page and follow the instructions.