CRICKET: THE UNSEEING STATISTICIAN

Published August 29, 2021
Sohail Khan hosting a radio show; (Inset) with Shahid Afridi
Sohail Khan hosting a radio show; (Inset) with Shahid Afridi

It was during a regular post-match press conference at the Southend Club in Karachi in February 2019 when a member of the media at the back was heard not just posing a question or two for a foreign team captain and manager, but also delighting them with some historical facts and statistics.

Several heads turned around to find a young man wearing dark goggles talking with so much confidence and authority that he sounded like the human version of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. Later, they were even more impressed when it dawned on them that this walking talking fount of cricketing knowledge was, in fact, blind.

Living with an impairment can be tough but, as they say, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going.’ That’s exactly what Sohail Khan has been doing all his life.

Born in 1992 with vision impairment, Sohail has never let it come in the way of his interests. People find him very confident, though also forthcoming and down to earth.

He does not consider his being blind a shortcoming. “Yes, I was born visually impaired, but I also realised at a very young age that I cannot depend on people,” says Sohail, the eldest among four siblings and the only brother of three sisters.

Sohail Khan has never let his visual impairment come between him and his passion for cricket records. He is a walking talking cricket almanac

“Of course, family support is a must. Your family has your back, but I didn’t want to use my disability as an excuse.

“I have got a lot of support in my life from family, from friends as well as colleagues. My family takes me along everywhere they go, so I never felt isolated or alone,” he says. “They also encourage me to pursue my interests.”

So what is an average day for him life? “My day begins with a quest for the latest sports happenings around the world, on various websites and the social media, for which I have talking software installed in my cell phone,” he shares. “Luckily, there is now no shortage of apps available to assist the visually impaired, so I can google things or explore sports websites.”

Of all the sports, cricket takes precedence in Sohail’s life. His love for cricket started when he was very young and it has only become stronger with time.

“It has been a long journey. I was around four or five when I started listening to cricket commentary on Pakistan Television and Radio Pakistan. There was no internet available at home at the time so, if I missed a match, I would have to wait for the next day’s newspaper,” he says.

“Then in 1999, Radio Pakistan’s FM101 started its programme ‘Sports Hour’. I got my first taste for cricket statistics, such as centuries, half centuries and bowling figures from there. Soon I became an avid caller on that radio programme — without, of course, exposing my impairment.” He also began to listen in on other FM stations, where there were also a variety of sports programmes.

“I was seven or eight years old then. Then, after around 10 years, I started attending their programme as a guest. I also started doing my own programmes with the station though my listeners were not aware of my shortcomings. And it remained so for a long time.”

For Sohail, it was his talent for recalling information that he wanted recognised, so he always tried to keep his visual impairment a secret from his fans.

For Sohail, it was his talent for recalling information that he wanted recognised, so he always tried to keep his visual impairment a secret from his fans.

Sohail Khan became famous through radio. He also joined a sports journalists’ association, the Sports Journalists Association of Sindh (SJAS). “I am thankful to SJAS for accommodating a blind person. My joining SJAS also got me more exposure, and soon people started finding out that I am a blind guy who is into cricket stats and who is no other than the radio show host,” he says.

Sohail visited the National Stadium in Karachi for the first time in 2016 to get a feel of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, the country’s top domestic cricket tournament. He remembers that it was for the match between Karachi Blues and Wapda in October of that year. Since then, Sohail has been a regular visitor at various Karachi stadiums and is a recognised media-person by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).

Sohail believes that friends are also very important. He says that his friend Shahzeb Bhutto accompanies him outdoors so that he is not alone. Shahzeb also helps him by relating what is taking place on the ground during matches. “You need such friends in life,” he says.

Although he has never travelled outside Karachi, Sohail dreams of one day being able to visit the ‘Home of Cricket’, Lord’s Cricket Ground in London.

“There are a lot of big cricket stars from Pakistan and abroad whom I have met, and all have appreciated my cricket knowledge and my interest in statistics and records,” he beams.

Sohail has some advice for those lucky enough to live life without disabilities. He says that if you see anyone around you with a disability, be nice. Offer assistance if they need it. Be their friend. “But this does mean pity. It is not restricted to helping or assisting that person. It also means offering a helping hand to anyone who may be down in life. Empathy and sincerity are very important, as is encouragement. It is the reason I am successful today.”

SJAS recently organised a programme to honour the first visually impaired cricket statistician. The programme was held at the University of Karachi, where Sohail responded to a volley of questions from students about cricket records. The students were amazed at his spontaneous answers, his razor-sharp memory and his deep knowledge of the sport.

Earlier, during the Karachi leg of the Pakistan Super League in February 2021, the PCB also acknowledged Sohail’s services to the game by awarding him the ‘Hamaray Heroes’ award.

The writer tweets @mak_asif

Published in Dawn, EOS, August 29th, 2021

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