Blindness doesn't stop Zimbabwe sports commentator

AP News
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Posted: Oct 29, 2010 11:59 AM
Blindness doesn't stop Zimbabwe sports commentator

When the ball hits the bat, the radio announcer exclaims that it's sailing far. Dean Du Plessis' acute sense of hearing and his eavesdropping on other commentators helps him overcome the fact that he is blind, producing a delivery so polished that most listeners are unaware that he can't see.

Du Plessis hears the power and direction of the hit. He listens to the speed and spin of the ball, along with the players' exertions and their cries of elation or frustration. He senses the excitement _ or otherwise _ of the play on the cricket field and collates the scores with a computer-like memory.

In the media area at Harare's Country Club sports field, other journalists see the ball soar skyward after a sharp crack on the bat.

"That's a big one. It's gone for six," said the 33-year-old Du Plessis, his opaque eyes gazing into the distance.

It has, flying way out of the field.

Team members and spectators murmur applause as the often sedate game of cricket that originated in Britain goes on. In a fast-moving sport like basketball, De Plessis' feat would likely be impossible. He asks a friend to confirm the score on the board and feeds the latest to state radio.

"I have to ensure I am totally accurate," he told The Associated Press. "I'm generally spot on or very close. I think I have a pretty big hard drive in my head."

On this day, in a friendly match against New Zealand visitors in Harare, he doesn't have the advantage of mini cameras and microphones placed in the stumps, three upright sticks at each end of the pitch, that are routinely placed on the field at top international games. Used as a "television umpire" and to assist in television coverage, they help Du Plessis "watch" the game.

"When they are there, the mikes are very important," he said.

In commentating at international games in Bangladesh and South Africa, he said he listens to fellow sighted commentators and also asks questions of scorekeepers and players alike.

Former Australian star Test cricket player Shayne Warne has body movements and verbal grunts that are easy to discern, according to Du Plessis. Other world sportsmen have an audible "signature" too.

A former England cricket team captain talks to a struck ball, willing it to roll further to the four-run boundary line, said Du Plessis.

The Zimbabwe-born commentator was born with tumors in both eyes and his parents were told he wouldn't live beyond infancy. They sent him to a school for the blind in neighboring South Africa at age six in the absence of a similar facility at home.

It was there that his passion for sports was born as he listened to radio commentaries. Above the sound of firecrackers and the "cacophony" of tens of thousands of cricket-mad Asian supporters, he easily followed an Indian cricket series by "tuning in" to all the sound effects.

Zimbabwe beat South Africa in the 1992 cricket World Cup and soon after beat top Test cricket nation England in Harare.

"I was already hooked," said Du Plessis.

A former telephone operator, he now works as a media editor at the national cricket governing body's headquarters in Harare. He reads braille but says audio programs on mobile phones and computers have made punched braille manuscripts almost obsolete. He follows martial arts competitions in Zimbabwe and belongs to motorcycle club that meets Sundays, enjoying riding on the back of fast bikes.

"He is not inhibited nearly as much as you would expect," said veteran award-winning Zimbabwe sports writer John Kelley. "His memory for the scores and his match summaries are absolutely astonishing."

A policeman at a roadblock recognized Du Plessis immediately from his radio voice when he said good morning and let him proceed.

Du Plessis said he dreams of working full time for a major international sports channel, "but as soon as people learn I'm blind they back off."

Still, he has shared commentary boxes with the world's best in South Africa and Asia, and earned many colleagues' respect.

"He's unique. On air, you can't tell he's blind. Only a circle of cricket followers know he is," said Dave Emberton, a Zimbabwe broadcast news reader.