Erb’s palsy: Sammy Kumar defying disability to play for England

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When Sammy Kumar left India at 18 months old in the search of life-changing treatment for Erb’s palsy – a condition which can leave the arm paralysed – his parents wouldn’t have expected their son to one day play cricket for England.

But Kumar has done exactly that, defying his diagnosis to become a talented leg-spin bowler for the England physical disability team (PD), who are currently touring India for a white-ball series.

Born in Punjab, Kumar was diagnosed at birth. In his case, Erb’s palsy affects his left arm, which hinders his movement in both his day-to-day life and in cricket.

“Catching has been something that I’ve always been working on because I find it difficult to turn my wrists,” Kumar says.

“My wrists only turn to a certain degree so I have to use my right hand to do most of the catching. I have to find things that work for me.”

The 20-year-old has an ambition to become one of the best leg-spinners in the world, despite having a unique bowling action.

“My disability affects my drive when I’m bowling and getting into the crease,” Kumar tells BBC Sport.

“I can’t actually use my left arm, so whereas bowlers usually use their arms to rotate, for me it’s more my elbow and my shoulder and trying to get that as high up as I can.

“Previous times I have gotten lazy and it’s because of not lifting the shoulder, and not lifting the elbow as high as possible.

“Eventually, it does affect the amount of spin you get off the pitch and the pace you bowl as well. If you’re a slow spinner you get smacked 30, 40 metres back so it’s not a fun sight to see.”

Kumar came to the UK with his parents when he was still a toddler. His mother and father wanted to try and find greater support for his disability.

“We tried all sorts of things: acupuncture, physiotherapy, nothing really worked and afterwards, we let it be for a while, I’ve always known I’ll be limited in that sense,” says Kumar.

“But cricket changed my life.”

‘I love to beat the bat’

Kumar, who plays domestic cricket for Middlesex, has been waiting four years to make his debut for England because of delays including the Covid-19 pandemic.

He is the only player in the England PD team from a South Asian background.

“For people in disability sport, I think it’s so important to feel represented,” he said. “I’m happy if people look up to me.

“To represent England is to represent not just the nation, but to represent my family and to represent everyone who has backed me from my very first day of playing.

“We don’t just play for ourselves, we play as a team, for each other and we play for all our families and friends.”

Kumar started out as a fast bowler but slowly transitioned into a spinner after trying it out at his local club’s nets.

“Once I got into it, I really enjoyed it, I just really enjoyed beating the bat, it’s something that really excites me,” he adds.

“Interestingly, I do like going for sixes because it brings me into the game, so I feel like I’m being challenged, and it raises my competitive spirit.

“There are certain times where I think if I had two arms, I’d be such a better player but at times I have to overcome that and come to the realisation, what I have, I have to work with.”