England’s visually-impaired cricketers wrested back the Ashes from Australian hands in the host’s backyard in March - thanks mainly to the heroics of Matt Dean. The England skipper scored a mammoth 369 runs at an average of 123 as England won the five-match series 4-1 - including a famous victory over their greatest rivals on Australia Day.
That series win didn’t just silence the Australian crowd, it also continued England’s great run against the Aussies across all formats of cricket.
For Matt and his team-mates, though, it gave them another opportunity to consider just how far his team, and visually impaired cricket in general, has come in a relatively short space of time.
“Before my first tours I had to go and give talks to Rotary clubs and rattle buckets at train stations to make sure we could go to World Cups,” he says. “But now that’s all covered by the ECB, so we can just concentrate on our cricket and it’s allowed us to develop our game to the absolute maximum.”
Martyn, a former daredevil downhill mountain bike star, spent five months in hospital in 2013 after falling off his bike three metres up while performing a stunt. He was paralysed from the waist down and was told he would never ride again. Then, in June 2016, he released a video of himself careering down one of the world’s hardest downhill courses on a specially-designed mountain bike.
The damage to his spine left him unable to walk or cycle but Martyn has never been one to take his diagnosis lying down. Filmed over the course of a week in the run up to the Downhill Mountain Bike World Cup in Scotland, he finished the course to enormous cheers and floods of tears as his family gathered to welcome him back at the bottom.
“I just wanted to get down and not make a fool of myself,” he says. He came up with the idea during what he refers to as ‘his big lie-down’ in hospital. “I don’t know what this says about my mentality but I never really thought, ‘I’m never going to ride my bike again’, he said. “I was just thinking: how am I going to ride my bike again? I don’t like to think about what I can’t do, but what I can do.”
England’s men may have fluffed their lines at the European Championships in France this summer but the country’s deaf footballers certainly didn’t forget theirs at the Women’s World Cup later in the summer.
England’s women sealed a bronze medal at the tournament thanks largely to the goals and influence of Wiseman, who struck a memorable hat-trick against hosts Italy in the group stages. Wiseman scored again in the third-place play-off as England sealed a 2-0 win against Poland to complete a superb tournament that they were only able to attend as a result of significant fund-raising efforts and the largesse of two England footballers, Jack Butland and James Milner, who both made significant contributions to the costs required for Wiseman and her team-mates to take part.
Wiseman could, ultimately, count herself unlucky not to have had the chance of bringing the World Cup home, with England narrowly missing out against a fully-funded and largely professional Russian side in the semi- finals. It’s a measure of how far England have come that in last year’s European Championships they had lost 11-0 to the same side.
Our winner will be announced on 7th December at our ceremony hosted by Ben Shephard.