Shekar Naik: The blind cricketer who won India the World Cup
The nation has counted every run scored by Sachin Tendulkar over a period of 24 years. The country has sighed in deep despair whenever India have lost a series abroad and has exulted in joy when the Indian cricket team recorded a victory, even if it was against a lacklustre Bangladesh team. Every record broken by Virat Kohli is noted and the countdown to the 2015 World Cup has already started. In India, cricket isn't merely a sport - it is rather a way of life.
The Indian cricket fan prides himself on being called a cricket pundit. He has an opinion on every team selection by MS Dhoni and will not hesitate to prove his point. He knows the stats of every player by-heart and regards himself as the biggest cricket fan. Ever.
Yet, Shekar Naik will not ring a bell. The Indian Blind Cricket Captain, living under the shadows of the more famed Men in Blue, has the tag of a world champion associated with him. He, after all, led India to the world title in 2012, when the Indian team defeated England in the first ever T20 Blind World tournament held in Bangalore. Yet, he has to live in oblivion.
Early childhood and motivation
28 years ago, Naik was born in Karnataka and was completely blind at birth. The school boy who had never heard about cricket until then, was introduced to the sport by his school and soon took a liking to the game despite being teased by others.
In 1998, at the young age of 12, Naik promised his mother that he would conquer the cricket field one day. His mother died soon after, but he never forgot his words as he grew up to fulfill his dreams. He took the field to help erase the depression of his mother’s death. His mother's words and encouragement motivated him as he desired to be the number one batsman in the world one day.
With the turn of the millennium, there was a change in Naik’s fortunes as well. In 2000, while playing a school tournament, he scored 136 in 46 balls, which got him noticed and he was selected for the Karnataka State Cricket Team (Blind). In the final match against Kerala, he smashed 249 in a one-day match, helping his side to victory.
The following year, in an under-18 tournament in Hyderabad, Naik was awarded the Man of the Series award, which helped him book a berth in India’s team for the 2002 Blind World Cup. The Indian team could only reach the semi finals, but two Man of the Match awards helped him get noticed.
In 2004, the Indian blind team made its first international tour to Pakistan, where the Karnataka-lad amassed his highest international score of 198* runs in Rawalpindi.
In a span of two years, the cricketer bagged 7 Man of the Match awards, including two in England. In 2006, the Indian team lost the World Cup finals to Pakistan, but Naik had made his presence felt as he was named the Man of the Tournament and the best batsman in the tourney.
After a string of impressive performances, he was finally made captain of India in 2010. His highest point came in 2012 when his team defeated England to win the first T20 World Cup. Naik scored a massive 134 runs in only 58 balls in the finals.
Lack of support haunts him
The cricketer in his career spanning 12 years has played 58 matches across all formats and has a staggering 32 centuries to his name. A feat which seems impossible for the men bestowed with sight to achieve. Yet, support and sponsors have always eluded him.
During the men’s 2003 Cricket World Cup held in South Africa, the blind team was promised a tour to the nation by the company Philips in order to encourage and inspire them and give them a feel of international matches. However, they backed out citing “financial constraints”.
What is more disturbing is that the Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI) have failed to be get a recognition from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), making them the only nation to not have the backing of the central board. Over the years, Naik has come to deal with the harsh reality and laments, “the BCCI is the richest board in the world and if they could support us, and give us even 3% of the revenue, we will grow like anything.”
The CABI is currently being funded by Samarthan, a charitable organisation which aims to bring light in a world which is defined by darkness.
The World Blind Cricket Council (WCCB) has managed to secure annual bilateral ties between India and Pakistan since 2011 to help the sport gain popularity in the two nations. Earlier in March this year, Australia came visiting for the first time. Around that time, Yuvraj Singh was sold to Royal Challengers Bangalore for a whopping sum of Rs 14 crores in the IPL Auctions, making him the costliest player in the event.
The desperate appeals and statements reading – “we could host three World Cups with 14 crores” – that followed the auctions only heighten the sorry state of affairs in the world of these disabled men.
Naik, who will lead India into the World Cup later this year in South Africa, is hopeful that many more people from the grassroots reach the top and play for the tricolour. He is aware that the money offered is paltry and that impairment will provide hurdles, but he urges youngsters with dreams to follow their heart. He will retire after the end of the current season after which he aims to be the coach of the Indian blind team, honing the skills of budding talents and providing assistance to all those who need it.
Shekar Naik has never asked for a sight screen to be shifted.
He has never seen the ball, yet has heard the strokes and the excited shouts of his team mates.
The lighting in a match does not matter, as he does not see the game.
Yet, his heart beats on for a game which means everything to him.