Shekhar Naik – The Shimoga lad who became India captain
That cricket is a religion in India is quite well known. The game is followed ardently and dissected to details by the public and media alike. However, there is one relatively unknown branch of cricket in India that is being brazenly ignored by the powers that be. The plight of India’s blind cricketers today lies in a deplorable state. Despite toiling hours to perfect their game, despite winning tournaments like the World Cup for their country, Blind Cricket in India does not get recognition from the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) for reasons best known to the apex cricket organization. Since blind cricket’s official inception in 1996, the game has been affiliated with the cricket boards of almost all the countries like England, Australia and even Pakistan, but India has refused to do so.
It is only due to the efforts of Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled that blind cricket has survived and is living to tell its tale. The Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI), the cricketing wing of Samarthanam, has been taking care of blind cricket and its cricketers efficiently for the past many years. However, they too need good support from the government and the cricket board to properly build the Indian Blind Cricket Team.
Despite these hurdles, the blind cricketers themselves, who primarily come from India’s hinterlands, have the utmost passion for the game and infrangible pride for representing the country. One such cricketer is Shekar Naik; captain of India’s Blind Cricket Team. Shekar, who is partially blind, has been the captain of the team since the last five years and had led his side to victory in the inaugural Blind T20 World Cup in 2012. Last year, more glory came when Shekar led his side to hold the 4th ODI World Cup Cricket for the Blind, held in South Africa.
Still basking in its success, Shekar is happy with himself, despite the shortcomings in his life. In an interview with Sportskeeda’s Bhavesh Bhimani, the simple and endearing Shekar Naik opens up on the struggles he has faced, his life in cricket, his disappointments with the BCCI and much more. Read on.
Excerpts from the interview
Q. Talk about your childhood.
Shekar Naik: I was born in 1986, in the small district of Shimoga in Karnataka and was the only child of my parents. Since birth, I was completely blind. Actually, my blindness is hereditary. Even my maternal grandfather and my mother were blind and hence when I was born, I perhaps carried the family tradition forward (Laughs).
My family was extremely poor and could not afford to enroll me in any school. Both my parents used to work in the fields to earn money for our daily living. Since I was blind, I was ridiculed a lot in my childhood by other children of my village. They would laugh at me, never allow me to play games with them and make fun of my blindness. I would then go crying to my mother, who was the only one in the world who understood my pain and comforted me the most.
Q. What was the turning point of your early life?
Shekar Naik: It was in 1994 that the real turning event of my life came. Until then, I was completely blind. One day, I was walking with my mother and father in my village, when suddenly I slipped and fell in a canal. I was badly hurt and the right side of my temple was dangerously wounded. Since we did not have any proper hospitals in my village, I was taken to Bangalore. Thankfully, the doctors were good there and I got to know that I could regain some eyesight in my right eye. Thus I was operated on and thankfully, it went successfully and I regained 60% of my eyesight in my right eye. Even though, my left eye remained blind, I was overjoyed to get to see even a small bit of this colourful and wonderful world.
Q. Your life must have changed significantly after that.
Shekar Naik: It did. But for the worse. I had barely begun to enjoy the vagaries of the world when tragedy struck my life. Just three months after my operation, my father passed away. I was completely shattered and at that tender age, I thought that I had lost everything in my life. My father was very protective of me and used to love me a lot. That event changed my life forever.
Q. How did you continue after your father’s death?
Shekar Naik: It was only because of my mother that I survived my childhood after my father’s death. Though she was blind, she still went to the fields to work and get some money to run the house. She worked very hard and save some amount for my future. Finally, in 1995 she managed to get me into the famous blind school of our village: Shri Sharada Devi School for the Blind. I was 9 years old when I started my Grade 1 in the school, but I did not mind it one bit. Just going to school was quite an adventure!
Q. How did your interest in cricket begin?
Shekar Naik: Whilst at school, I first learned about the game of cricket. Before this, I had never even heard about it. Our school had special provisions for cricket practice for people like us. When I played the game, I was thrilled. I realized I was naturally good at cricket and really enjoyed playing it. My coach at school was very supportive and helped me hone my game. I remember going to my mother and telling her all about my exploits in the cricket field. She had never seen cricket, but was happy to see me so excited about it. She told me that if I really love the game then I should make it my life, that I should make my name in it and be the number one in the world. That really motivated me. However, my happiness was short lived. In 1998, my mother too expired and left me all alone to face this cruel world.
Q. It must have been difficult to lead your life after your mother’s death?
Shekar Naik: When my mother died, I really thought that my life is over. I was just 12 years old then and there was no one to look after me. I was angry at God for making me an orphan and was depressed about my life. However, my school teachers really helped me overcome my grief. They really loved me a lot and allowed me to stay at their hostel for free; even taking care of my everyday expenses. Slowly, I regained my confidence and channeled all my energies into playing and enjoying cricket. I remember during school tournaments, I would stay awake on my bed at night, tossing and turning; anxiously waiting for the game to begin. Cricket had become my life and gave me a reason to live.
Q. Tell us about your progress in cricket.
Shekar Naik: My fine performances in the school tournaments soon came into the notice of the selectors. In 2000, I was selected for the Karnataka State Cricket Team (Blind). I grabbed that opportunity with both hands and kept performing very well. In one particular one-day match against Kerala, I scored 249 runs and that innings propelled me to the top level. The selectors then thankfully chose to include me into the national team in 2002. I had thus lived my dream of playing for the country. What pleased me more was that I also played for India in the Blind Cricket World Cup in the same year. I really missed my mother at that time. She must have been proud of me.
Q. What are some of your best moments in cricket?
Shekar Naik: Oh there are many really. But a few of them stand out of course. In 2003, when the Indian Blind Cricket Team toured Pakistan, I scored 198 in one of the One-Day matches. That, to this day, remains my highest individual international score. It was an unforgettable day and I will cherish it for a lifetime. Then, in 2005, Pakistan toured India for a One-Day series. I played very well there and was elected as the Man-of-the-series. The next year, in 2006, I played in the Blind Cricket World Cup again. Though, we lost the finals (against Pakistan), my performance was good in the tournament and I awarded as the "Best Batsman", "Man-of- the-series" and three "Man-of-the-match" in the tourney.
The best moment though has to be the time when I was made the captain of the national team in 2010. My mother always wanted me to do well and when I became the captain I could feel her inside me; feeling proud of me and blessing me. It was the greatest day of my life! Another cherishing moment came in 2012, when I led my team to lift the inaugural Blind T20 World Cup, played in India. Then of course, last year when we won the World Cup in South Africa, I felt I had achieved everything. It was the greatest feeling as we had won the World Cup in a foreign land with difficult conditions. We had proved everyone that we are the best.
Q. Who would you like to give credit to your success in life?
Shekar Naik: My parents of course played a massive part in bringing me up nicely. I can never forget their sacrifices for me. There are many others as well: my teachers and coaches in school and even my current coach Patrick Rajkumar has supported and motivate me a lot. However, if there is someone who really turned my life around it is Mr. Mahantesh, the Founder Trustee of Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled. He was also the secretary of the Karnataka State Cricket Association for the Blind and spotted me once in my schooling days. He then encouraged me and roped me in his organization. He has taken care of me like his own child ever since and provided me all the privileges. Samarthanam has even given me a job and I work from them full time. Today, that I am speaking to you is all because of Samarthanam and Mr. Mahantesh.
Q. Are you disappointed that blind cricket does not get much coverage in the Main Stream Media?
Shekar Naik: Yes, of course I am. In fact, I will like to say something here, through you. I request the Government of India, the Indian media, the social sector of the country and others to help us get recognition. All we ask for us is affiliation with the BCCI. Even countries like Pakistan, Australia, England and others are affiliated with the respective cricket boards of their country, but we are not. When won the T20 World Cup for our country, we did not get any rewards from the government. But yes, after last year’s World Cup victory, we got to meet Narendra Modiji and the Sports Minister too gave us cash awards. Apart from that, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan too congratulated us. It was a good feeling. But nevertheless, things can improve a lot for us.
Today, in the IPL, Yuvraj Singh was brought for 14 crore rupees. If the BCCI can give us even 4 crore, we will be able to organize three World Cups and also take care of our players. See, getting affiliated will help all the visually-impaired players who represent the team in getting some regular payments and then maybe some government jobs as well. Cricket, currently, isn’t our primary profession. We play it because we love it. More than anything else, getting representation by the national cricket board will help motivate us. Blind cricket needs help. Most of the blind cricketers come from extremely poor backgrounds. If we get proper support, we can show the country that we too are no less than any other sportsperson. We too represent the country. We too lift the national flag when we win. Just support us; that is all we ask.
Q. What significance does cricket hold in your life?
Shekar Naik: Well, the first thing is that because of cricket I have learned Hindi (laughs). See, all the cricketers in my team are from different parts of the country. I being the captain thus had to learn Hindi to communicate with everyone properly.
But on a serious note, not just I, to any visually impaired person, sport would mean everything. Cricket, as I said, gives me a reason to live. It gives me motivation to believe that I am not a lesser soul and can compete with anyone in this world. Cricket has made me disciplined in life and made my life better.
Q. Since you now have a full time job, how do you manage to practice cricket?
Shekar Naik: Yeah, it is tough. But I have made arrangements at my home here (in Bangalore) and practice every day in the morning or evening for about an hour. Then, on the weekends, I go for some rigorous training and practice sessions with some players at the grounds. It is important to keep yourself fit as playing season isn’t very regular for us.
Q. Are you content with your life today? What are your future ambitions?
Shekar Naik: I am quite happy with my life today. I am married and have a beautiful baby girl. I have lived my life by playing cricket and it has helped me fulfill my mother’s dream. Cricket really has given me a lot of happiness and peace. Now, I want to give back to the game. Next season, I will retire from international cricket. After I retire, I want to be the coach of the national blind cricket team. I also want to help young visually impaired cricketers at the grass root levels. There might be lots of budding talent who would need assistance. I would like to help hone their skills and choose good visually impaired cricketers for my country.
Q. Would you like to give a message to people?
Shekar Naik: I just want to say that whoever you are – be it blind, handicapped or a normal person, you can achieve your dreams if you really want to. Yes, you will face hurdles, but you should never think that you are below anyone in this world. If I can be the captain of the national team after coming from a small town of Shimoga, then anyone can get wherever they want. Just believe in yourself, keep working hard, and victory will be yours.
Originally published on Sportskeeda.com here