Padma Shri ahead of blind cricket World T20 will boost India, says Shekhar Naik
Shekhar Naik captained the India cricket team of the visually challenged that won two World Cups in 2012 and 2014cricket Updated: Jan 28, 2017 19:15 IST
Cricket is a game of eyesight more than anything else. For Shekhar Naik, cricket’s about the ear. The 30-year-old overcame his lack of eyesight to score 249 for Karnataka against Kerala in 2000. That was his debut match in the tournament conducted by Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI).
Shekhar Naik has been following his dream since. The right handed batsman has smashed at least 32 centuries in domestic and international matches in blind cricket. The 2012 World Cup, where he was adjudged the best bowler with 17 wickets, bear testimony to his bowling skills.
The ball used in blind cricket is slightly larger than a normal cricket ball and has quite a few ball bearings inside. The players have to gauge the path of the ball by listening to the sound of the ball bearings moving inside the ball.
Shekhar Naik captained the India cricket team of the visually challenged that won two World Cups in 2012 and 2014. When the Padma awards for 2017 was announced his name was on the list of Padma Shri winners. It could not have come at a more opportune moment as India are set to defend their title in the second T20 World Cup beginning Monday.
“For the first eight years of my life I was completely blind and did not venture out much,” Naik said. His mother, too, was visually challenged as were 14 members of his extended family.
But that was only one of the disadvantages that the cricketer faced. He was born in 1986 into a family that belongs to the Lambanis, a nomadic caste in a village in Shivamogga district in Karnataka.
However, it was by sheer accident that things brightened for him a bit. One day while walking with his parents he fell into a ditch. “I was bleeding a lot and, fortunately, a health camp was being conducted nearby,” Naik says. Doctors there realised that Naik’s eyes could be operated upon. “After the operation I gained some vision in my right eye, which allows me to see to a distance of about three metres,” Naik says.
But three months after he regained his sight another light went out of his life – his father died. Naik’s mother enrolled him in the Sri Sharada Devi School for the Blind in Shivamogga that imparted in him his love for cricket.
“At the school, I found other children were playing cricket, and I, too, wanted to join them,” he says. In 1997 his school realised that the boy possessed talent and encouraged him to take up cricket. “Initially, I was playing inter-school competitions and then one day Mahantesh of Samrthanam Trust saw me play and said I could be part of the state team,” Naik recalls.
In 2000, with the backing of Mahantesh, whose Samrathanam Trust for the Disabled runs the Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI), Naik made his debut for Karnataka when he hammered 249.
In 2002, Shekhar Naik was selected for the senior team to play in the World Cup. That was also the beginning of a glittering career.
The young man still reckons his selection as the captain of the national team as his proudest moment. He was 24 then. “There were tears in my eyes when I read my name in the newspaper,” Naik says. “Right now we play cricket part-time. Training begins about a month before a tournament. But if we are affiliated with the Board of Control for Cricket in India, we will be able concentrate on cricket full-time,” points out the champion. The cricket boards of Pakistan, Australia and England have recognised their respective teams.