Blindness is hereditary in Shekhar Naik’s family. From being born blind to winning world cups for India – this is his inspiring journey.
“I want to tell all differently abled people who want to play sports that we should look at our disability like God’s gift. We should use it well. Some of us think that we will not be able to do anything in life just because we are disabled. That’s not right. Everyone gets opportunities. I gained chances too and I was able to see a little success,” says a humble Shekhar Naik, the former captain of the Indian blind cricket team who will soon be conferred with the Padma Sri award.
As captain, Shekhar led India to victories at the T20 Blind Cricket World Cup in 2012 and Blind Cricket World Cup in 2014.
But the 30-year-old’s journey to these trophies, awards and applause, has been a tough one marked by hard work and dedication.
Blindness is hereditary in Shekhar’s family, which has 14 other visually impaired people. He was born completely blind in the year 1986, in a village in the Shivamogga district of Karnataka. In 1994, by sheer chance and good fortune, Shekhar fell into a ditch while walking. He was taken to a nearby health camp where the doctors realised that it was possible for him to gain some vision in the right eye with corrective operation. He went for the surgery and it helped him gain partial vision. He is now able to see up to a distance of 3 metres.
Following this, Shekhar started his cricket career in the year 1997, as a kid in Sri Sharada Devi School for the Blind in Shivamogga. And for everything that happened between then and now, he has his mother to give credit for.
“As a kid, none of the other children used to play with me just because I am blind. This used to hurt my mother a lot. ‘Others don’t call you to play because of your disability. But you should prove them wrong and do something that not only the village, but the entire country will be proud of you,’ she used to say,” he recounts.
While he was never a huge cricket fan in his initial years, Shekhar was inspired when he saw other kids at school playing. “My mother’s happiness knew no bounds when I told her about it. ‘Now that you have started playing, you should continue in the same field,’ she told me. She has always been a huge inspiration for me,” he says.
One of Shekhar’s teachers saw his potential and started putting in extra hours to train him.
He was selected in his school team, for which he played for four years. In 2000, while playing in a school tournament, he scored 136 runs in 46 balls. This is where he was noticed by Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI), the apex body behind governing, organising and developing cricket for the blind. CABI is the cricketing arm and initiative of Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled, which is a non-profit, engaged in empowering persons with disabilities. Shekhar was finally selected for the state team based on his performance.
Later, in a south zone tournament final conducted by CABI, he scored 249 runs against Kerala. This score helped him secure a place in the Indian blind cricket team and he played in the 2002 one-day world cup, which was the second time a world cup was organized for blind cricket teams (the first one was in 1998).
There has been no looking back for Shekhar since then. A right-handed batsman, he has scored around 32 centuries in domestic and international matches till date. Based on his great performance during the 2002 world cup, he was named the man of the match twice, playing against Sri Lanka and Australia.
From here he got a chance to open for the Indian team in the upcoming matches and was made the captain in 2010.
Explaining the differences between blind cricket and regular cricket, Shekhar says that the former involves underarm bowling and the field is slightly smaller in area. The ball has few ball bearings inside it, and players listen to the sound of these bearings to play.
“The T20 world cup took place in 2012, in which 10 countries participated and the final match was between India and Pakistan. That was the most special match for us because we gained a world title that helped spread the word about visually impaired people playing cricket. It was after this match that the team started getting sponsors,” he says.
After the 2014 one-day world cup, the team got a chance to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “He was very happy with our performance. When one of the team members asked him for his autograph, he turned around and asked all of us for our autographs instead. We spoke to him about our problems too, and how we don’t get enough sponsors and representation,” says Shekhar.
The cricketer strongly feels the need for blind cricket to be affiliated by BCCI, “There are more than 50,000 blind cricketers in India who need encouragement. And for that we need complete support. Very few people get the chance to represent their country and we have received this chance. We play only for that and value this chance a lot.”
As for the Padma Sri, words are not enough to define his happiness.
“I want to dedicate this victory to other cricketers, cricket lovers, and my visually impaired friends. I am happy that now many people will come to know that blind people are also playing cricket. They will come forward to support us and our matches will see a full stadium,” he concludes.
You can help players of Odisha Cricket Association for the Visually Impaired (OCA-V) participate and represent Indian T20 World Cup by donating here.