First blind sportsperson to be awarded Padma Shri after winning two world cupsShekhar Naik receiving Padma Shri from President Pranab Mukherjee
Some achievements are very hard to match, Shekhar Naik has a collection of them. Being first blind cricketer to be conferred the honour of Padma Shri, on the same day when Virat Kohli also accepted the award, winning two world cups for india are there in the list. Naik, who scored 32 centuries and 15 half-centuries in the 63 matches he played across formats, is undoubtedly India's most successful visually impaired cricketer. But, if you think an inability to see was the only setback Naik had to overcome in the course of winning two World Cups and several bilateral series, you would be mistaken.
Born in 1986, in the small district of Shimoga in Karnataka and he was the only child and since birth was completely blind. There were 16 people in his family who were blind including his mother. Both his parents used to work in the fields to earn daily living, so it was very hard for them to enroll him in any school. Whatever interaction he had with kids, he mostly faced ridicules because of blindness. He says his mother was the only one who would understood his pain and would motivate him.
In 1994, while playing Naik slipped and fell in a canal and was immediately rushed to hospital in Bangalore as there were not proper hospitals in his village. As doctors treated his fall injuries, they were also able to get him a little bit of eyesight, he go 60% eyesight in right eye, left was still completely blind. Still this was one of happiest moments of his life.
But life had a lot more in its store for him, three months after the operation his father passed away. His mother took care of him and got him into a blind school.
He knew about cricket in school where there were special provisions for blind people. Coaches at school were quick to realize that he was good at game and got good support from them. His mother also motivated him to work hard and achieve highest possible in this field. She died when Naik was 12 years of age and then school teachers and coaches helped him by continuing education for free. His hard work paid off and he was selected for Karnataka State Cricket Team (Blind).
In one particular one-day match against Kerala, Naik scored 249 runs and based on that got into the national team in 2002. He also represented india in the Blind Cricket World cup in the same year and then he started showing his talent at top level.
He played a lot of great knocks But a few of them stand out. In 2003, when the Indian Blind Cricket Team toured Pakistan, he scored 198 in one of the One-Day matches. That, to this day, remains hi highest individual international score. Then, in 2005, Pakistan toured India for a One-Day series. he played very well there and was elected as the Man-of-the-series. The next year, in 2006, he played in the Blind Cricket World Cup again. Though, India lost the finals (against Pakistan), his performance was good in the tournament and was 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 he was made the captain of the national team in 2010. His mother would have been very proud, he always remembered his mother whenever anything good/bad happened in his life. Another cherishing moment came in 2012, when he led India to lift the inaugural Blind T20 World Cup, played in India. Then India was let to a World cup win in South Africa and it was icing on caked for him as it wasn't easy for them to play in foreign conditions.
He says his parents played a massive part in his success, their bringing up, sacrifices are somethings that can't be forgotten. Then his teachers, coaches, current coach Patrick Rajkumar played a massive part when his parents were not around to look after him.
However, if there is someone who really turned his 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 him once in his schooling days. He then encouraged him and roped him in his organization and then was provided all the priviliges. He has a full time job at Samarthanam as sports coordinator.
Having won the inaugural Blind T20 World Cup held in Bangalore in 2012, India is currently the world champion in both T20 and the 40 over format and yet, in a touch of irony, we are the only country where the blind men’s cricket team is not affiliated to the parent board. Despite such towering success, the visually impaired players in the country are failing to get the kind of financial backing that’s needed to transform their passion into a full-fledged profession.
There are over 40,000 blind cricketers in the country and given the right amenities; the authorities could dig out more talent from the grass-root level. But while there is a lot of potential in the country, barely does an opportunity present itself. Currently, there are state-level championships that send players into zonal competitions and the top two teams from each zone are sent to play a national tournament but that’s about it.
Mahantesh Kivadasannavar, Senior Vice-President of the World Blind Cricket Council (WBCC), is of the opinion that given a reliable structure and unhindered access to government bodies and more corporate giants, blind cricket could flourish like anything in this country. This is what Patrick Rajkumar, India’s T20 World Cup Winning Coach had to say about the game - “We play the same kind of cricket as the mainstream players do. Batsmen hit sixes, bowlers take hat-tricks and fielders take catches but people just aren’t willing to watch it.” Given the right exposure will also increase interest among people and draw hordes of fans to the stadium.
For a nation that considers cricket more than just a game and puts its cricketers on the pedestal, maybe, it is time we give these players their due recognition. And as Bhagawati Bhattarai; a woman cricket player from Nepal aptly puts it - “Cricket is not just about power. A technique, strategy, temperament, it all counts. It’s a sport that teaches you many life lessons.” It is time for the world’s richest cricket board to learn its lessons.