Cricket conjures up images of glamour, star players and technique in India. But for 29-year-old Shekar Naik, a cricket bat replaced the cane in his hand when he joined the school cricket team at the age of 11.
Hailing from Shivamogga in Karnataka, Shekar is the Captain of the Indian blind cricket team and has been with the team for three years.
“Basic rules of the sport are the same. But we have ball that rattles. We roll the ball on the ground and take only sweep shots. We largely depend on our sense of hearing,” Shekar says.
Shekar has been associated with Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled which helps and encourages blind cricketers. “Many companies approach Samarthanam as a part of their Corporate Social Responsibility. The trust arranges for matches every month. And we play with teams with people who have no disability too. That way we also learn tactics from them,” Shekar said.
However, they do have to deal with the condescension. “Most times captains of company teams call and ask us whether we want their ‘good team’ or just 11 random people from their office. But we ask them to bring their ‘good team’. After playing with us, most of them claim to have underestimated us,” he added.
Shekar started playing cricket at Sharadha Devi School for the blind when he was eight years old.
“As a child playing the game was about proving my abilities to children in the neighbourhood, but it has taken me to great heights and taught me a lot of things. It is my mother’s dream I am living up to,” he said.
Shekar bowling. The ball is rolled on the ground. There are high chance of fielders being injured by the ball as it is made of plastic
“It makes me happy and feel more confident. I don’t play cricket for money. Only after winning the world cup we have got some financial support. We run behind sponsors, unlike mainstream cricket teams who have no dearth of money,” he added.
Though Shekar’s favourite team among mainstream cricket team is the Indian team, Shekar expresses his disappointment at how none of the Indian cricket team players have met or extended their support to blind cricket.
“Saurav Ganguly is the ambassador for the blind cricket team, but he never met us after the mascot launch. Virat Kohli in 2012 tweeted by congratulating us for our T-20 World Cup win,” he said.
Does the Indian blind cricket team also face pressure like the sighted Indian cricket team does, to win an India-Pakistan match? Shekar says that there is no difference. “The situation gets as tense as you can imagine in any match between India and Pakistan. Pakistan team is as strong as the Indian team and it is mostly a neck to neck battle,” he said.
There is no age bar in blind cricket teams. In fact the Kerala blind cricket team has a 9-year-old boy and there a 57-year-old man in the England team. “I want to win one World Cup before I quit from playing the sport. I want to get into training later. I would like to encourage more visually impaired people to play,” he said.
“In fact, we prefer completely blind people to partially blind people to be in our team because the scores are doubled, that is, if they take 2 runs, the score would be 4 and if it is a boundary shot, the score would be 8. That way we indirectly encourage more blind persons to play the sport,” Shekar claims.