BCCI recognition of Blind cricket important: Padma Shri awardee Shekhar Naik
Amongst the most successful cricketers in India, Shekhar Naik has led India to victories in the T20 Blind World Cup in 2012 and the Blind Cricket World Cup in 2014. The veteran sportsman recently received the Padma Shree award from the President, alongside fellow cricketer Virat Kohli and a host of other distinguished contributors to the arena.
In an exclusive interview with The Manipal Journal before he left Bangalore for the award ceremony in New Delhi, Naik speaks about the development of Blind Cricket, the issues facing the game in India and more:
You have had a long and successful career in Blind Cricket which included two world cup victories. How did it start?
I started playing cricket in 1997 for my school team in Shimoga (Karnataka), and it was the first time that I was introduced to Blind Cricket. After that, I played for Karnataka between 2000 and 2002 before making my international debut in the same year. I was always positive; I have always considered my disability as a weapon. Because of this very disability, I got the chance to play for the country. I was part of two world cup victories, the first T20 World Cup victory in Bengaluru in 2012 and then the one-day world cup in 2014.
One of the biggest issues plaguing Blind Cricket in India over the years is the lack of recognition, facilities, and exposure. How difficult was it for you to overcome these issues?
When I started playing, nobody even sponsored a bat to the players. We used to buy the kit from our own money. These were the only equipment we had for practicing and for participating in international tournaments. Today, after winning a few World Cups, we are financially strong, though not much.
You were recently conferred with the Padma Shri award. You will be receiving it alongside Virat Kohli, the captain of the Indian Cricket Team. Do you see this as a recognition of the Indian Blind Cricket Team on par with the Indian Cricket Team?
It definitely is a great feeling to be receiving the Padma Shri alongside Virat Kohli. This award is not just for me, I would like to dedicate this to all my fellow blind cricketers. After winning back to back titles, the Government has finally recognized the efforts of the Blind Cricket Team. I hope this brings awareness to the people about Blind Cricket. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) does not recognize Blind Cricket, but now because of this award people while raising the question as to why we are not being recognized. We are also making the country proud, just like the Indian Cricket Team.
Coming to the point of recognition by the BCCI, considering the current scenario, don’t you think it is high time the BCCI recognized Blind Cricket?
Actually, we approached BCCI for recognition a few years ago, only to be rejected, but we are still knocking their door. Ironically, the not-so-rich cricket boards of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Australia officially recognize blind cricket. The BCCI is the richest cricket body, it pumps in a lot of money into competitions like the IPL, but doesn’t recognize Blind Cricket. Most of our international cricketers have to let go of their full-time jobs to take part in big tournaments. That is why it is important to be professionally recognized by the BCCI.
There are more than 50,000 blind cricketers from across the country, a majority of who come from humble backgrounds. Professional recognition would provide these players with a platform to showcase their talent. When I started playing, there was neither popularity nor recognition. Now, after our recent international victories, we have gained some popularity, but the recognition has not come yet. The government has been supporting us since 2012, we received some financial support from them for the last World Cup. Supporting Blind Cricket is something BCCI can easily do. Some players in the IPL earn more than ₹10 crore, if the same amount is invested in Blind Cricket, we can conduct two World Cups.
In recent times, the BCCI has run into some trouble with the Supreme Court. With the recommendations of the Lodha Committee being enforced, do you think this will bring a shift in ideology within the BCCI to support other forms of Cricket in the country?
The Supreme Court, through the Lodha Committee, is basically doing corrections in the BCCI. If BCCI had been a perfect board, there wouldn’t have been any problems. The Supreme Court is enforcing the recommendations only for the betterment of the game. The top management of the BCCI was controlled by the same set of people, now with more people getting the opportunity to hold office may be other forms of cricket will get recognition.
The Blind Cricket Team has tasted a lot of success in international tournaments of late, has this success been enough to inspire young talents at the grassroots level?
During the final of the recent T20 World Cup at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru, there was a crowd of more than 30,000 people. It means more people have started watching Blind Cricket. The popularity has surely increased. There are nearly 500 blind schools across the country, and ever since we have been doing well internationally children at these schools have started practicing Cricket as a regular sport.
Even coaching camps are being conducted at some schools. I’m getting regular calls from Blind Schools seeking the rules and regulations of Blind Cricket and also the balls used in Blind Cricket. Just last week, a blind school in Bihar had invited me to a coaching camp. Even blind schools from the state of Jammu & Kashmir have sent me invites to coach the school children.
The media, especially broadcast media, has played a crucial part in adding to the popularity of a sport, cricket being the prime example. Don’t you think Blind Cricket deserves more media coverage? Something like live TV coverage maybe?
The major obstacle in having live coverage is again the lack of finances. The thinking currently is such that instead of spending money on media coverage we can have another tournament with the same amount of money. We could have live coverage if we can garner more sponsorship. There are so many companies in India. They invest in the IPL, I guess we should have something similar, a Blind Premier League maybe.
Are you actually planning something like that?
Yes, we had a discussion recently. We are thinking of approaching film stars currently. It will be like they will be investing for a cause which would help Blind Cricket in India. We need to have more meetings on this and plan something out.
With the kind of career you have had till now and the honour of the Padma Shri, you definitely would be an inspiration for a whole new generation of cricketers. Do you have any plans of continuing this as a coach in the future?
Right now, I want to continue my career for the Indian Team. This World Cup I could not play for the selection trials because of some sickness. I’m 100% fit now and want to continue playing for my country. I’m just 31; I will play for at least a few years, till my performance doesn’t take a dip.
But you would consider coaching as an option in the future?
Yes, of course, that is my aim. There are many Shekar Naiks in this country that are unable to showcase their talent due to the lack of opportunities. My aim is to find such budding talents, coach them and give them the opportunity to perform. We need to work at the grassroots level to find young hidden talents. My dream is to find such talents who can represent the country at the international level.
Featured image courtesy: Shekhar Naik’s Facebook profile.
Edited By Soumyajit Saha.