Move over Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Shekhar Naik is here. This 24-year-old is a hard-hitting opening batsman and equally swift at making crucial field placements. He is also slated to be India’s next captain at a cricket World Cup – the Blind Cricket World Cup which is scheduled to be held in the UK next year. In Bangalore, at the final of the National Cricket Tournament for the Blind last Thursday, the partially sighted Naik was leading the South Zone against the West Zone.
Naik’s cool confidence shows few signs his humble beginnings. His family belongs to the Lambada tribe (the tribe is originally from Rajasthan but have migrated to parts of northern Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh). Shekhar himself was born totally blind in Karnataka’s Shimoga district. At the age of eight he was brought to Bangalore where his retina was treated and he gained partial sight. He was orphaned during his childhood but stuck to his studies and soon found his calling – cricket. After his education he started working for Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled (organisers of the blind cricket tournament). Like Sachin Tendulkar, Shekhar not only began playing cricket for India at the age of 16 but like his hero has also scored over 600 runs in a World Cup. Cricket aside, Shekhar loves dancing and it was during a dance performance that he met and fell in love with his now wife – Rupa who is partially blind.
With his is team chasing 386 in 40 overs to lift the Thursday’s trophy, Naik’s quickfire 81 off just 33 deliveries wasn’t enough for this proud captain. He knew he needed to stay in longer to take his team through and ultimately South Zone was bundled out for 248 in just 26.1 overs. An obviously disappointed Naik couldn’t get himself to smile even when he was being interviewed by journalists who were all praise for his performance. The committed cricketer takes his sport very seriously and believes that cricket for the blind has exposed him and many others to important aspects of life, which they are otherwise denied merely due to their disability—discipline, teamwork, fitness, strategic planning, competitiveness and sportsman spirit. But most importantly, perhaps for the first time in their life, the focus is on their skills and not their disability. All this does wonders to their self-confidence.
While cricketers from the south and west zones were sweating it out on the field, it was 25-year-old Chandrakanth Singh, the commentator for the game, who caught my attention.
Chandrakanth is multilingual, with his commentary alternating between English, Hindi and even a bit of Kannada thrown in for the locals. The man with the gift of the gab has modeled his commentary style on his idol Tony Greig, replete with a British twang. He has a knack for picking up accents – British, American, Australian and also loves imitating his cricketing heroes including Sachin Tendulkar. Chandrakanth also happens to be totally blind. On field action is conveyed to him in 1-2 words and then he immediately dramatizes the facts in his commanding baritone (“…And Prakash sprints across like a cheetah for a quick single”). His visual impairment hasn’t managed to come in the way of what he loves best – being involved with cricket.
Chandrakanth has been associated with the sport since he was eight and it’s not just his commentary that he’s renowned for. He also happens to play the game and is an all-rounder. It was his fielding skills that first got him noticed and since then he’s been a regular at blind cricket tournaments. Away from the game, Chandrakanth works as a receptionist with Samarthanam.
One of Chandrakanth’s dreams is to commentate for the 2011 World Cup, alongside Sunil Gavaskar, Ian Chappel, Harsha Bhogle and of course Tony Greig. Let’s hope the people who matter make his dream come true!