Sudhir Naik, a former India opener and Mumbai’s 1970-71 Ranji Trophy-winning captain passed away at a city hospital on Wednesday. He was 78.
Naik, who played three Tests and two ODIs for India between 1974-75, was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital after suffering a fall at his residence in Dadar, a couple of weeks ago.
While he continued to be in ‘critical condition’, his friends and former cricketers visited the hospital regularly. But according to hospital sources, on Wednesday evening, his condition deteriorated further.
A doyen of Mumbai cricket, Naik amassed 4376 first-class runs in 85 matches, with seven hundred and 27 fifties. One of his biggest achievements was leading Bombay to an iconic Ranji Trophy victory in 1970-71.
Leading a depleted Mumbai team - most of its superstars, including Ajit Wadekar and Sunil Gavaskar, were involved in a historic series win against the West Indies, Naik ensured that the team brought the trophy home.
“He was a magnificent cricketer. I would call him the legend of Mumbai cricket because he was always a leader. He captained Bombay University, captained Mumbai… He was in a classical mode of captaincy like Wadekar and Manohar Hardikar, who was his coach at DG Ruparel College. Sudhir’s temperament as a captain was in a similar mould,” said Milind Rege, former Mumbai captain and Naik’s old friend.
In that iconic 1970-71 final against Maharashtra, Rege was also part of the Mumbai team. “He was extremely sound tactically. That was his plus point. He knew his field placement, he knew the temperament of his players. Sudhir would never rebuke us on the field. He never told us, “ Kya kar raha hai? Barabar se bowling nahi ho raha hai (What are you doing? You are not bowling properly)… He would put his arm around us and be very cool and calm,” Rege told Sportstar.
“In that final of 1970-71, we were all youngsters - most of us were in our early 20s - with the exception of Vijay Bhosale and Padmakar Shivalkar. We were just raw talents and he captained the team marvellously. He was a great leader…”
In the 1973-74 season, he scored a 200 not out against Baroda in a Ranji Trophy fixture.
‘A great team-man’
The Mumbai opener made his Test debut at Edgbaston in 1974 and scored a gritty 77, though India suffered an innings defeat. Naik played another Test series against the West Indies. He scored 60 runs in four innings and was not picked again.
“It’s sad that two of my friends passed away this week,” said former India cricketer Farokh Engineer, referring to the demise of Naik and Salim Durani in a span of three days. Having played with both Durani and Naik, Engineer only has ‘happy memories’ about the latter.
“I have good memories with Sudhir. He was a wonderful opening batter, a wonderful fielder and most importantly, a great team-man. He toured England with us and was a wonderful person, who would be remembered by all who knew him,” Engineer told Sportstar. “It’s sad that one by one, we are losing our friends…”
‘The best curator’
Post-retirement, he was the chairman of the Mumbai selection committee and was also the curator of the Wankhede Stadium for several years. He was the curator of the iconic stadium when India won the 2011 World Cup final, defeating Sri Lanka.
“He was the best curator. He knew how to prepare a good wicket and he never made pitches to suit any teams. He made fair pitches and was never forced to prepare wickets as per demands. That was his greatness and that’s why he was respected highly,” Rege said.
His club - the National Cricket Club - has been a champion side in the local Mumbai league and several cricketers - including Zaheer Khan and Wasim Jaffer - have played for the club.
Rege also remembers the time when he would share a taxi ride with Naik, Sunil Gavaskar and Sharad Hazare. “The four of us would travel in one taxi for the Ranji Trophy games with our kits. Back in those days, you did not get a huge amount of money. You would get about Rs 15 for three days as allowance, so we shared Rs 2.50 a side among the four of us to take us to the ground and bring us back because we had kits with us. That was life. We all stayed in the same area and we would go together for practice, so it was a 24x7 relationship,” Rege reminisced.
Self-respect was ultimate
Interestingly, Naik, Rege and Hazare joined the Tata Group on the same day. “One went to TOMCO, one went to Tata Textiles and I went to Tata Steel,” Rege reminisced.
“Sudhir was a very hardworking person and was very proud of his achievements. He was an extremely honest human being. So, I will never ever accept the stories and accusations of him shop-lifting at the Marks & Spencer’s (during the tour of England,” Rege said. “I have seen Sudhir wearing torn gloves. His self-respect was so much that he would not ask anybody for spare gloves. That was Sudhir Naik…”
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