Former India opener and Mumbai’s 1970-71 Ranji Trophy-winning captain Sudhir Naik passed away at a Mumbai hospital on Wednesday at the age of 78.
“It’s a sad day. Big loss for cricket in general, for me in particular. It’s a big loss for me personally. I wonder whether I would have become the cricketer I did had I not met him,” former India bowler Zaheer Khan told Sportstar on the passing of Naik.
Talking about Naik, Khan said, “He had a very uncomplicated personality. He was a passionate cricketer and a supporter of cricketers. It’s a huge loss for the cricket fraternity, especially me.”
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 day after he was hospitalised (on March 24), I went and saw him. He was responding to the treatment. He recognised me and tried talking to me. I had a bit of a conversation with him.” “Knowing the personality that I have seen over the year, I was hoping he would fight through this. But it wasn’t to be.”
“On Sunday night, he became critical, and we were told that the next 72 hours will be critical. While we were hoping for his recovery, all through this time, I have been recalling my innumerable conversations with him as soon as I moved to Mumbai.”
Meeting Naik for the first time
Khan recalled when he met the Ranji-trophy-winning captain for the first time. “During my first interaction with him (in April 1996), Sir [Naik] told me and my father (Bakhtiyar) that he will shape me as a bowler if I moved to Mumbai. That was a big move, to shift from Shrirampur (a town in Ahmednagar district, 280km away from Mumbai), but he had obviously noticed something in me.”
Promising to invest in Khan if he was fully committed, Naik told the budding bowler that he would play in every Division A game.
“For a boy who had predominantly been bowling with a tennis ball till then, I had no clue what he meant, but all I knew was he had noticed some spark in me.”
“During those first few months, he imbibed the habit of hard work in me. He used to tell me that I had a lot of catching up to do with all the other bowlers around me.”
Khan recalled that Naik told him that he would need to work extra hard because the other bowlers around him had been training daily since the age of 10, while he had joined at 18.
“I learned not to waste a single moment from him and have been reminding myself about the learnings on and off the field. All those conversations and advice have not only shaped my career but made me a better human being. I will cherish them forever. I will miss you, Sir,” concluded Khan, paying tribute to his former mentor and teacher.
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