Former India opener Sudhir Naik, who played three Test matches in 1974, died in a Mumbai hospital on Wednesday after brief illness, confirmed Mumbai Cricket Association sources. He was 78 and is survived by his daughter. “Recently, he fell on bathroom floor and sustained a head injury after which he was admitted to a Mumbai hospital. He slipped into a coma and never recovered,” a MCA source, who regularly tracked his health updates, told PTI.
Naik was an immensely respected figure in the Mumbai cricket circles and a Ranji Trophy-winning captain when he led the team to blue-riband glory in the 1970-71 season.
Naik’s leadership was highly commended as Mumbai won the Ranji Trophy that season without stars like Sunil Gavaskar, Ajit Wadekar, Dilip Sardesai, Ashok Mankad.
As irony would have it, when the 1972 Ranji season started, Naik was dropped from playing XI as the main batters were back in the squad.
In 1974, he went on a fateful tour of England and made his debut in the Birmingham Test where he got his only half-century (77) in the second innings in a losing cause.
He played 85 first class games and scored nearly 4500 runs (4376) at an average of 35 plus and seven hundred including a double ton.
He, however, suffered a lot as the erstwhile BCCI in 1970s was very weak in stature and filled with subservient creatures who didn’t protest when he was wrongly accused of stealing two pairs of socks at a London departmental store.
In fact, Sunil Gavaskar had written in his book ‘Sunny Days’ that Naik shouldn’t have pleaded guilty in front of the magistrate and should have been given a good lawyer to fight the false accusation that tarnished his reputation.
He was a tough character and just after the incident scored the gritty Test half-century. But in the days of musical chair in Indian cricket, his international career didn’t last beyond 1974.
He did play an active role in later years as a coach and was a big influence in Zaheer Khan‘s career as he brought him to play cricket in Mumbai and provided him with requisite exposure.
Zaheer was from a small town called Sreerampore and wanted to pursue engineering. It was Naik’s belief in his talent and his persistence that made Zaheer stay back in Mumbai and honed his skills at the iconic Cross Maidan.
He was also a chairman of Mumbai selection committee and in later years worked as a curator of Wankhede Stadium free of cost.
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