Life has repeatedly thrown Imran Sheikh for a googly. A decade ago, he was an international cricketer who helped the Indian deaf and mute squad to World Cup victory. A few years later, his strong game saw him promoted to captain, and the then-25-year-old got to do what he loves best, play a sport that he has been part of for 15 years.
“Cricket is my passion,” the 30 year old said. Unable however to make ends meet, he quit his cricketing career. The Baroda native has now resorted to selling kachoris by the street with his wife, Roza. The batsman says there is ‘not much money’ in deaf and mute cricket – in stark contrast to the cricket Indian spectators have come to know and love, which has insurmountable amounts of money associated with it in terms of incomes, endorsements, rights and telecasts.
Sheikh is a man of modest means. With a stall on Old Padra Road in Vadodara, Gujarat, Sheikh and his wife sell snacks all day to locals and visitors.
He has recently begun to supplement that income with a temporary job at the Gujarat Refinery, owned by the Indian Oil Corporation.
As a child, he watched his idols play the game he knew and loved; Vengsarkar, Amarnath and then Tendulkar. He began playing at the city’s Bhutadi Zampa ground at 15, with teenagers just like himself. His talent would eventually be spotted by cricket coach Nitendra Singh, who mentored Sheikh as he made his way through the ranks. Singh spotted Sheikh’s immense talent, and helped him qualify for the Gujarat team.
Sheikh would eventually qualify for the national deaf-and-mute team, and at India’s World Cup managed three over-50 scores en route to the semi-finals in 2005, an India vs. Pakistan affair where Sheikh scored 62 runs to take India to victory and the finals.
His work didn’t end there – Sheikh followed that up with a 40-run knock that netted India the cup against England that year, returning to the country a World Cup winner, to not even a fraction of the reception accorded to India’s ‘regular’ cricketers. Greeted with garlands, sweets and widespread celebration, India’s batsmen and bowlers are celebrated immensely for every victory while those like Sheikh lie forgotten even in the immediate wake of their achievements.
Most recently, 30-year-old Sheikh captained the national side at the Asia Cup Twenty20 tournament; but with an inability to make ends meet, he’s fast becoming disillusioned with the sport.
The couple are still reeling financially, and recently moved out of the home they share, although sympathetic locals have been helping them financially by patronising their stall. Although Sheikh has decided he wants to leave the sport due to lack of a future for himself, his coach laments the decision.
For now, Roza Sheikh just said they ‘wanted a permanent spot for their cart’; the pair continue to work towards making an honest living as Sheikh is forced to stop playing the sport he is truly passionate about.
Originally published on Sportskeeda