Hailing from Shrirampur, a town in Maharashtra's Ahmednagar district, Zaheer was roped in as a 17-year-old bowler by Naik at National Cricket Club, Cross Maidan in 1996. On Thursday, Naik recalled Zaheer's initial struggles that made him develop a steely attitude and fierce determination to succeed.

"Zaheer was staying with his father's aunt. She worked at Saifee Hospital (Charni Road) and had a small room in the hospital. For the first seven to eight months, he did not have a proper place to sleep. He just slept with a chaddar (bedsheet); no pillow.

Naik only learnt about Zaheer's ordeal a few months later, during a chat with Zaheer's father, "A few months after he enrolled at National CC, his dad told me that it was getting difficult to manage his expenses in Mumbai and his aunt could not afford to feed him (Zaheer) anymore. He asked me if I could do something.

Asked about how Zaheer looked as a bowler when he first arrived at National CC, Naik said, "He was completely raw. There was no line and length, but he had very good pace. After bowling for about 40 minutes, I stopped him, fearing he would injure a few batsmen. I then made him bowl in a net, where he had to just focus on hitting a single stump. He was really good and I decided to continue with him."

The next thing Naik did was to buy young Zaheer a decent pair of bowling shoes. Those shoes bought from National CC's funds put Zaheer Khan on the road to stardom. "I told everyone that he was worth investing in." Naik was right.


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