The notion, that young cricketers from Kashmir are being discriminated against and are intentionally excluded from national-level meets, has been fading away over the past few years. Several young cricketers from the Valley have been nurtured and groomed to play at highly competitive levels across the country over these years. Some of them are doing well these days. Take the example of Mohammad Muddassir, who became the first player in Ranji Trophy cricket to claim four LBW's in four balls in a match with Rajasthan. He is the second player to claim four wickets in four balls but the first to claim four LBW’s in a row.
“Muddassir surely has a bright future, provided he works hard and remains focussed. I believe that we will be able to nurture many more budding cricketers in the near future. I am very much hopeful,” Parvez Rasool, the first and the only Indian international cricketer from the state of Jammu and Kashmir, tells National Herald. “The talent hunt tournaments across all the 22 districts of Jammu and Kashmir during the past few months, in which about 50,000 young cricketers took part, have brought many gifted players to the forefront and we will be concentrating on them,” he adds.
Former cricket veteran Irfan Pathan, who is mentor-cum-coach of Jammu Kashmir’s cricket team, shares tips with aspiring cricketers of the state these days. The talent hunts to identify promising cricketers from Jammu and Kashmir were also supervised by Pathan, where more than 100 youths were selected. He is representing the senior cricket team and mentoring the newcomers.
“Irfan Pathan has contributed tremendously during this talent hunt. At times, just his presence boosts the confidence in youngsters. I think Kashmir has been lucky to have a veteran like Irfan Pathan as a mentor-cum-coach of Jammu Kashmir’s cricket team. He wholeheartedly shares his experience and guides our kids. He gives tips not only about the game but about the physical fitness of the players too,” says Parvez Rasool.
Earlier it was a general view in the Valley that Kashmiri cricketers are not being harnessed for the national-level games and many local players had openly accused of being victimised because of their origin. Abdul Qayoom Bagaw was one of them. Bagaw had made his first-class debut in 1995 and was regarded as a fine fast bowler and one of the eight fast bowlers from the country to have trained at the MRF Pace Foundation Camp in 1994 under the mentorship of Dennis Lille. Before retiring from cricket in 2003, Bagaw said he was discriminated against only because of his origin.
But these days, Bagaw has a different view. He tells National Herald, “This is a golden era. No body stops the talent in India. I tell my boys in Kashmir that if they work hard, they will surly get their due.” He continues, “In this era nobody can be discriminated against as there is complete professionalism in the sports fraternity. Secondly, Indian media is so vibrant that an iota of misconduct cannot be hidden from the eyes of the people. In our age, nobody knew what was happening in the decision-making rooms.”
Bagaw was coach of Kashmir’s under-22 team in 2009, when two players of the team - Parvez Rasool (now in the national team) and Mehraj-ud-din – were detained by the police in Bangalore on the suspicion that they were carrying explosives in their kitbags. They were let off because the police found nothing incriminating on them. But the incident sparked widespread anger and concern in Kashmir Valley at that time.
Unfortunately, there have been many controversies about the sport in the Valley too. In the last 70 years, only two international cricket matches have ever been staged in the Valley. In 1983, the pitch was dug up by the protesters in Srinagar when India v/s West Indies match was on. It was the first international cricket match played on the soil of Kashmir. It is commonly believed that Kashmiris mostly cheer for opposition teams in cricket matches involving India. In 2014, sedition charges were imposed on as many as 67 Kashmiri students of a private university in Uttar Pradesh for cheering in favour of the Pakistani cricket team while they were watching the live television broadcast of a One-Day International cricket match between India and Pakistan. The sedition charges were later dropped after many prominent political leaders criticised the government, calling the charge as “harsh”.
In 2017, India cricket star MS Dhoni faced slogans like “Boom Boom Afridi” in a border village of North Kashmir, when Dhoni visited there as a chief guest of an Army-sponsored cricket tournament. The incident was largely condemned outside the Valley but many analysts here believe that the incident occurred because of public anger against human rights violations that occurred in the Valley at that time.
“This incident happened post the killing of Burhan Wani. During a six-month-long agitation, a large number of young people had been killed, thousands injured and many boys and girls blinded by the use of pellet guns. People were really angry at that time. Just a few months before, an Army officer had forcibly used a young man as a human shield to deter stone-pelters and also to teach them a lesson in Central Kashmir’s Badgam and the Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat had described the officers’ act as ‘the right call’. In this kind of an abnormal situation, I thing public anger was justified. The incident in question was not about MS Dhoni or cricket; I think people in general were angry against the Army at that time,” says Sibt Muhammad Hassan, a senior journalist and analyst.
At a time when new talent in cricket is coming up in Jammu and Kashmir and opportunities are clearly visible, a few other good things are also on the anvil. Governor SP Malik’s recent announcement, that the state will soon have an international cricket stadium that will be equipped with state-of-the-art facilities to fulfil the standards for holding international tournaments, has brought cheer to cricket lovers. The proposed stadium will be apparently developed in collaboration with the IPL (Indian Premier League) Governing body.
“It will be like a dream come true if an international cricket stadium is built in our state. We need all kinds of infrastructure to groom our young and budding cricketers so that they will be able to compete at the national level,” Mubashir Hussain, Director, Sports Academy, says.
Clearly, the future looks bright for Jammu and Kashmir’s young cricketers.