Kashmiri cricketers: Chasing for mirage?

Syed Zafar Mehdi

“My dream to play for country lives on,” says Abid Nabi (22). The promising pacer from strife-torn Kashmir, who had invited the wrath of BCCI and his state cricket association following his joining the rebel league last year, is back. Abid is all set to play for J&K state team again. He is hopeful to break the jinx and don the national colors but history is not on his side. “I am working hard, rest is up to them”, says Abid, hoping to become the first cricketer from Kashmir to represent country.

Albeit the exciting pool of talent, especially in fast-bowling department, no cricketer from this conflict-marred state has hitherto played for the national side. Few players like Abdul Qayoom Bagoo, Mohuiddin Mirza and Abdul Rauf came close yet remained so far in the end.

Qayoom Bagoo, who fancied serious chances to play for India, rues the fact that his prime came around the time when militancy was at its peak in valley and state cricket association stood in shambles. “I needed backing, which was never there”, says Bagoo, who captained the state team for many years and later donned the mantle of state team coach.

What are the prime reasons behind this sorry tale of valley cricketers? “The dismal performance of our Ranji team is the biggest factor”, says Shuja Husain, star batsman of Budgam Cricket Club (BCC). Qayoom agrees, so does Salim Khan, the influential General Secretary of Jammu Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA). But they have different accounts for it. Khan blames “non-seriousness” among players and “climatic conditions” which allow cricket activity only for 6-7 months round the year. But Bagoo minces no words in blaming the state association for what he calls, “stifling mess”. He says, “The infighting and inter-factional bickering is responsible for it as focus is shifted away from game.”

The right people are not in right positions in association, feels Bagoo, under whose captaincy the state team had for the first and only time cruised into knockout stage of Ranji trophy in 02. Ashwini Gupta, a state Ranji player believes, “there is a need to raise the bar if we want to compete at top level. For that infrastructure should be upgraded at par with international standards”. But he hastens to add that selection procedure at state level has so far been “far from admirable.”

B.J Sharma, another Ranji player is the most vocal of lot. He puts blame squarely on state association for all the mess, “There are many lobbies active in JKCA and further there is no criteria for selection of players. It has failed on all fronts”. Tawseef Ahmad, a cricketer-turned-BPO employee agrees but adds that the zonal selection bias and various lobbies operating within BCCI have also hampered the chances of players from smaller state like J&K “There is definitely rampant bias in selection at zonal levels. Skippers of zonal sides mostly favor their own boys”, says Sharma.

“To make it to top level, you need constant backing from the state association in the face of such hiccups”, believes Qayoom, “but given the mess JKCA is, our boys should consider themselves unfortunate lot”.

“In such a grim scenario, promising players like Nabi are left with few options”, feels S A Safvi, a local journalist and cricket enthusiast. But what if he goes on to break the jinx? “It may well do wonders for the game in this trouble-torn land. People who hardly connect with Team India may turn into cheerleaders for team, and more importantly it may even help in bridging the alienation between people of Kashmir and India to large extent”, he says in an optimistic tone. “And that would be the best thing to happen for game in state”, feels Ashwini Gupta. Hope is what they cling onto, even with clouds of uncertainty hanging overhead.

(Written in 2009 while interning at Hindustan Times Delhi)