Since the 1959-60 season, Jammu and Kashmir has been a constant presence in India’s domestic calendar. But over six decades, success stories have been few and far between. Cricket from the region made headlines for wrong reasons.Despite being in existence from 1970, the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA) has never arranged a state-level tournament. Saddled with corruption charges, the body is being run by an ad-hoc committee at the moment.
The story could have remained the same. But of late, a bit of a change is visible on the horizon. The committee running the association pulled off a coup of sorts in its bid to make things happen and brought in Irfan Pathan as player-cum-mentor.
Not wanted by Baroda, it is an interesting period in the former India all-rounder’s life as well. Once hailed as the next Kapil Dev and Man of the Match in the inaugural World T20 final in 2007, Pathan was at quite the crossroads. At 33, he decided to take the plunge.
“I know I have it in me to not just compete but to win matches for the county. But there is a bigger life outside cricket. This will help learn many things. The administrative side, taking care of a team’s interests excited me. Some of it I haven’t done before,” Pathan says.
But hiring a high-profile player and development of cricket are different matters altogether. Jammu and Kashmir has no district or club-level tournament to choose players from. Each time they select teams, they hold trials. Nobody knows before selection how the players might perform in match situations. There are no turf wickets and a harsh winter which stops cricket in the Kashmir region in those months. To make matters worse, the cricket season gets frequently disrupted because of turmoil in the region. So even if there is talent, as the stories of Adil Nabi and Parvez Rasool testify, there is no system to nurture.
“We never had any camps,” says Fazil Rashid, the wicketkeeper of the team in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. “We would arrive three-four days before the season begins, have a few net sessions and go straight to the game. We didn’t know there can be planning sessions or methods to get game-prepared. During the winter, when everybody is busy with cricket, I can’t even put bat to ball. Then there are times when we don’t even think of going to the ground because of external factors.”
Paras Sharma, a law graduate from Jammu who has been part of the side since 2015, doesn’t recollect a day when he got the chance to practise with all his teammates a week before the domestic season. Pointing out to Fazil, who hails from the Kashmir region, Sharma says the first time they were together was when they found themselves out in the middle as batsmen.“We didn’t know how to call. I didn’t know his game, and he didn’t know mine. We didn’t even know what to converse between overs. Only this time, after Irfan bhai came, we started practising three months in advance and also played two tournaments.”
Narrating how different and strange things were for him, Pathan recollected one of his early experiences in the valley. This July, when they were having a camp at Sher-i-Kashmir Stadium in Srinagar, the armed forces wanted the ground to prepare for the Independence Day parade. Pathan and JKCA CEO Ashiq Buhari had to plead with them for the space the team needed.
“It took them time to understand that cricket can co-exist. This isn’t how a team should be preparing for Ranji Trophy,” Pathan says. After the forces took over the ground, some of the players from Kashmir region packed their bags and went home. “They didn’t believe the camp would start again. We had to summon them back.”
There is one more problem. Unseen and intangible, it’s difficult to see, but those involved with cricket in the state feel it. There was an unwritten rule that while selecting teams representation of the two regions must be kept in mind. So they had to maintain a balance between number of players from Jammu and Kashmir. If one had too many, the other would complain.
This was the norm for several years and even the JKCA for political reasons made sure this was maintained. Obviously it meant that some deserving players got ignored.According to some involved with Jammu and Kashmir cricket, this was another reason the team didn’t gel properly. The JKCA used to put together a side with players in equal numbers from the two regions. With no practice tournaments, players hardly got the time or opportunity to mix and understand each other.
Milap Mewada, a former India U-19 cricketer and a well-known coach brought in to help the Ranji side and also chalk out a programme for local coaches, says building a team in the true sense of the word is one of the challenges.
“We knew what was going on and were briefed on the areas the team was lacking in. If there is healthy competition, it will benefit the team. We are changing the culture. If you don’t have differences and play as a team, you can do anything. We have had bandhs and protests and couldn’t practise. We told them to adjust, but don’t complain. We wanted to remove ‘and’ from Jammu and Kashmir. We want it to be just Jammu, Kashmir. We want both set of players to mix. Which is why we have also introduced team-building activities. This thought is getting into them,” says Mewada.
They are not expecting miracles. They are aware that it will take time, given that the process has just begun. “We can’t change things overnight. It’s going to be a long process. We are trying to put a structure in place. Once it’s there, the rest will follow. If one of the guys from this lot plays Ranji for 10 years, it will be satisfactory for me,” says Pathan, heading off to a team-building session, for which players have been told to come only in towels and sunglasses.
Tales from the north
SS takes you through the cricketing journey of Jammu and Kashmir, a roller coaster ride that has spanned 58 years till date and has been witness to its fair share of upsand downs...
- Jammu and Kashmir first took part in Ranji Trophy in 1959-60. They have reached the knockouts only twice. Quarterfinals in 2000-01 and 2013-14 were their best performances.
- The state was never really a part of the cricket map as a venue for international games. Srinagar’s Sher-i-Kashmir Stadium hosted 2 ODIs in 1983 (WI) and 1986 (Aus). Maulana Azad Stadium in Jammu hosted another in 1988 (NZ) which was washed out.
- Beating Mumbai by 4 wickets at Wankhede Stadium in 2013-14 remains most memorable moment in first-class cricket. Opener Shubham Khajuria was Man of the Match for knocks of 107 & 78.
- Parvez Rasool is the only J&K player to have represented India. The spin-bowling all-rounder played an ODI vs Bangladesh in 2014 and a T20 vs England in 2017. He is the only IPL player from the state as well.
- Although nobody else played even India A, fast bowler Abdul Qayoom was perhaps the first star of J&K cricket. Captain of the team that reached the Ranji quarters in 2000-01.
- Abid Nabi was another prominent name. Rated among the fastest in India at the time, the bowler played 30 first-class matches from 2004 to 2011, taking 108 wickets.
- J&K has produced figures of repute in other sports. 2014 Asian Games bronze medallist shooter Chain Singh, India footballers Abdul Majeed, Mehrajuddin Wadoo, gymnast Palak Kaur are the prominent ones.
- Although not in cricket or other mainstream sports, the state is a destination for adventure sports like heliskiing, ice skating, ice hockey, water skiing, paragliding and mountaineering and snowboarding.