Riyaz Ul Khaliq
For last six months, Kashmir’s young pacer Googled internet every day to get confirmation from a cricket club in the United Kingdom.
Mehjoor Ali Sofi, a Ranji cricketer from Kashmir, got good news finally in April that he was selected to play County in England this season. But his joy did not last much when he was denied a No Objection Certificate (NoC) by politics marred Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA).
However, when Press Trust of India (PTI) Srinagar bureau broke the news, it alerted the power corridors. Next day, all major newspapers and TV crews made beeline at Mehjoor’s Malbagh residence in Hazratbal area.
After Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Bhartiya Janta Party formed coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir, many positions changed, de facto, in state.
In JKCA, which is under severe criticism for marring the future of young and better cricketers from valley, the game too changed. The incumbent Sports Minister “invoking rule book”, held elections in which he was elected new president of the rich but corruption marred board. There is a case pending in J&K High Court and later taken by CBI which is investigating swindling of Crores of Rupees received from Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
Mehjoor was in contact with an English cricketing club: Easton Tigers. “I had several conversations with its chairperson Mehmood Ahmad and Peter Sandol its Secretary for last half of a year who selected me this year to play for them,” Mehjoor told Kashmir Life on Sunday.
“This chance (of playing English Cricket) will give Kashmir its first County player,” Mehjoor said.
When Mehjoor approached JKCA early this month, he was denied an NoC. Why? When elephants fight, grass suffers the most and this is exactly what happened in this case.
A 25 year old cricketer, Mehjoor is the best bowler in his peer group since his school days. He completed his 12th class from MP School Khanyar and would lead his school teams in various inter-school cricket competitions.
He first joined JKCA almost a decade back. “I was 16 when I started playing for JKCA in under-19 category,” Mehjoor said.
And since then, there was no looking back. “I am the only Kashmiri who plays for Air India Cricket Team besides I also played for Bengal Cricket Association.”
Mehjoor after finishing his classes at Babademb campus of Ghandhi College would rush to JKCA SK Stadium at Sonwar. His passion for cricket didn’t stop him from even missing his classes nor did he care for percentage in the exams. He wanted to make it bid, in a different way.
Mehjoor continued to play under seniors and travelled across India while he was waiting for a chance to play at a big stage. But he didn’t know the change in Kashmir politics might scuttle his England trip this Spring.
After JKCA was divided, unequally, between Ansari and Farooq, Mehjoor said, “I was holding trails under Dr Farooq group and it is not a case with me only. Everyone did so because that faction was recognised by the BCCI.” This thing didn’t go well with the incumbent office bearers of the JKCA and hence, he was denied the NoC in first go.
While this report is being filed, the Ansari led faction was barred from utilising resources drawn from BCCI. J&K High Court stayed its earlier order after listening to an appeal by Farooq led faction.
Mehjoor may not know all this but last Friday, he received a call from CM’s secretariat. “Madam wants to meet you,” Mehjoor quoted the phone call from the J&K chief executive’s office. “Tomorrow at 11 AM; make it sure, you don’t fail. It is important.”
“I reached Gupkar at the given time and CM Ms Mehbooba Mufti’s Private Secretary listened to my story. He led me to Madam’s (CM) room,” Mehjoor said. “I could not look into your issue for few days as I was busy,” CM told Mehjoor, “but this is a big moment for us as you are playing in English County.”
CM Secretariat made a call to Sports Minister Imran Raza who ordered immediate issuance of the NoC. “It is ready at the office,” Mehjoor quoted the minister.
“I along with the PA of CM went to JKCA office on Saturday and the certificate was handed over to me,” he added.
Not only this, CM’s Secretariat dispatched a recommendation letter to British Embassy in New Delhi in favour of Mehjoor.
He is flying to New Delhi on Monday afternoon. “I have fixed appointment with British Embassy officials for Visa on Tuesday morning.”
It may take another ten days after Mehjoor is cleared to fly to London but he cannot witness the inaugural ceremony of North Summerset Cricket League Premier One. “It starts today only,” he said. Every year, scores of British and International players play in the England County.
“My trip, stay and everything else is being sponsored by my club,” he informed.