In the absence of the sports facilities, youth in far-flung villages and places lacking influence including in Srinagar is building their own sports grounds. The stories of these wonderful pieces of infrastructure indicate the strength of the society that is desperately trying to manage normal growth and upbringing of its next-generation in an abnormal situation, reports Shakir Ashraf
People visiting Mugalpora, a small hamlet in border Kupwara district, are pleasantly surprised to find people cheering for the teams. Seven kilometres from the main town market is a carved out cricket pitch in the woods where boys play cricket all day long. The deodars around have become the designated boundary line.
The forest turned cricket ground came into being only when the boys of the surrounding villages had literally nothing to do, courtesy pandemic and a communication blockade. The village kids used to play on an uneven surface.
“After the Coronavirus, we had nothing to do so the local players who used to play outside decided to make this uneven surface into an even track,” Irfan Ahmad, a local cricketer said. “There was a rough barren patch in the middle, we took our shovels and levelled it.” This was a voluntary and a joint exercise that the village youth carried out just to manage solution to a crisis they were facing. This they did without impacting any other thing in the local eco-system.
This fetched them a cricket ground located against a picturesque backdrop of two deodar hillocks. It may not be around anywhere else.
Once the pitch was ready, it needed to be showcased.
“When the track was made, a tournament was organized there,” said Sahil, another cricketer. “Teams from other villages started participating. Thousands of people including men, women and children came to watch the inaugural match. It was the first time such a cheering crowd was heard in the middle of a forest. The commentator’s voice and the clapping by spectators echoed through the woods.”
With nothing much to do around, most of the people would spend their Coronavirus restrictions while cheering for one of the other team. This added importance to the pitch and became an acknowledgement to the boys for putting in an effort in carving out a field, something that society and government never did.
“I was bored and frustrated during the lockdown,” said Ahmad. “Now we are playing cricket to refresh our minds and to overcome the lockdown trauma”.
As the ground was carved, a local cricket buff Iqbal Ahmad organized a tournament, a new thing in the area. Sixteen teams participated. The tournament attracted large crowds irrespective of age and gender. The event was also put online. The organizer updated the score on an app CricHero.
Not A New Trend
It has remained the tradition in Kashmir that the younger lot has been creating its own sports infrastructure wherever it was possible. They know the requirements and have a clear idea of the solutions. Across Kashmir, there are scores of playing fields that the youth have identified, developed and used. In certain cases, the same fields were taken over by the government and publicized as their contribution.
Almost 5 km from Mugalpora, another playing ground was made by the local youth. It is called Kahool. This also is located in a dense forest adjacent to the village Dedikote. For many years, the youth of this village used to play on roads or on the streets or had to wait for the end of autumn so that they could play in the open fields.
The cricket lovers were eagerly waiting for the paddy harvest because there is no available ground nearby. Once the harvest was done, then only they could get the paddy fields to play on.
“We first spotted a place in the forest, where we can make a 22-yard track without any hindrance,” Zubair Ahmad, a cricket said. “The youth then took the shovels and started removing grass. We then went to a nearby place to get the soil. We carried it in bags and had to walk more than a kilometre to deposit it in the uneven places in the field.” In the next stage, they spread this soil on 22 feet marked track and started rolling it. “Every day we had to come early in the morning to water the surface”.
Once ready, this field also became the new hotspot with a lot of people coming to watch the game.
“Teams come here from different villages. It is also a kind of picnic for them and they take selfies in this green ground,” said Azher, another player. They also arranged a tournament that was participated by almost 32 teams. “Every participant paid Rs 1500 towards the fee. The team which won the final was given trophies and cricket kits.”
The players are so attached to the field that they are working on their upkeep on a daily basis. They ensure the local eco-system is not impacted by any side. “Every morning I come to the ground and broom the track. It has become a habit with me” Zubair said. “Cricket is passion.”
The more interesting part of the game is that organizers add new rules that don’t exist in the rule book of cricket. One such example is if a shot falls into the nearby drain as per the Ground rule batsmen can take two runs on that. These rules, the players said are the outcome of the space management rather than converting a test match into a 20/20.
Kashmir’s former IPL and Ranji player Manzoor Pandav is dissatisfied with the sports infrastructure in Kashmir. “We lack basic facilities in Kashmir. We don’t have professional sports structure,” Pandav said. “We have only two turf grounds in Kashmir and others play on mats which are detrimental to the upcoming talent of Kashmir. We need to upgrade the structure of our sport.”
There has been a lot of talk into improving the sports infra but nothing much seems visible. Even most of the schools in Kashmir lack playing fields. Linking the sports with the politics of the place has added a new crisis for all kind of game. This is another factor why the local lads take this responsibility on their own heads to manage a solution to their own problems.
A Ground In A Naad
In Harrai Kupwara, there is another similar playground at Gully Naad. It is also surrounded by forest and small hills. This ground too was made during the lockdown. The local players who used to play on roads raised donations out of their own savings and took a lot of toils to make it.
“We were without a playground. Then all the local players decided to make ground in the forest,” Amin Ahmad, organiser of a recent tournament said. “I spent Rs 15000 from my own pocket. I had to give money to labourers who worked for three to four days. They flattened the rough surface. When we organized tournament, teams started coming and they enjoy the game.”
During the match, local boys were deployed on up and down the hill to return the ball hit by batsmen. This is the crisis of the space. The ground is situated on a hillock where the players have to trek almost a kilometre with their kits.
Game In Flood Channel
However, it is not only in the far-flung villages of Kupwara that youth are building sports grounds in unlikely places.
One such place is the edge of flood channel at Tangpora Srinagar. In the recent past, the flood channel turned sports grounds is drawing players as well as spectators. During a match, the ground is seen full of crowd irrespective of age and gender.
The ground is surrounded by water and mud. Over time it has become a favourite spot for sports lovers. Five years ago it was part of the channel. Soil is also being extracted from this stream. Being a congested area, the youth were desperate for the playground. To solve the problem the youth of the area got together to look for space where they could play. They zeroed in on a dried-up patch. The estimated cost for landfilling and maintenance was calculated around Rs 5 lakhs. Without losing hope all the members contributed generously and the goal was achieved. “We arranged labourers, tractor, and fertilizer (for grass), metallic goalposts etc”, said Mohammad Shaban, a senior resident.
Many a time contractors came to destroy the ground and extract soil from the stream but due to public outcry, they failed to do so. “They listened to us and it was saved,” Shaban said.
In this ground, many sports tournaments were organized by different teams. Both football and cricket can be played there. But for outsiders, permission from locals is mandatory.
Scores of people, including young and old play there and keep themselves fit. During tournaments, large numbers of people come to see matches. Players wearing multiple colour uniforms create a very pretty scene. “I come here daily and it is fascinating to see matches”, said Faizan Ahmed.
Former sports player and coaches train the new generation. “Most of them belong to poor families and we (senior members) arrange sports shoes, uniform and other equipment for them”, Shaban said. “Some of them have such good talent that if they are trained well and get platforms they will become stars”.
In south Kashmir, one of the most beautiful playgrounds is that of Lehanthora – a hillock and a small forest that would once be a major attraction for western tourists to see a clearer and clean Kashmir till early last century. Located at an elevated spot that overlooks a cluster of villages, this crocket fields in the midst of the apple orchards were the outcome of the local cricket players. They contributed hugely in levelled part of an elevated spot and once it started getting attention on the social media, the government jumped in.
“It is a fact that it was an initiative of the boys from the belt who lacked a playground,” one of the residents, speaking off the record, said. “I was also part of the process and once we developed it, the government joined in and now it is a piece of the infrastructure that is owned by the government.”
It is because of the location and architecture of this playing field that cricket teams from across Kashmir see it as their privilege to play in this field. Interestingly, this stadium is getting hoards of the spectators every time there is a tournament.
There are two major sports stadiums that are known because of the beauty they possess. Somewhere in Doda, there is a patch of an island in Ringi Nalla, which is big enough to host a cricket pitch. Not many details are available but the social media photographs showed youth playing on this island. How the players manage to reach the island and how they return, how they manage to get the ball if it is a huge hit – all these things are not known.
There is another such playground not far away from Srinagar in Wathoora. Located on the main road, this vast field is encircled by Doodganga and lush green trees. The local youth have been making interesting efforts to access the field. They have been using logs of wood to cross the rivulet. Residents for youth it was more than a game – firstly, how to reach the field and then to play. “Sometimes, it was fun and sometimes it was a crisis as the kids would fell into the rivulet,” one resident said. The locals had been requesting the authorities to fund a small culvert. There is a temporary culvert on it but locals said it was done by residents fearing there an accident.
Figures of the Sports Council Office Kashmir reveals that Kashmir Valley has seventy-three playing fields in which thirty-three are under maintenance. The data says that the sports council is in possession of 15 stadia.
“To my knowledge, I know a couple of stadiums only,” said a former Ranji player who wished not to be named.