Bedi Fails To ‘Turn’ It In Kashmir

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Gowhar Geelani
A hapless cricket fan in Kashmir Valley is biting the dust. He’s pulling his hair out. Dejected! And, more importantly, is confronted with this rudimentary question: “Why doesn’t my State team win even a single match in Ranji competitions?” Unfortunately, there aren’t any ‘satisfactory’ answers. Because it’s no secret that the state cricket’s governing body – Jammu and Kashnir Cricket Association (JKCA) – remains a divided camp. The “internal squabbling”, communication gap and “ego fights” between various officials aren’t helping either. One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that the budding talent in Kashmir is left to ruin in wilderness. This, however, is only one side of the story.

The reasons for J&K’s dismal show in the Vijay Hazare Trophy 2011-12 are plenty. The J&K boys again failed to register even a single win in 5 matches they played. Even the former India captain, Bishen Singh Bedi couldn’t ‘turn’ it in Kashmir! Much was expected from the head coach, but unfortunately nothing seems to have changed.

 “I’m shell-shocked. We should have easily won some of the games. We came so close to winning some, but couldn’t get over the line,” Bedi told me over telephone.

Frankly, I’m a well-wisher of the team and I don’t intend to harm team’s interest by focusing only on the negatives. I’m trying to find some honest answers to some genuine questions troubling a cricketer inside me. I’ve watched some of these boys training hard; sweating and performing. I’ve played with some of them. I know what they’re capable of with the willow and red cherry in their hands. I know they aren’t getting what they deserve. In all fairness to the boys, they’re getting a raw deal.

Kashmir Valley’s pace sensation, Abid Nabi was not even in the squad. That gives some idea about the selection criterion and the bizarre rationale behind it. How does one justify this move? It is absolutely unacceptable. Abid Nabi, sources say, was declared “unfit without going through the mandatory fitness test”. Amazing!

I don’t blame Bedi for this; because he’s the coach, not a selector. With Bedi at the helm, the team hasn’t won a single game. These include the recent five 50 over games in the Vijay Hazare Trophy – North Zone, five First-class four-day games (Ranji Trophy Plate League – Group B) and five Twenty20 matches in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy- North Zone.

“Well, I don’t have a magic wand, really. The hunger for winning seems to be missing in these boys. It seems they’re satisfied with the scores of 20s and 30s for their own survival in the team. They just don’t have that attitude and the outlook to walk that extra mile and go over the line. A lot of that has to do with the culture, upbringing and their overall attitude towards the game,” Bedi opined. He, however, quickly added that the team needs to look towards future. “What has happened has happened. We’ve to be positive. For the next season, we need to start preparing now. A lot needs to be changed; especially the outlook and attitude of these boys towards the game.”

Satisfaction, they say, is the death of desire. But how fair is this to blame hapless boys for everything? Do they have the same facilities and infrastructure enjoyed by the other teams? Do they get that pat on the back? Is there some respect shown to their mettle? The answer perhaps to all these questions is a big NO!

I, for one, was quietly thrilled when Bedi was appointed as the head coach of the team. I thought his international experience was surely going to help the team in more than one way. Or, so I thought!

But it seems there are many serious problems confronting Jammu and Kashmir cricket, which are beyond repair; at least in the immediate future.

The left-arm slow bowler, Bedi, can’t help the pace battery of Kashmir much. A spin bowler has a different approach towards bowling. A spinner relies heavily on the guile; flight, turn, and the ‘demons’ in the track to go things his way. On the contrary, the fast bowlers thrive on aggression, speed, swing, seam movement and intent, which make things happen for them. Are we missing a trick or two here?

Jammu and Kashmir team has three splendid pacers in Abid Nabi, Samiullah Beigh and Sameer Ali. And how unfortunate this is to see that one among them [Abid] wasn’t even selected; another treated as a ‘passenger’ [Sameer] in the squad while the remaining one [Samiullah] dropped for the last two games because of non-cricketing and off-the-field reasons?

Out of 15 members selected, only six were from Kashmir Valley. To me, this is no less baffling. Doesn’t this suggest a visible bias in the selection process? Regarding this, the General Secretary of the JKCA, Ehsan Mirza had this much to say: “This question, I’m afraid, is for the chairman of the selection committee to answer?”

Sameer Ali, the 26-year-old right-arm medium-fast bowler from Srinagar, has taken 42 wickets in 31 games [First-class, List A and T20 all included] he’s played overall since his First-class debut in 2005.

But for some strange reasons, Sameer is treated as a “passenger” in the squad. During this tour, Sameer was ‘forced’ to sit outside in some games after recovering from his injury. I was informed by Bedi that he had injured his side muscle during the tour. Well, then the question is where was the replacement? Why was an ‘injured’ player kept in the squad?

To understand what ailed JK cricket, I asked Mirza: “Why wasn’t Abid Nabi picked? And if Sameer Ali was injured, according to Bedi, why wasn’t the replacement sent?” Mirza said: “I did not receive any official communication in this regard from the coach or the support staff. A request has to come from them. If that was the case, we would have sent the necessary replacement.”

Then one may ask; Isn’t there a serious “communication gap” between the head coach and JKCA office bearers?

Mirza claimed that the JKCA office bearers didn’t interfere in the selection matters. “No office bearer of the JKCA has anything to do with the selection. Bedi organized a two-and-a-half month long camp, we provided all the support and facilities, but we’re disappointed and surprised with the results.”

Yes, everyone should be. Me too.

Abid Nabi, 26-year-old right-arm pacer from Srinagar, has played in the ‘rebel’ and now defunct Indian Cricket League while representing Delhi Giants. Imagine, a bowler with 145 wickets in 71 games at the Ranji level wasn’t even part of the J&K squad.

Samiullah Beigh, right-arm speedster from Srinagar, has been trained by the Aussie great Dennis Lillee at the prestigious MRF Pace Foundation Chennai. This Caribbean-style lanky bowler made First-class debut in 2003-04 and has 135 wickets from 79 games besides scoring 1241 runs, which include five half-centuries. But he was sent to bat at number 8, 9 and even 10.

Credible sources said that Samiullah had a ‘discussion’ with Bedi over his batting slot, which annoyed the coach and he was ‘dropped’ for the last two games. Despite Samiullah having taken three wickets in the first game against Delhi (52/3), including that of Shikhar Dhawan. But, Bedi had an interesting answer: “Honestly, the guy didn’t bowl well.”

Bedi needs to be reminded that it was Samiullah who had removed Virender Sehwag, in his very first over in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in October last year. When you’ve a bowler who has a knack of removing top batsmen like Sehwag, Yuvraj, Dhawan and Saurabh Tiwary; well, you don’t drop him!

Bedi, denied any “incongruity” on regional grounds. However, the sources maintain that Kashmiri boys were “bullied” and “mistreated” for speaking against the “injustices”.

Mirza reacting to alleged maltreatment Mirza said, “Well, no one has told me about this so far. No one has come forward with a written complaint about the mistreatment meted out to our boys. But these are all important questions which have to be answered.”

Commenting on the cricket association not being informed about Sameer’s injury, exclusion of genuine wicket-keeper Arshad Bhatt from first few games and batting order of two all-rounders, Mirza said: “I was in Delhi when Arshad Bhatt wasn’t selected in the playing XI. Bedi informed me that he wasn’t physically fit. And yes, if a genuine batsman like Parvez Rassol is made to bat at number 9, this has to be answered.”

 “We’ve asked for a detailed analysis and a comprehensive report of the entire tour from the coach,” he added.

I was genuinely pleased with what Bedi had to say about the team. In his words, this “and” between “Jammu & Kashmir” is the “real problem”. “When this J&K becomes JK, things will improve for sure,” the former India captain hoped. But then the immediate question is: “where is the accountability and equality”? How can a team play without its real strength, the genuine pace bowling from Kashmir Valley?

It seemed to me as if no lessons have been learnt. Opener Adil Rishi was made to keep wickets in some of the games, which had a drastic impact on his batting. The 23-year-old right-handed batsman had scored only 36 runs in five 50-over games, while he had accumulated almost 400 runs in five Four-day games averaging 56.71.

Middle-order batsman from Bijbehara Islamabad, Parvez Rasool, batted as low as number 9 in one match against Punjab. But the gutsy cricketer scored an undefeated fifty (51) in the same match, which the team lost by 19 runs as he ran out of partners. Rasool has a First-class century and five fifties in the List A 50-over matches.

This season, it seems, nothing has gone right for J&K team. Inside sources maintain that there was “huge discrepancy” in the team selection, “ill-treatment” meted out to players belonging to Kashmir Valley and “unthinkable bias” in finalizing the playing-XI for all games during the disastrous tour.

The team led by the 30-year-old Hardeep Singh, an average batsman himself, had only 6 players from Kashmir Valley. Reliable sources suggest that the team’s head coach, Bedi played a “partisan” role throughout tour for “personal reasons”.

In most of the games only three players from Kashmir Valley were part of the playing XI while in some there were four and five.

There is no dearth of talent in J&K but there is a need to identify and nurture it without any prejudices.

I concur with some of the points made by Bedi. For instance, the team players need the necessary infrastructure, competitive atmosphere, and their outlook needs to change and that the boys should aim for excellence. But then, the coach, members of selection committee and office bearers need to introspect: “Have we been fair to the boys?”

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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