By skipping pre-match practice sessions and subsequently boycotting the important Ranji fixture against the visiting Andhra team in Jammu, the cricketers from the Kashmir valley have set an awful precedent for the budding talent. Gowhar Geelani analyses the sad state of affairs that has marred Jammu and Kashmir cricket over decades.
Bishen Singh Bedi, J&K’s team’s head coach, is in the news again for all the bad reasons. Mr. Bedi has been accused by some of the Kashmiri players of preferring players from Jammu over those from Kashmir. Former India captain, however, has categorically denied such allegations. “This is not a revolt but a blackmailing act by the players. I have nothing to do with all this. I am not a decision maker and have no role in selection,” the ace spinner told media. Amid much fanfare, the former India captain and spin wizard was last year appointed as coach of the J&K state cricket team.
The crisis in Kashmir in Jammu and Kashmir cricket deepened further with two-match skipper, Samiullah Beigh, explicitly blaming Mr. Bedi for “creating rifts” among players. The fact remains that both captain and coach can only give their inputs to the selection panel, but it is the job of the selection committee to pick the squad and playing-XI. Neither captain nor coach can influence the selection.
Around a dozen players from Kashmir province boycotted one Ranji game alleging biased selection. But now we are hearing at least five players from Kashmir — including star batsman, Parvez Rasool, opening batsman, Adil Reshi, Muhammad Mudasir, Obaid Haroon and Wasim Raza — have joined their team mates for the fixture against Assam scheduled to be played in Guwahati beginning December 1.
A string of unsatisfactory performances has been the only constant factor for the Jammu and Kashmir cricket team; almost its hallmark for many years now. This season, too, quite predictably, began on a sad note.
The team was comprehensively beaten at the home turf in Jammu by the visiting Jharkhand. The full-strength hosts managed a meagre 195 in their first innings and paltry 155 in the second, and eventually lost the game by an innings and 31 runs. In a first-class four day game, this is a huge margin of defeat. It was indeed mauling. Hammering! Battering!
The margin of defeat would still not have mattered much, but it is the manner in which the confidence of this side is dented time and again. But the players, it seems, never introspect and reflect on their performances and instead take their place in the line-up for granted.
This season, the team’s campaign started under a new skipper, Samiullah Beigh, who has now been replaced by Ian Dev Singh. Indeed, the captain tried few good things, like he persisted with Adil Reshi and ID Singh as an opening pair and promoted Parvez Rasool, perhaps the best batsman in the side, to crucial number four position. This sensible decision immediately bore fruit as Rasool scored his career best 171 at the new position against Goa. But the bowlers including Samiullah himself failed to impress with the ball in both fixtures versus Jharkhand and Goa. Samiullah, the team’s pace spearhead, did not claim any wickets against Goa.
This 32-year-old cricketer from the valley, essentially a bowling all-rounder, made his first-class debut way back in December 2003. He has been playing Ranji cricket since. Samiullah averages 21 with the bat. Considering his batting position, as late as number seven or eight, this average is not that bad. But he has been selected in the team primarily for his bowling skill. In 34 first-class games, he has claimed 83 wickets with four 5-fors and three 4-fors at a below par average of about 40 runs per wicket. Since last two years, for some strange reason, his bowling form has deteriorated. Last season, he took only eight wickets in five first-class matches, five of those wickets came in a single game against Goa at Jammu.
With age not on his side, there are bleak chances for him to get a team India call-up now. Like many others, representing team India was his dream when he began his cricketing career a decade ago. Many years ago, I did his first-ever profile for the BBC web when he had expressed his desire to play for team India.
Arshad Bhatt, J&K’s 37-year-old wicket-keeper batsman, announced his retirement from first-class cricket in the middle of the current season after a series of poor scores [5, 0 versus Jharkhand and 0, 17 against Goa].
Majid Dhar, another 34-year-old cricketer from Kashmir, made his List A and first-class debut in 2000-01 and 2006 respectively. His highest score in List A matches till date is 22, has an aggregate of 78 runs at an average of 9.75 in 10 games, an average even a tail-ender will not be proud of! His average in first-class format is 14.95. Despite such mediocre performances, the cricketer is mysteriously picked by the selectors. He has stayed away and chosen to protest.
The record set by 27-year-old Kashmiri pacer, Abid Nabi at the Ranji level is impressive as he has 108 wickets in only 30 first-class games at an average of reasonable 29 runs per wicket, which means he has claimed 25 more wickets than Samiullah, despite playing fewer games than him. But over the last two seasons, serious questions remain over Abid’s form and fitness.
In cricket, one can beat any opposition with skill, talent and temperament. However, there are two foes one can neither fight nor beat: “time and age”.
Credible sources in the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association [JKCA] reveal that there is a bunch of aged Kashmiri players — mostly in their 30s—who are obstructing the inclusion of youthful talent into the team with an apparent aim of prolonging their struggling Ranji careers. This group, the sources say, are hand in glove with their respective local club owners, some of whom wield influence over the selection matters. This “player-club owner-selector nexus” has hampered the professional growth of the team and that’s perhaps the reason why most teams in the Ranji competition consider fixtures against J&K as “walking seven points”.
Mehboob Iqbal, member JKCA, is on record saying that some of the players were doing all this [boycotting] to prolong their careers.
However, all is not lost for Kashmir cricket. If there are genuine fears about mediocrity and unprofessional behaviour, the sanguine hopes about the future are justified as couple of youngsters like Parvez and Adil promise much.
The 23-year-old Parvez Rasool from Bijbehara town is an exceptional cricketer. Rasool has already hit two brilliant centuries in his short first-class career comprising of 12 games so far.
Adil Rishi is another talented player from Kashmir. Rishi averages 42 with the bat and has already hit three half-centuries in seven first-class games since his debut previous year against Assam in Srinagar. However, this season the cricketer has struggled a bit.
Sadly, the JKCA officials, some club owners and few selfish cricketers have brought the great game of cricket into disrepute through their unprofessional acts and ulterior motives, as if the financial embezzlement episode of recent past had not inflicted enough damage to the reputation of officials and players alike!
(Gowhar Geelani is a senior journalist & writer with international experience. He is also a cricket expert.)