Can Bedi Turn It In Kashmir?

Kashmir may have got the best in Bishen Singh Bedi to turn around the future of Cricket in the valley, but as Gowhar Geelani writes, it may need much more than an ace coach to lift up the game and nurture available talent.

Slowly but surely, it seems, that serious cricket is returning to Kashmir Valley. The picturesque Sher-i-Kashmir Cricket Stadium [SKCS] in the summer capital of the politically troubled Jammu and Kashmir State is indeed getting back on the cricketing map. Hosting international games, as of now, would amount to expecting too much in a hapless Valley, but some Ranji matches are already being played here.

As kids would normally do, I too was glued to the television screen at one of my friend’s place. It was the 09 September, 1986. Match Venue: SKCS, Srinagar. Allan Border, the former Aussie skipper, was adjudged the man of the match for scoring a match-winning knock of 90. India were humbled by the mighty Aussies by three wickets. I was very young and hence couldn’t watch the live action inside the stadium, to cheer and jump on the stands in joy! But, as a child, I do vaguely remember the live television footage of Border rejoicing after playing a captain’s innings and undefeated.

I felt happy and satisfied over India’s debacle on Kashmir soil. Steve Waugh, one of my all-time favourite cricketers, was also playing. He scored 20 runs and claimed two wickets. Many history books, the interesting memoirs by some cricketers and our own elders inform us that this was the second international match that India had hosted at Srinagar’s SKCS. The popular anti-India armed uprising in Kashmir started three years later.

Many amongst us are aware that the Indian national team have played two international matches at the SKCS. India first played the great West Indies side of 1980s and then clashed against the Australian team led by Allan Border. Sadly for India, they didn’t find many supporters in Kashmir cheering for. We are told that the Indian players were treated as “foreigners” and “persona non grata”, and even hooted and booed by many sections of the local Kashmiri crowds. This historical fact is even documented by the first Little Master of the Indian cricket, Sunil Gavaskar, in his book ‘Runs n’ Ruins’.

India were the surprise world champions in 1983, beating the great West Indies side of that era. After becoming the world champs, the Indians hosted West Indies in a 5- ODI series, in October 1983. The first match of this series was played at the SKCS. Gavaskar has rated the Kashmiri crowd as amongst the “worst he has seen in his life”: “…..we were stunned by the change. As the Indian players came into the arena to loosen up and do their physical exercises, they were booed by some sections of the crowd.

This was unbelievable. Here we were in India and being hooted even before a ball had been bowled. Being hooted at after a defeat is understandable, but this was incredible. Moreover, there were many in the crowd shouting pro-Pakistan slogans which confounded us, because we were playing the West Indies and not Pakistan. The West Indians were as surprised as we were but were obviously delighted to find support in their first big encounter against us after their defeat in the Prudential Cup finals,” Gavaskar writes in his book.

The Indian team eventually lost that game by a margin of 28 runs, a revised target in a match reduced to 22 overs in the second innings when the West Indians batted. Chasing a modest target set by the Indians, the visitors didn’t lose even a single wicket. This meant a full stop to the international games in Kashmir. But, the Indian domestic Ranji matches are back to Kashmir.

After a yawning gap, the Jammu and Kashmir State cricket team played against Assam on the home turf in the First-class four-day match of Ranji Trophy Plate League in Group B on November 3, 2011. After winning the toss on the cloudy morning, the J&K team skipper, Pervez Rassol, asked his visiting opposite number to bat first. Despite the home advantage and bowling friendly weather conditions, things didn’t go that well as the hosted had thought. Bowlers, however, felt a touch unlucky at times as few edges through the slips cordon didn’t land where these should have. On the first day, Assam scored 297 runs for the loss of only four wickets; thanks to the magnificent century by DheerajJadhav. However, the ‘rain gods’ played the spoilsport and ensured there was no play on day two and three. Not a single ball could be bowled on these two days, thanks to the lack of infrastructure. There were no super-soppers to soak off the rainwater.

On day four, the weather gods smiled again. The visitors declared on the same score of 297 and challenged the J&K boys to respond well on the home ground. The hosts did exactly that. They managed to salvage some pride by drawing the rain-curtailed game after scoring 232 for the loss of just three wickets. Ian Dev Singh hit a ton, First-class debutant Adil Rishi scored 47 runs, captain Pervez Rassol remained unbeaten on 45, and Fayaz Ahmed scored 29.
But, rain had the final say! Both teams earned two crucial points, each. Starting November 10, the J&K team clashed with Jharkhand to play their second four-day match of the current Ranji season on the home turf.

The unmerciful weather intervened again. With clouds hovering above, only 11 overs could be bowled on day one of the second First-class game. The hosts scored 59 for no loss. On a personal note, I’d have loved to see the J&K team win a game against Jharkhand on the ground where I played many matches while representing my club as a middle-order batsman and an off-spinner. There have been many sweet memories and some not-so-sweet!

The J&K cricket team is scheduled to play its remaining matches against Goa, Maharashtra and Hyderabad.
Local fans of the cricket team, in general, and cricket lovers, in particular, are expecting some positive results this season -not without any sound reason.  

The Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association [JKCA] has recently hired professional services of the former India cricketer, Bishan Singh Bedi, to nurture budding talent in Kashmir. There is no question that the 65-year-old Bedi has made a great name for himself in the cricketing world as the slow left-arm orthodox bowler. But what is engrossing is the fact that how much he could do with the J&K team, which has not been performing up to the mark at the Ranji level – primarily because of the batting woes. That said,Bedi’s splendid international experience is surely going to help the team in more than one way. While representing India in 67 test matches, Bedi has claimed 266 scalps. Local boys have a lot to learn from the spin wizard.

There is no dearth of cricketing talent in Kashmir. The areas where Kashmiri cricketers perhaps lack are the exposure, mental strength and self-belief.With absolute professional approach towards the game they could potentially play so well.

Every second child in Kashmir loves and plays the game of cricket, and nurtures very strong passion for the sport. If cricket is followed like a religion in most parts of India, the game drives people absolutely crazy in Kashmir, especially when the arch-rivals India and Pakistan battle it out.

In the absence of any scientific research and analytical findings, I’m willing to run the risk by claiming that when it comes to cricket encounters at the international level, the hearts of more than 90 percent of Kashmiris beat for Pakistan. That is perhaps why young Kashmiri cricketers want to become Imrans, Wasims, Waqars, Saqlains, Shoaibs and Afridis [despite the recent spot-fixing scandal bringing shame to Pakistan], and not Sachins, Dravids, Sehwags, Yuvrajs or Kohlis. The present J&K State cricket team boasts of a talented fast bowling trio comprising of SamiullahBeigh, AbidNabi and Sameer Ali. Probably the trick is how to find more Waqars and Wasims rather than Sehwags and Sachins!

In October 1995, the Outlook magazine conducted a survey on Kashmir’s political future. Among many questions one was about the leadership. “And in any case, it appears almost certain that the people of Kashmir have totally given up on Farooq Abdullah. Respondents were asked to pick out the leader who would be able to bring about the quickest solution. The response was unequivocal: not a single person voted in favour of Farooq. In fact, some respondents could not contain their hostility towards the former chief minister.” Said an incensed housewife in the Hazzratbal area of Srinagar: “Everyone, even Bal Thackeray, can help in finding a solution, but certainly not Farooq Abdullah.” [Outlook, October 8, 1995  Issue] This was Farooq’s “credibility” as leader in 1995.

Sadly, the same man is the President of the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association. Bedi is the chief coach of the team, former Ranji player Qayoom is his assistant, and the selection panel headed by Abdul Rouf comprises of five persons.

That is not all that is needed. Players need a complete fitness centre, a quality health club under the supervision of a professional physio, well-managed preparatory camps, and competitive cricket at least for nine months a year, comfortable dressing rooms, and overall professional approach towards the game of cricket.

Local batsman Owais Shah, a new wonder boy, is the talk of the town. Owais is just fresh after scoring an impressive century against Vidarbah in the four-day match of the C K Naidu U-22 cricket tournament at Nagpur. The future of J&K cricket is in safe hands!

But are the JKCA officials, who’re running the show, listening?


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