Snow may be inherently immobilising but the enthusiastic cricketers in remote Gurez valley have been holding an ice cricket tournament for five years now reports Shakir Ashraf
Snow, after all, is a physical barrier. It can obstruct anything, in fact in more ways than rain. If it freezes early, it means it will last longer. Snow has its own set of games, they are called winter games. These games keep Gulmarg busy.
There are people, however, who have defied the evolved logic. They even play cricket.
For the past five years, ace cricketers in Gurez have been organizing ice cricket tournaments amid shivering cold and sub-zero temperature. The organisers say there is no dearth of talent and sports lovers in Kashmir.
Gurez has historically been seen (especially after 1947) as a godforsaken place. Located in deep Harmukh range, about 123 km from Srinagar, this breathtaking set of valleys remains cut-off from the rest of the world for almost six months. The pass linking it with Kashmir, the Razdan Pass gets too much of snow.
Amid this situation and atmosphere, cricketers leave their homes as soon as the sun scatters its rays on the snow-capped mountains and walk towards Markoot village. Markoot is one of the few central villages where the temperature falls even below -15 degrees celsius.
This village becomes the winter playground for the local cricketers. Since it is not easy to remove the rock-solid snow, soothe players make the surface flat to suit the game.
“It took us almost a week to make the track on snow and then we rolled a mat on it,” said Muzaffer Ahmad, organizer of the tournament. He said that it is the voluntary activity done by the local cricketers to prepare the track by using shovels and spades. “Once it is levelled, we spread the mat over it and the pitch is ready.”
Players wear warm jackets, long boots, and woollen gloves during the match. Right now, Gurez has almost four feet of accumulated snow. To keep their hands warm they burn wood outside the boundary of the ground and sit around. As teams complete the initial formalities of the game which includes toss and field setting then the thrill begins. “Players maintain the enthusiasm and spirit to fight against life-threatening cold”, Muzaffar said. They play as if they are on normal ground. They dive on the ball without fearing injury. If the sunlight is better, the snow is slightly softer so a dive hardly results in an injury.
So far eight teams have participated in the tournament and each team has to pay Rs 1500 as a fee. At the end of the tournaments, the amount collected from all teams is being given to the winning team and runner team as a prize. “Distributing prizes boosts the morale of the players and it helps the winning team to buy fresh and quality the gaming tools,’’ Ahmad said.
Gurez’s ice cricket tournament has attracted hundreds of spectators on the spot. Organisers of this tournament have installed two loudspeakers to broadcast commentary live.
However, the locals of the area alleged that the government is paying no attention to help us in organising such tournaments.
“We have great potential for winter sports as it remains covered under a thick layer of snow but the tourism and sports authorities have failed to recognize.” a local resident alleged. “When different winter sports tournaments can be organized in Gulmarg then why not in Gurez?”
In Kashmir, the first ice tournament was supposed to start on February 15, 2019, in Pahalgam, a popular tourist spot. This initiative was taken after the success of the Ice Cricket Tournament at St Moritz in Switzerland in 2018. The cricket fans were expecting another chance to witness the attractive game on ice from Kashmir.
Khan International Sports (KIS), an international cricket goods brand was organizing the ice cricket match along with the Tourism Department. Jammu and Kashmir captain Parvez Rasool and Bangladesh cricketer Anamul Haque Bijoy were some of the cricketers who would have beautified the field in this ice cricket tournament.
Despite the official announcement, this did not happen. “We had a plan but a day before the tournament Pulwama suicide attack took place which led to the postponement of the tournament,” Firdous Ahmed said. He admitted that there were some financial issues and lack of sponsors also. Firdous plans to hold a tournament in Pahalgam and Gulmarg in upcoming months.
However, ice cricket is not on priority of the tourism department. “We do not have any plan to host ice cricket tournaments yet,” Director Tourism, Nisar Ahmad said.