Crooked Cricket

   

Years after the cricket body remained in news for all the wrong reasons, the JKCA is gradually emerging as a ‘game reserve’, reports Raashid Andrabi

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A March 2022 photograph showing the JKCA managers and the cricketers. A JKCA photograph

Off late, Jammu and Kashmir’s cricketing reputation was upswing, both domestically and internationally. The region saw the emergence of a number of speedsters, some clocking speeds of over 150kmph. Now, insiders in the game red-flag JKCA’s alleged favouritism in selections and offering opportunities to ‘friends’ skipping merit. The cricket body was already mired in controversy for corruption and top federal investigators probed it for years.

This season, the JK Ranji Trophy squad faced the music. Their solitary victory against Vidarbha was largely down to the individual brilliance of Abid Mushtaq; as the team went on to suffer four substantial losses. Parvez Rasool and Abdul Samad were sorely missed, as the team faced setbacks and humiliations. The result of six losses from seven games was far from expected. One of the most well-known Kashmiri cricketers admitted to this reporter that the team had not been performing well and that the recent talent hunts held by the JKCA had been less than successful.

“During talent hunts, cricketers who weren’t prepared were forced to play for more than three straight days. Was it only to test their abilities, regardless of the injuries they sustain?” the cricketer, who wishes to stay anonymous said. “Even after excelling in the hunt, they are sitting at home because someone with a solid fraternity connection gets to participate.(This is why) we are playing poorly.”

While the region has produced some excellent players in the past, more work needs to be done to ensure that the game remains exciting. “Are we performing well? Since the beginning of time, we have consistently won games. Right now, the only difference is how much attention the organization is receiving from mainstream media.”

Selection Process

For the last many years now, JKCA has been news, not for cricket. Now, it is facing scrutiny over its selection process, with many current and former players voicing their discontent.

“I was part of the JKCA for around three years and was one of the best run scorers, but was suddenly kicked out of the club for playing a local match without their permission,” another cricketer told this reporter. “I had to play since I needed to provide for my family and JKCA was unable to do so. What is tragic, some players who joined me for local matches are still part of the club, likely due to divine connections.”

Questions are being raised about the JKCA selectors like on what basis did they select the teams? There are cries for more accountability and transparency.

Officials. however, have their claims. “JKCA has achieved something unprecedented; all of the Under-19, Under-25, and Senior Men’s teams have reached the knockout stages of the white ball cricket tournament for the first time in JKCA history,” Majid Dar, a former Ranji cricketer, currently in-charge of cricket development in Kashmir, said. Denying that players from the Jammu region received preferential treatment, Majidinsisted the selection process was based on skill and talent.

The new naya Kashmir JKCA is run by a three-member sub-committee appointed by the Board of Control for Cricket in India – Anil Gupta, MithunManhas, and Sunil Sethi.

A Bias?

“The IPL 2023 auction pool saw 21 players from Jammu and Kashmir, which is a testament to the strong performances of the JKCA teams in recent times,” Majid said.“With such a large representation of players in the IPL, JKCA has cemented its place as a leading cricket association in India.”

“I played for JKCA for more than two years and performed well consistently. I was dropped from numerous competitions. At the prime of my game, this could have been a life-changing moment for me, but instead, I was dropped, and someone with no recent performances was picked,” one promising Kashmir bowler said. “I am not saying that everything that JKCA does is improper. But the fact remains that bias and favouritism are currently at their peak. Check the roster for any recent domestic league; there are more players from the other side of the tunnel.”

In India, domestic cricket has remained plagued by nepotism. Now JKCA brought the same to the new naya Kashmir. Seemingly, JKCA is exhibiting a strong love for Jammu cricketers. The last match played by the JKCA team tells its own story. It had seven members from Jammu and one from Dehradun.

An Illustration

Mateen Teli is a star fast bowler from Sopore’s Arampora area. Now living in the United Kingdom for the last five years, he has a remarkable story to tell – a story of rejections and successes.

As a school kid, Teli would sneak out of his house to play cricket in the neighbourhood. Concerned that their ward is obsessed with cricket, his parents shifted him to a boarding school in Delhi. There, he continued playing cricket and was shortlisted for the Under-19 trials. Despite receiving offers from clubs like Bengal Railways and practising at the national cricket academies, he still had not received a final call for a full-time cricket contract. Then, one day, Teli’s instinct led him back to Kashmir.

“I amazed everyone after participating in my first trails in Kashmir. I was told that I would soon represent JKCA in the under-23 division, so I simply will have to stop by the nets for a while,” Teli said. “After five years, I continued playing for the nets, sweating it out in practice, but I was never given the opportunity.” Shattered, Teli eventually gave up cricket.

Later, he moved to the UK to pursue his studies where he occasionally played tape ball in the backyard. “One day, I was approached by a group of players from Cavaliers and Carrington Cricket Club, one of the premier cricket clubs in the UK, asking me to join their team as a bowler,” Teli said. “I picked up cricket again, and I was one of the best players that year, I was selected to play as a net bowler for the England cricket team. It is a huge accomplishment when a non-native gets to play alongside stars like Alex Hales and Jonny Bairstow, and after wowing them all in the net I received recognition from superstars like Paul Collingwood.”

Teli said he regrets that back home, there was no opportunity but far away from home there were people who recognised his capacity and gave him a chance.

A Record Keeper

Kashmir-based sports journalist and cricket analyst Mohsin Kamal has been following JKCA for years, knowing both sides of the game. He believes that there is enough talent in Jammu and Kashmir but the infrastructure and management are plagued. “Almost five cricketers made it to IPL this year. But have they made it because of the system?” Mohsin said. “I would suggest you trace their stories. Better infrastructure apart, you need a transparency system and unbiased management.” He has reported JKCA’s all talent hunts but thinks the process still needs a lot of improvement. “Did most of the players who performed well in these matches made it to national teams?”

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