Levelling The Playing Field

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An increasing number of tournaments being held across Kashmir, mostly by the youth by raising donations from their pocket money, is offering the new generation more opportunities to play, improve, grow and understand, reports Shakir Ashraf

This is a cricket playground on teh foothills of a forests at Umpather Khul DK Marg. Photo: Social media

Irfan Ahmed Lone, a young and energetic youth from North Kashmir was hunting for a job for months. One fine day, the disappointed Lone sat in an orchard, crushing fallen leaves of trees. A man passed close to him and yelled: “Irfan, If you are free, accompany me to my shop”. When Lone lifted his gaze towards the person, it turned out his uncle, who has a repairing shop in a nearby village. Lone stood up, cleaning dust from his pheran and started working as his uncle’s apprentice. He was desperate for some cash, not to run his family but to participate in a local cricket tournament. The tournament would offer the winner Rs 60,000 and a trophy, and Rs 20,000 to the runner-up.

At Pazipora (Kupwara) the tournaments are periodically organized in which 32 teams participate and each team has to pay Rs 6000 as a fee. Each player has to contribute about Rs 600. The news of this tournament spread like wildfire.

Teams from nearby and far-flung areas showed their interest. Lone worked with his uncle for two days and earned Rs 1000. He paid cricket fee and bought a uniform.

“For a passionate cricketer it does not matter how much is the fee,” Lone said. “What actually matters is his passion and love towards the game.”

The participating teams need cricket kits and uniform. “Our players contributed from pocket money and bought cricket kit and uniform which almost cost Rs 20,000,” said Danish Ahmed, captain of Chinar Cricket Club.

A Cricketing Year

Last year, people were restricted to home because of the pandemic and the situation prevailing since August 2019. This made 2020, literally a cricketing year. As lockdown restrictions were eased, scores of tournaments were organized in which hundreds of teams participated.

Cricketer Suresh Raina Accompained with Parvez Rasool Conducts Trail event in Dooru Stadium. KL Image by Shah Hilal

It was a pan-Kashmir phenomenon. In Srinagar, Mudasir Ahmad organized a tournament named as Lava T20, in which two dozen teams took part. The teams had to pay Rs 3500 as a fee.

“I wish Government could organize such tournaments in which everyone can participate without paying any fee,” said Burhan Ahmad, a player. “I participated in many tournaments this year but arranging fee every time was always difficult.”

Cricketers believe it was Government’s lackadaisical approach towards the game that has pushed youth to come on the forefront and organize sports tournaments, which, in turn, have thrown up talents like Rasik Salaam and Abdul Samad.

Helping Business

This move is not only helping nourish talent but is also helping the local shopkeepers to earn money.

“When the tournament started the local shopkeepers used to earn one to two thousand rupees a day,” Asif Ahmed, an organizer of a tournament said. “Now they earn more than Rs 5000 a day as hundreds of spectators who watch the match also buy food items from them”.

The Hub

The restive South Kashmir continues to remain the hub of sports activities. Players like Parvaiz Rasool and Rasik Salaam who have played in Indian Premier League come from the area.

In Pulwama, Saffron Premier League was organized by a PhD scholar, Rouf Ahmed, in which around a dozen teams participated. These included many top Ranji trophy players.

Lt Governor Manoj Sinha inaugurates Women’s T20 Cricket Tournament on September 19, 2020

”Before organizing the tournament we have to prepare the track and buy mat which costs around Rs 20,000,” said Ahmed. “Sports have changed a lot in the last many years. In Kashmir, cricketers hardly play without a mat.”

The management of the tournament was able to launch their own website and got fifteen lakh subscribers within 25 days. They live-streamed the videos of the match and update the schedule, runs and overs of the match. Not only this, they hired around 25 youth who were unemployed. When the tournament concluded, the winning team got a prize of Rs 1 lakh. The runner up team went home with a prize of Rs 50,000.

These sports events are hugely popular in their own areas. In 2019, a cricket tournament was organized on the snow in Gurez. The mat was rolled on the snow to ensure the ball didn’t get stuck in the snow. Many teams participated. The matches were watched by hundreds of spectators. It was one of its kind, almost unprecedented. Cricketers across the world have tried playing cricket on all kind of surfaces but not snow.

Langate Tournament

In 2016, the then lawmaker of Langate Engineer Rasheed organized a cricket tournament to involve the youth in sports and prevent them from taking into drugs. While Rasheed is in Tihar Jail for more than a year now, the tournament had its edition in September 2020.

In Gurez, boys play cricket on snow and create an amazing game,

This year 80 teams participated and every one of the teams paid Rs 3000. The tourney managers, however, provided the balls free.

“Before starting tournament we have to prepare the track and buy mat and wickets which cost around Rs 15,000,” said Sajad Ahmed. These costs are recovered from the players and eventually, the prize money also comes from this. “Paying Rs 300 is not easy for everyone, but it is the craze and passion for the cricket which gets them to arrange the money to find their place in the team”. The tournament attracts large crowd irrespective of age and gender.

 Football Tourneys  

For Kashmir, cricket is the passion but the game, especially for urban Kashmir, is the football. Currently, football fever is at its peak in Kashmir. In fact, Real Kashmir FC is the outcome of this fever. This year Muheet Shabir of Batamaloo Srinagar made his spot in India Super League as a goalkeeper.

At Andergam Pattan a night tournament was recently organized in which 40 teams from all over Kashmir participated.

“During the tournament, we bought lights, goal posts and generator which cost more than Rs 80,000,” said Asif Ahmed, organizer of the tournament.

Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy: JK Cricket Team

Teams paid Rs 1500 rupees as the entry fee. On the day of the grand finale, the winning team was given Rs 10,000 while as the runner up got Rs 7,000. A large number of spectators had gathered on the occasion. Many of them had come on cars and bikes to witness the match.

“We should be proud of our youth who are managing such successful tournaments despite the non-availability of basic facilities,” a resident of Andergam said.

At Tangpora Srinagar, a football tournament was organized on the edge of the flood channel. The ground was first formed by the local youth who spent more than Rs 5 lakh to make it playable without adding any crisis to the movement of water. It was an initiative of the old football players.

“Everyone is not capable of paying the fee and buying uniform, so we organized the tournament in which everyone participated,” said Muhammad Shaban, organizer of the tournament. “Our players are talented but they need a platform and grounds where they can play.”

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About Author

Shakir Ashraf is a Srinagar based journalist who covers conflict, crime, business and sports.

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