Love of Game

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It was a dream run for J&K cricket team at Ranji trophy this season. As the media hype dies down, Suhail A Shah takes a look at how despite systematic corruption and neglect players carry on for the love of cricket

1492727_10152470506448242_681504908_oEight years ago during a practise session Muhammad Mudasir, one of the premium fast bowlers in Jammu and Kashmir’s Ranji Trophy team, was made ‘murga’ by the troopers occupying a part of the Sher-i-Kashmir Stadium in Srinagar, for not carrying an identity card.

While the probability of getting punished by the troopers still looms large for anybody and everybody in Kashmir, what has changed though is that the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA) has managed to claim back the portion occupied by the troopers.

It was in this portion of the Stadium where the Ranji Trophy Cricket team of Jammu and Kashmir was received amidst applauds. The team this year returned home after reaching the quarter final level of the coveted Ranji Trophy. The team was able to achieve the feat after more than half a century.

The script indeed seemed to be plucked out from a fairy tale. This is the team that belongs to a Cricket Association plagued with scandals and allegations of corruption, a team with no infrastructure at home and all sort of controversies associated with the players.

Against all odds the team has managed to achieve the feat and do well individually and collectively. Some top notch performances from the players ensured the way up for the team.

To many the first two wins of the team in Ranji Trophy were nothing but mere fluke, but as the tournament progressed and the J&K team advanced with one thrilling performance after another, all criticism was laid to rest.

The team members, obviously upbeat about their performance, will tell you that the foremost reason of the turnaround of fortunes for them has been the inclusion of their skipper, Parvez Rasool, in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and subsequently the Indian National team.

“All of a sudden we were instilled with the belief that the cricketing world does not end at the Ranji Trophy and we can pursue cricket as a profession,” says 32 year Samiullah Beigh, who was the top wicket taker this season.

All the players, Beigh says, worked hard with a renewed vigour and with a belief that if they perform well they will get noticed.

The presence of National selectors at some of the matches Jammu and Kashmir played further reinforced that belief and probably helped them to strive harder.

However this was not the only reason, the players believe. All of them almost unanimously agree that a changed selection process adopted by the JKCA has brought out the best of the players.

“Earlier the JKCA seemed obliged to give a match or two to every player, not allowing them to settle down and play their game,” maintains 27 year old Mudhasir.

The fact that Mudhasir had managed to play 6 matches in five years since his debut in 2008 and played all the 9 matched this season is reason enough to believe the argument put forward by the players.

This year however the changes in the team have been minimal and the selection process had been based on the performances of the players in the home matches, played in build up to the Ranji Trophy.

Jammu and Kashmir was finally knocked off from the tournament after losing a very hard fought battle against a tougher opposition, Punjab.

In lieu to their performance the J&K team will find themselves in the elite Pool-B of the Ranji Trophy, next year. Given the oppositions they will have to face from the very beginning of the tournament is going to put the team as well as JKCA to the litmus test.

The team’s captain and the star performer in this year’s season of the Trophy, Parved Rasool, thinks that it is high time that JKCA takes note of the shortcomings on every front, including the infrastructure, and provide the team a chance to at least fight back gallantly in the next year’s season.

“The teams in Pool-B have players with international exposure and without proper preparations we are going to find ourselves at an alien turf in the coming season,” Rasool says.

The ‘battle’ ahead:

In 2011 when the former Indian spinner, Bishen Singh Bedi, took over as the coach of the Jammu and Kashmir Ranji Trophy team, sources reveal that, he was aghast when told that the team had bowling machines and were never used.

It was on his insistence that the bowling machines, which were left to rust, were taken out and used for the first time by the players. Why the players were not allowed to use them before that remains a mystery.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir is the worst in terms of cricketing infrastructure, compared to other States. However whether the lack of infrastructure is because of callousness of the people at the helm of affairs or a genuine shortage of funds remains a debatable issue.

The players say that the Board for Cricket Control in India (BCCI), by far the richest cricket board in the world, allots funds and equipment, without any step-motherly treatment, to Cricket Board of every State.

“What our Board lacks is the sincerity to provide the players what they deserve,” says one of the players, requesting not to be named for this.

The player quotes the example of the bowling machines and argues that there has been a sea change in the players since those machines were put to use.

Players say that in Baroda, where they played the quarterfinals against Punjab, 25 nets were kept available for players throughout the day.

“All we could do was pray helplessly that we were lucky enough to have that kind of infrastructure back home,” said the players, “In comparison we have only one turf wicket.”

Ian Dev Singh, the top order batsman in the team, moved to Mumbai some five years back where he plays for the Parsi Gymkhana Club and meanwhile pursued a degree in Software Engineering.

“The pathetic state of cricketing infrastructure in our State forced me to migrate,” said Ian, who originally hails from Bhaderwah town of the Chenab Valley region.

Ian maintains that it’s his love for his homeland that brings him back to play with the side but to train in Jammu and Kashmir to be a professional cricketer remains out of question.

The JKCA despite the rot within have off late been showing a wee bit of seriousness towards the betterment of the game and one can only hope that it does not turn out to be flowing with the media tide, just for the time being.

“If we cannot cash on to this opportunity of changing the state of the game in J&K, nothing can be more unfortunate than that,” feels Rasool.

Everybody cannot move out to train like Ian and that essentially means the JKCA should not have an option but to upgrade the infrastructure.

 Passion and Money:

As the media was going gaga over the feat achieved by the team, what everybody seemed to ignore was the financial aspect of the game and the repercussions of its absence. It has been two years now since the players were paid their match fees. The surfacing of the money laundering within JKCA led the court to freeze all bank accounts of the Association.

While the employees of the JKCA have been taking care of their expenses under different heads, the players have been left to play just for the love of the game.

“It’s the passion for the game that is driving us forward, otherwise not getting paid for what you do leaves you bitter in the end,” said the players, “The financial security for cricketers in Kashmir has hit rock bottom.”

This has been the prime reason that Kashmiri parents do not allow their wards to ‘waste’ time playing cricket.

“It was only after I completed my Masters Degree in Engineering and secured a future that my parents have stopped cribbing about me playing cricket,” said Beigh.

Mudhasir says that he luckily got a government job last year and he can now focus on the cricket rather than worrying about earning a livelihood.

However, everybody is not lucky like Beigh and Mudhasir. Adil Reshi, the top run scorer this season, does nothing but play cricket and ironically he does not get paid for it.

After Reshi’s father, a labourer, died in 2010 the whole responsibility of the family has fallen upon the shoulders of Reshi’s elder brother, a footballer playing for the Food and Supplies Department.

“Being a sportsman himself my brother can understand my passion for the game,” said Reshi, “But at the end of the day I do feel ashamed of not contributing to him financially.”

The JKCA, according to sources, is mulling to pay the players this year’s dues and rightly so. However the financial security, even after the dues are paid, will keep haunting the players.

Inclusion of Parvez Rasool in the IPL has undoubtedly raised some hopes of earning money among cricketers in Kashmir but till they reach the level it will be a ‘battle’ of blood and sweat to survive.

Cricket and Education:

 In 2012, when India’s Under-19 World Cup winning captain, Unmukut Chand was not allowed to appear in his BA first year examinations by the St Stephen’s College the whole Indian media threw its weight behind the player.

Such was the media hype created that the Union HRD Minister, Kapil Sibal, urged the college to allow Chand to appear in the exams. He was finally allowed to join BA second year and asked to appear in exams the next year.

In stark contrast the colleges and other educational institutes in the valley remain very unsupportive towards sportsmen, including cricketers. Moreover there is no clear cut policy of the government towards the issue.

This was precisely the reason that Mudhasir had to leave his Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Education midway. The Physical Education College in Ganderbal did not allow him to appear in the final examinations for shortage of attendance.

“When I told them that I play for J&K in the Ranji Trophy, they were least bothered. I was not allowed to write the exams forcing me to leave the course,” said Mudhasir.

The irony is, says Mudhasir, that the college is meant to be for sportsmen, “I wonder what regular colleges do to the sports persons.”

If Mudhasir would not have got a government job, he would have been like countless other players torn between their studies and their passion to play cricket.

J&K-Cricket-Ranji-Team-Profile_designed-by-Malik-Kaisar

JKCA in a Mess

Dr Farooq Abdullah has led J&K Cricket Association for around thirty years. But it never landed in such a crisis as it is in, since March 2012. Its office bearers were found siphoning off funds and depositing in ‘shadow’ accounts, running parallel to the official bank accounts of the Association.

Misappropriations in the Association were always talked about across J&K but action was never taken. In 2012, it was a scoop by a news channel that forced action. The Association took a long time to register an FIR. Before registering that it sacked its chief administrative officer (CAO) Saleem Khan as general secretary Ehsan Mirza was asked to put in his papers.

Investigations revealed that the Association was running a number of accounts with various branches of J&K Bank. While the main official bank account was being exhibited in the routine yearly audit reports, three other parallel accounts would remain in shadows. It was from these ‘fake’ bank accounts where from most of the transactions would take place.

Association insiders said that the authorized signatories would use bearer bank cheques for withdrawing amount as huge as one crore and

fifty Lac Rupees. Under the existing norms, banks does not process bearer cheques valuing beyond Rs 50,000. From one of these ‘shadow’ accounts that carpet dealer Ehsan Mirza was operating along with Khan for many years, Rs 24.60 crores was withdrawn through bearer cheques only. “But neither of these transactions was reflected in any of the audit reports of the Association,” an official privy of the happening in the Association said. Besides there were two FDRs worth Rs 1.15 crores each in the same bank which were not listed or shown in the audit reports.

“It has been happening for years and nobody wanted to touch it (rackets),” said the official. “There are clear indications about where the money has gone. Part of it was funding the high-end business of another carpet dealer who has a joint account in the same bank with the accused.” Most of the devolution’s from the Board of Cricket Control in India (BBCI) would usually land in the ‘fake’ accounts only.

The accounts were not fake because the request for opening these accounts had gone either from the Chairman or the President. Dr Farooq Abdullah continues to be the President of the Association as his bosom friend and erstwhile advocate general Aslam Goni was the Chairman. By now, Goni is gone. He is no more political secretary to Dr Abdullah.

He is a Congress “leader” now. Insiders say the racket is huge and may cross Rs 50 crores if investigated professionally.

Goni, had admitted that Mirza, who was the Association Treasurer in 2009, has taken responsibility of “shortfall” and had promised to pay it back. He termed the shortfall as the two officials’ ‘personal liability’.

Initially Goni suggested the shortfall was Rs 1.5 crores but later he admitted Rs 24.64 crores – Rs 6 Crore from the Khanyar bank account and Rs 18.50 crore from the Air Cargo.

The racket rocked assembly as well as PDP, state’s principal opposition sought explanation from the then Sports Minister R S Chib.

The minister said JKCA does not operate under him and he would not be in a position to offer any statement. This irked PDP that named “a tall leader” (read Dr Abdullah) and his “cronies” for swindling huge amounts meant for the developing infrastructure. This led to the intervention of the then Speaker M Akbar Lone who said nothing can go on record “against the person you are talking about”.

“You have shunted out two officers just to provide cover for others,” PDP president Ms Mehbooba Mufti said in the house. “If a case can be registered against Suresh Kalmadi why can’t it be done with Farooq?”

Association has remained in news perennially. Every time, there was an election for its board members; it would go to the court. In a number of cases, severe strictures were passed against the conduct of the business of the Association by its office bearers. More than once, the court asked its official bearers not to make any transaction from the Association account.

A petition filed against the Association office bearers in 2010 accused them of administering and managing the Association “in serious and deliberate breach of rules” by the “total exclusion of the decision making authority.” It alleged that the administration and management had been usurped in the hands of the office bearers of the association in particular general secretary and treasurer leaving the entire working committee as a mute spectator since the election of the office bearers of the working committee on April 13, 2009.

At the peak of the debate over the politicians heading sports bodies, Dr Farooq Abdullah had strongly defended the continuation of status-quo. “If the politicians leave things (to sports administration) alone, then nothing will be done,” he famously said.

“Politicians have keys to open doors which others do not have.”

While Dr Abdullah was so keen to keep the keys with him, the loss of treasure has hit the game seriously. The cricket team that has performed so well this Ranji season, has not been paid for nearly a year.

The latest on this front is that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has blocked over Rs 60 crore due to JKCA as it has failed to submit its accounts for past many years. The BCCI is unhappy the way the racket was tackled by J&K government.

BCCI used to provide over Rs 25 crore annually to the JKCA. This is in addition to the grants covering inflation. But no money is coming to J&K from BCCI. The BCCI is awaiting logical conclusion of the criminal case but the police is yet to file the charge sheet in the case. It actually did not made any arrest, so far.

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