Pitching a connection: How cricket helped UAE Kashmiris in a grand get-together

Dubai: Intermittent drizzle did not limit hundreds of Kashmir expats in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to keep their date with their major event of 2017 – a cricket match, being played in the Dubai International Stadium. Though the sprawling stadium is too huge for the expats to fill, the real worth of the day is that Kashmiri boys who have traditionally played in the alleys of Srinagar, are having the first major event of their game on a turf that they used to watch on TV.

Interesting part of the event is that they have Kashmiris, some of whom flown specially from Srinagar, to watch and encourage. Even the commentary is going live, really and virtually, in Kashmiri language.

The final match, a the last of a series of matches that 14 teams – all comprising Kashmiri players living in UAE, is being played between Rajbagh Royals and Razay Kadal Super Heros. They have reached thus stage after fighting 12 others in last three months in Dubai’s Hamriya Grass Ground, at Ajman. Teams named after Srinagar Mohallas have more than 250 players and now some in waiting.

Rajbagh Royals is promoted by businessman Mudasir as the Razeykadal is being sponsored by Jammu based Kashmiri business tycoon Hilal Rather, who runs the Simula Group of Industries.

The match started with Kashmir’s noted wordsmith Zareef Ahmad Zareef showering praises on the first ever initiative of its kind in Kashmir’s sports history. Zareef led a 40-member plus delegation to Dubai to cover the final event of the Kashmir Super League (KSL) season-II. The tour was organized, and facilitated by Sheikh Feroz of al-Khudam. The series’ second edition took off in January 2017.

Seemingly, the game and the spectators – the entire scene seems quite unreal. As the two teams are playing in the lush greed stadium, there are hundreds of Kashmiris – men, women and children – busy in jubilations and interaction. In fact some of the Kashmiris who had flown visiting their wards, serving in Dubai, have already taken time to reach the stadium so that they are able to reconnect with the diaspora in UAE.

There are families, which have driven from Abu Dhabi and Sharjah and other states of the UAE. “Sports is OK,” one family that drove from Abu Dhabi said. “But the larger benefit of this exercise has been to connect with each other. Unlike all other communities, Kashmiris here had no platform tat could connect them but thank God, cricket is filling the gulf.”

“We knew that it is a huge stadium,” one of the organizers said. “The real worth of playing here is to reassure these players that it is possible to have the best turf under their feet.” The member said that they wanted to have a day and night 20:20 but it was getting slightly expensive because they will charged international cricket tariffs. “We have paid every single penny in managing the turf requirements because in UAE everything is around as long as you pay.”

“It is a solely Kashmir event that symbolizes Kashmir in all resects,” one middle rung executive who is one of the oragnizers said. “Barring the turf, every other thing in Kashmiri – players, commentators, reporters, audience on social media and even the trophy we flew from Kashmir.” The invited delegation comprising reporters traders, artists and civil society activists have also brought a souvenir – a samovar – for the winning teams.

The event that is being upgraded with more involvement of the players back home is gradually emerging major platform for potential cricket players in Dubai. It is getting them exposure to modern infrastructure that they normally lacked. Some of the players said they have played the game in the concrete alleys of their mohalla and are watching the professional infrastructure, perhaps, for the first time.

The KSL started in 2016. Then, there were only eight teams. An idea of some of the professionals serving the region, they connected businesses and it took off. They in fact identified a group of eight captains and they were asked to create their team, a task they accomplished successfully. It marked an interesting start. Some of the boys who knew crickets well were jobless in Kashmir. They network with them, agreed to play and got jobs as bonus.

“Last year, there were quite a few teams but as the word spread, we had massive response and almost all the teams have waiting players.” According to an organizer. “We will be now getting some good players from Kashmir too.”

Kashmiri community in Dubai believes that cricket can link us back home and they will be able to take the platform to another stage and see how opportunities that the region offers almost every second day can reach Kashmir. All communities from India are strongly linked to their homes unlike, till recently, Kashmiris. While the emphasis right now is on cricket, a football tourney is already going on.

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