(By Heena Zuni Pandit)
Like all sport, cricket too doesn't have much of a history of achievement here. Jammu and Kashmir started playing the Ranji Trophy from1959 but performance has always been ordinary. This season, clubbed with Railways, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Haryana and Goa, they finished at the bottom with three points. HT looks at the cricket scene in the Valley.
Who plays cricket?
Like anywhere else in India, cricket is popular. Different government departments and banks have teams but most players of the state team are from Jammu and Srinagar. Asked if that meant players elsewhere were being overlooked, Suneet Singh, joint-sceretary JKCA, said: "We have decided to conduct camps in the remote areas with help of state administrative officials in the districts. Players spotted will be brought to either Jammu or Srinagar. The association will bear the cost of training."
When do they play?
April to November. "We don't play much of cricket in general, even if we do it would be a 20 overs or 50 overs matches. The shorter version of the game is more popular here," said Manzoor Dar, a senior player. To remedy this, JKCA started a four-day club league last year tournament of league matches from this year, secretary Salim Khan said.
What needs to be done?
Coaching: "Coaching was never a matter of concern for the JKCA until last year. This year though Kenia Jayantilal has been appointed," says Dar. "Jayantilal Sir tried his best to keep things in order but we need a younger coach."
Jayantilal, who had played for Hyderabad, told HT: "Things will not change overnight but what hurts is the fact that there is no co-ordination within the association and sometimes they are very reluctant."
Banking on imports: JKCA is mulling on getting some experienced players from outside the state to represent them for a season or two. "When Ajay Jadeja played for us, selection malpractices stopped," skipper Vijay Sharma said.
Javagal Srinath had visited the Valley as a part of the talent search programme in 2005. He chose some players for the MRF Pace academy. Srinath told HT through e-mail that he saw lot of youngsters who are strong and eager to play cricket.
On scope of cricket in J&K
I saw lot of youngsters who are strong and eager to play the game of cricket. We had 400-odd cricketers at the fast bowlers camp which was the prelude to join the MRF Pace Foundation. Scope and opportunity should be created in such places.
The stadium where the MRF fast bowling camp was conducted was very, very picturesque. Even the turf wicket was in good condition. May be it is time to come up with proper infrastructure in many places around J& K. This would help the local guys a lot.
On amount of cricket played
I was told that the few cricket league enabled may aspiring cricketers to take up the game. In order to make the game more popular I guess the game has to go not only to all part of Srinagar but also to other cities and towns of J&K.
On training facilities
I didn't have time to look around. I hope there is some basic facility or even if it's not there I guess more facilities are always welcome.
On talent among players
Talent is in abundance. Abid Nabi was a good talent but he has made his personal decision (of moving to ICL).
Shorter version of the game is enticing for the kids but the true depth and meaning is in the longer version of the game. A blend both but more on the longer version of the game at the grass root level should help deeper understanding of the game.
Play it again, Sami
(By Heena Zuni Pandit)
At six foot three, Samiullah Beigh does what he should be doing — bowl fast. 'Sami' to his teammates, this right-arm medium-pacer took 24 wickets in seven Ranji Trophy innings last season with an economy rate of 2.85. Dennis Lillee has helped him learn the art of fast bowling and the MRF Pace Academy has shaped him.
A civil engineer by qualification, Beigh isn't a defying-hardship-to-do-sport story. The only hardship he faced while honing out-swingers came from his father who felt sport was a waste of time. "He was not wrong as players don't have anything which can motivate us to play here (in J&K)," Beigh said, speaking between warming up on a freezing morning at the Shere-e-Kashmir Stadium here.
It was at the pace academy in Chennai that work to transform a raw talent into a finished product began. His action was molded and Lillee worked on his fitness. It gave this 23-year-old hope to give cricket a serious shot. It also gave him the impetus to travel 14km twice daily to the stadium for practice.
"I am doing this for almost 20 years now," he said. Someday, he hopes all this will be worth it.
Batting for India since 1938
(By Heena Zuni Pandit)
A place whose springs and lakes seem straight out of a picture postcard has been silently batting for India for the past 70 years. Surprised? Go to Anantnag then.
Willow is the watchword here, a tradition that goes back to 1938 and to the state's ruler Maharaja Hari Singh.
Farooq Bhat, owner of a bat factory, makes about 20,000 units annually all painstakingly crafted from Kashmiri willow and dried for seven months. He has an India-wide market.
Almost every family here and in 15 adjoining hamlets are involved in making cricket bats and shops on the road through town showcase a wide make of bats.
Asif, a worker at Bhat's factory says: "Any win by India gives our business a huge boost. When India wins, everyone wants to play cricket and we are clear winners."
The bat-making industry here employs around 10,000 and sells nearly a million bats annually at prices ranging from Rs 100 to 1000.
Ask to compare Kashmiri bats to those made from the English willow, Bhat, a 30-year veteran in this industry, said: "Kashmiri bats are renowned in India for their high-quality willow, but they have still not found favour abroad. Those made from the English willow is light but known to pack more power."
Apart from the English competition, the industry here is threatened by a lack of raw materials. "The government is not encouraging fresh willow plantations. I fear this industry will collapse if immediate steps are not taken," said Bhat. He also said despite a ban, willow planks and bat-sized blocks are smuggled to Punjab which has a thriving sports goods industry.
'We need to back our players'
(By Heena Zuni Pandit)
HT spoke to Dr Farooq Abdullah, president of the Jammu Kashmir Cricket Association, about this season's Ranji Trophy show, on the problems faced and what lies ahead. Excerpts:
J&K played five matches, drew one (due to rain) and collected only three points in toto.
Yes, but at least we have participated. Kashmir has been under turmoil for so long and the effect of such devastation will take time to go. So we should encourage our players — at least they are coming out to play.
But the team has been participating in the Ranji from 1959-60, 49 years now and it's never done anything of note. Why?
There are many factors, more recently, the problems of the past 19 years... One of the chief problems we have is of selection. There is an intense rivalry between the clubs here and this is eating our cricket.
What has been done about this?
I have given the coach complete authority to select the boys he wants to play, I do not have a say in the selection process, I do not want to interfere. This year though, the selectors were sent from the BCCI, so we played some really talented boys.
Talented boys... like Abid Nabi?
Abid Nabi. He was a very good bowler but now he has gone to ICL so we do not consider him anymore for our team.
Why would a player like Nabi join the ICL? You can't really afford to lose your best players.
It was his decision. He ran away from the MRF academy. Jaldbaazi, aur kuch nahi.
What could motivate someone to play for J&K?
We are giving all the requisite facilities under the BCCI norms, while the Ranji fees have also been increased. Besides, we are an independent association and provide full assistance to our players. They (players) are also recruited in different departments; they have jobs and anything they want. We have good equipment; we are coming up with health clubs and academies both in Jammu and Kashmir.
Is the Sher-e-Kashmir ready for full-time cricket? What led to it being handed over to the CRPF?
They have evacuated the stadium; it is undergoing a revamp and will soon be ready for some international cricket. We play domestic cricket on it even now.
What's being done to foster growth of domestic cricket, from where a pool of talent could be built?
We need to give more exposure to our players. For that we have asked for help from associations like Punjab, Himachal, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi, asked that their players play us, maybe, during off season. Also, we have to shift the trend of playing the 20 overs game to the longer version.
Are you thinking of bringing in big names from other states to raise the level of the game?
No, we don't need to outsource players as we do not lack in talent. We need to back our players first.
Has the BCCI helped?
The BCCI have been very cooperative, they have given us 25 crore to build our new stadium, for which we have bought land in Bajalta, near Sidra. They have helped us develop indoor facilities in Jammu, two academies on the lines of the NCA, and also develop the Science Collage Ground, as it is centrally located.
There is talk of a "Project Cricket" in J&K?
One of the problems of our state is unemployment and if people come into cricket they will get employment opportunities as well. So what we actually need is opportunity, exposure and all this without much political involvement. This is tough but not impossible.
You have to be in Delhi as well, how do you manage to look after matters of the association?
I am always in touch with the concerned people here. Work is work, it has to done.
A sporting life, hopefully
(By Anupma Tripathi)
Just 23, Mehrajuddin Wadoo is already a symbol of hope in Kashmir, almost a cult hero in a state that has few local icons. The India footballer plays with Kolkata club, East Bengal in the I-league.
On Saturday, just ahead of a crucial game against Mahindra United, the midfielder took time off to talk to HT about football in Kashmir, the upcoming Santosh Trophy and why sport was a major way through which young Kashmiris could give themselves a chance at a better life.
"Sports Kashmir ki mentality change kar dega," he says unexpectedly. "Sport can bring about a revolution in the minds of people, a long-lost state of happiness to the people of my state. There is a certain uncomplicated pleasure in things like watching matches." Excerpts from an interview:
How does a man from Srinagar become a footballer in Kolkata?
I think it takes sheer guts to follow one's passion, especially when you are from the Valley. I played in extremely adverse conditions, but still I came out as a winner and I am proud of it.
Kashmir is not reputed to be a sport loving state, how did you break through the stereotypes?
Yes, it isn't but that's not by choice — it was forced on its people. We saw blood and gore in abundance. Life itself can be a struggle, so succeeding in something as different as football, or any sport, needs total determination.
I remember playing in the Rainawari (his hometown) grounds. Every now and then, there would be a bomb blast in the vicinity and we were forced to run away, leaving our footwear behind and taking shelter in nearby houses. We would come out and head for our own homes only when things quietened down.
What are the problems that the children of Srinagar face?
Kids get to play only four months of the year because of poor weather conditions. In J&K, the national tournaments invariably clash with school exams. And all this without getting into the problems created by militancy, which, as long as I remember, has gripped Kashmir in a vice-like grip.
But you came from this background too.
Yes, but I am the exception, not the rule. I fought it out. I don't want to detail those days and the hardship I went through, the lack of facilities and the insecurity but it was very tough.
Everything's right for a tee party
(By Anupma Tripathi)
Given its natural beauty and topography, it was but natural that facilities for golf here would be top-class. HT takes a look at some of the courses
Kashmir Golf Club
The Kashmir Golf Club in Srinagar makes playing golf a memorable experience. Spread over 52 acres it is near the city's main thoroughfare, the Maulana Azad Road. Its president Farooq Abdullah is a keen golfer.
With well laid out bunkers and hazards between chinars & pine this 18-hole course and has been the venue of many tournaments. The course has common fairways and a par of 70. Srinagar offers an exclusive opportunity for golf enthusiasts to play through an extended summer, from April to November.
The life of Ghulam Mohammad is intrinsically linked with this club. Mohammad says he is 98 and claims to be India's first professional golfer. Having started as a caddy, Mohammad said he's played for 30 years before turning coach. His pupils: Billoo P.G. Sethi, Maharaja Hari Singh, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and J.S Pathak. He has also trained Farooq Abdullah who began playing golf at 12.
Mohammad's age may be debatable but when he says "golf is like an addiction. You can't have enough of it," you don't disagree.
Royal Spring Golf Course
Spanning 300 acres near the famous Cheshm-e-Shahi, The Royal Springs Golf Course in Srinagar is open to general public.
It was designed and laid out by world famous course architect, Robert Trent Jones Jr II, who has designed about 500 courses worldwide.
Overlooking the Dal Lake and with the Zabarwan hills creating a natural backdrop, the par-72 course is mesmerisingly beautiful. For a round of golf, you pay Rs 250. Seems like a steal considering the scenery.