Jammu and Kashmir’s sports folklore is synonymous with two games: cricket and football. The latter would draw thousands to playgrounds to watch local derbies. The rivalries were intense. Slowly and steadily, cricket started to dislodge Football as the numero uno sport in the state in terms of popularity and money. From Kathua to Kupwara, the sport sees massive following with kids aspiring to become cricketers. There has been no dearth of money, and, of course, the state is brimming with talent.
Cricket in the state has never been able to operate as a united whole. History of cricket, its administration to be precise, has, over the years, been blotted with controversies, chaos, selection dramas, club politics, compromising merit against favouritism and a serious lack of vision. With the result, cricket has hardly come into limelight for on-field success. It has been rather a case of hitting the headlines for mismanagement.
Money has never been a problem but not putting it to proper use has always pegged J&K cricket back. Talent to play top flight cricket has always been there but a lack of vision and direction has meant it is grounded for good before it could take off.
A win here or there, likes Abdul Qayoom Bagow, Abid Nabi, Abdul Rouf and Shubham Khajuria getting a reckoning in Indian domestic circuit and iconic 2013-14 season is all one can write home about J&K cricket. Parvez Rasool might be a shining star but even his elevation to international cricket hasn’t shed J&K’s decades-long also-rans tag.
The Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA) – the custodians of the sport – hasn’t looked beyond the city and town centres and its affiliated clubs for the game to flourish and tap talent from. One of the biggest failures of the JKCA has been its inability to work at the grassroots level. The stagnation of the JKCA can be gauged from the fact that since its inception in 1957 only 32 clubs including seven from different educational institutions have been registered with the association. Not a single club has been affiliated with the JKCA since ‘80s.
Setting up an academy to cater to upcoming cricketers was akin to asking for a moon. Cricket academies round the world are like nurseries where basics of the game are taught.
Even successive state governments haven’t flirted with an idea of setting up an academy, handicapping cricketers’ growth big time over the years.
In Jammu region, investment from private players has given birth to some academies, but in Kashmir nothing of that sort has happened thanks to turmoil. Consequently, aspiring cricketers not associated with the JKCA affiliated clubs are rendered bereft of proper facilities, top class cricket and much needed guidance at an early age to shape up their careers. With no coaches and quality to fall upon, many a player is lost in oblivion before they could make a mark.
Over the years, true promoters of the sport have shown consensus for an urgent need of an academy: budding cricketers’ go-to platform for stitching together their dreams. With cricket becoming a darling sport in the valley, having an academy was due. Jammu and Kashmir State Sports Council took the lead to make it happen. It needed dedication, direction and second to none commitment to turn wishes into a reality. J&K’s first state-owned academy – State Cricket Academy – has made right noises two months into its inception. Its first coaching camp for U-16 age group cricketers drew massive response with budding cricketers across the state queuing up for admission.
The academy-stationed adjacent to Bakhshi Stadium, Srinagar is professionally manned with certified coaches taking reins to impart cricketing education to aspiring cricketers. Former J&K cricketer and BCCI approved coach Mubashir Hassan has been appointed as director of the academy. He has J&K pacer Abid Nabi and many pedigree players for company to have a star-studded coaching staff.
Mubashir is a busy man ever since taking reins. From organising coaching camps to selecting players, he has literally everything to look after. He isn’t complaining, though. He sees this as an opportunity to do something ‘substantial for J&K cricket.
“World over, academies are the breeding ground for future stars. It is great to have one in the state. We aim to give budding and seasoned cricketers a platform where they can chisel out their all-round game,” says Mubashir.
He says that his team will focus on overall growth of cricketers so that they are ready for challenges ahead.
“Not only do we intend to fine-tune their techniques, we would like to work on their overall growth. Be it their fitness or mental toughness. We have certified coaches and fitness trainers who will make sure they pass on their experience and skill level to upcoming cricketers. The main aim is to ready the talented cricketers for the challenges ahead so that they can take on the best in top flight cricket,” says the former J&K all-rounder.
For starters, SCA will focus on grooming of upcoming cricketers but it wouldn’t also shy from letting seasoned cricketers to iron out technical deficiencies under the trained coaches. Mubashir says his coaching staff will stick to catch ‘em young formula.
“They will be taught and trained for bracing any challenge head on, instilling in them never say die attitude, competitiveness and true sportsmanship. The academy intends to take some load off the only cricket stadium of the valley,” he says.
A players’ overall growth as a cricketers tops SCA’s menu. Preparing them for top flight cricket, chiselling out technical handicaps and keep them abreast with innovations in the sport are little but massively important areas which coaches at the SCA will work on with the players.
Fitness – still an alien concept in this part of the world – will get a special focus with top-notch trainers making youngsters understand importance of a fit body in the success of any athlete.
The brain behind the academy, Waheed ur Rehman Parra,, Ssecretary Sports Council says he got support from the people who mattered to make this ‘long due’ academy a reality.
“No sooner the idea was tendered before Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and Minister of Youth Services and Sports Imran Raza Ansari, they didn’t hesitate one bit to give it a go ahead. We want State Cricket Academy to become one-roof cricket nursery where passionate cricketers will be nurtured to become superstars,” says Parra.
He says State Cricket Academy is still work in progress.
“I am pleased to do my bit in setting up an academy. We have employed trained people to give budding cricketers lessons about nuances of the game and fitness. State Cricket Academy is a work in progress. We would like it to become a platform for young cricketers where all their needs will be fulfilled. It is a step to give chance to our talented cricketers to flourish at the top level. We want cricketers to make most of this opportunity and learn all they could from the trained staff at the academy,” he says.
State Cricket Academy is off to a positive start, but can it sustain in the years to come remains to be seen.