Samiullah Beigh on the triumphs and tragedies of representing J&K at firstclass level.
Having represented Jammu and Kashmir in Ranji Trophy for more than 15 years now, I am often asked why players from our region haven’t been able to make it big. While it can be attributed to a lack of talent or skill levels, poor infrastructure and the absence of basic facilities, however, a dispassionate analysis takes us to a discomforting conclusion. Apart from the reasons cited, the bitter truth is that players from states like Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Assam, Railways and Services are often subjected to a step-motherly treatment.
The luxury attached with being born at a place like Kashmir, which hardly exists on the cricket map of India, is that you get noticed and picked from a small pool of players quite easily and you also get an opportunity to showcase your talent somewhat earlier than players from other places. But, as I have experienced, this is the only luxury one gets while playing for Jammu and Kashmir.
Perhaps, the people at the helm can’t work out how someone from an ‘alien’ place can compete at the higher level and then do better than players from ‘elite’ states, which have a top-quality infrastructure, facilities and a robust support system.
My experience of playing firstclass cricket for a decade and a half now is that coaches and people who matter shower accolades on you merely as a lip service. But, when it comes to actually giving you a level playing field to compete with those from the ‘elite’ states, there is more disappointment than hope.
Although I have been at the receiving end of it mostly, we have the examples of Abdul Qayoom, Abid Nabi and Ian Dev Singh who have fallen prey to this policy of discrimination from time to time.
Until very recently, national selectors would never turn up for Ranji Trophy games featuring Jammu and Kashmir. As such, the only way for us to impress the selectors was to perform exceptionally well in Ranji Trophy and Vijay Hazare competitions, then hoping to be picked for the North Zone squad. And then, hoping against hope, that we may get a chance in the playing eleven (amongst 15 picked), so that we may be able to showcase our potential in Duleep Trophy and Deodhar Trophy matches.
This being the only option, some from our troubled state did actually manage to make it to the North Zone squad but the tragic part is that very few among us were lucky enough to find a place in the playing XI. With the result, all our efforts and hopes would come to an early end.
I, for one, can speak with authority as I have faced this maltreatment many a time. I was forced to carry drinks in North Zone matches for more than five seasons. It would have been a great irony that a player who goes on to become the highest wicket taker for his state never made it to the final XI of his Zone had Yuvraj Singh not intervened to make changes in the Duleep Trophy squad in 2014-15 season.
It so happened that immediately after the devastating Kashmir floods of 2014, both Parveez Rasool and I received a call from the BCCI to represent North Zone based on our performances in the previous season, when Jammu and Kashmir had qualified for the Ranji Trophy quarters (2013-14).
It was a historic moment for J&K. It was for the first time that more than one player from the state got picked for North Zone squad. I received an expected shock in the morning, hours before the start of the match at Mohali, when, despite bowling really well in the nets against the likes of Virender Sehwag, Gautum Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and others, I was not a part of the final XI.
Disappointed yet again, I managed a smile on my face for two reasons: at the selectors’ bias and to keep the hope alive. Yuvraj, sitting just next to me, asked why I was shaking my head wearing a wry smile. Yuvi had no clue about the playing XI. The moment Parveez Rasool revealed to him that I was to carry the drinks rather than play, it was his turn to shake head. He stood up and straightaway went to Gautam Gambhir to convince him to include me. He then called upon the entire team management.
It was only after Yuvraj’s passionate arguments that the team was changed, and I featured in the playing XI. On my part, I didn’t let Yuvi down as I claimed three top-order wickets and scored a few handy runs as well.
Even Parveez, despite being one of the leading allrounders for the last four to five years, hasn’t had a smooth sailing. He too has faced his share of dejection and rejection, but he has always picked himself up and knocked at the selectors’ door again. Not many have the ability to do that after repeated snubs and cold-shoulder treatment.
We witnessed yet another irony of representing Jammu and Kashmir in Ranji Trophy (2014-15) when we defeated the mighty Mumbai in their own backyard at the famed Wankhade stadium in full media glare and in presence of hundreds of diehard Mumbai fans. What disappointed us the most was that even the legendary Sachin Tendulkar who spent close to an hour in the Mumbai dressing room after the match, turned a deaf ear to repeated requests by our head coach to meet the victorious team as well. We were waiting for him in the adjacent dressing room less than 10 feet away. That day I realised how tough it was even for the god of cricket, as many of his fans call him, to digest success of the children of a lesser god.
The same evening, when media channels highlighted the uncalled for behaviour of Sachin, his secretary arranged his courtesy meet with us the next morning. A couple of us didn’t turn up to meet him as we thought the least we could do was to uphold our self-esteem.
I would not attribute this maltreatment necessarily to the present political scenario of Jammu and Kashmir, as some of the players from other minor cricket teams like Jharkhand and Assam also face a similar treatment in their respective zones, but at times the intensity of bias is less towards them.
It sometimes sets me thinking if it is more of an irony than a luxury to represent Jammu and Kashmir. We, as players, wear this hurt as a badge of honour, though.