Dated 2019-04-23

Not Quite the Swansong

Midway this Ranji season, the team management decided to drop Samiullah Beigh after the strike bowler had two poor outings. Beigh went a step further: bidding adieu to his 14-year long first-class career. Waheed Mirza sums up the triumphs and tribulations of a player mentored by the great Dennis Lillee who believed Beigh had everything in him to make it big

Beigh remains by far the best fast bowler to have represented J&K, but he had a potential that could have taken him way beyond.

“This tour (Ranji Trophy 2017-18) has surely tested my patience to the hilt. And, the last thing one expected was ur flight to home getting diverted to Jammu,” read Samiullah Beigh’s Facebook status mid-November. More than his diverted flight, the status gave an indication of what Beigh was passing through in his last days as a first class cricketer.

Beigh, statistically J&K’s most successful fast bowler yet, didn’t retire on a pleasant note. For someone who beat odds more often than not in his 14-year long career, Beigh didn’t have a fairytale ending. Managing just two wickets in the first two matches of the season, he was dropped to make way for a young quickie. He could sense what was coming his way and decided to call it quits mid-season. His retirement call didn’t prompt the management to as much as give him a farewell game.

For the last decade or so, especially the last six years, Beigh was central to almost everything that J&K cricket stood for. His performances mirrored that of his team: spectacular one day, terrible the other.

Beigh’s career is a classic example of what-could-have-been phenomenon.

Supremely talented, Beigh had a late brush with the game but his pace and raw talent were enticing enough to catch the eye of the movers and shakers of the game in the state.

An engineering graduate from National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar, Beigh’s imposing figure, smooth run-up and repeatable action hogged the headlines in club cricket. A rich haul of wickets for Amar Singh Club ensured he didn’t have to wait much to don the J&K jersey. He quickly grabbed the opportunity and bowled J&K to victory just in his second 50-over game.

Many a cricket pundit saw a future star in him and earmarked him for international glory.

His first-class debut seemed a mere formality, with selectors picking him up to play against Bihar in 2003. Beigh went wicketless, but he did manage to showcase that he belonged there. However, there was a sudden roadblock that cut short the rise: a lower-back injury.

Towards the end of his career, Beigh had matured into a pretty useful lower middle- order batsman scoring runs consistently.

He managed a strong comeback and impressed many top cricketers. One of them former Indian batsman Ajay Jadeja who recommended Beigh to the MRF Pace Foundation, Chennai.

At MRF, it didn’t take Beigh long to get noticed by senior coach TA Shekhar who directed him to the legendary Dennis Lillee. The former Aussie great who held the post of the director since the academy’s inception in 1987 till 2012 saw the spark in Beigh and picked him for major conditioning camp.

Beigh had future India players S Sreesanth, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Pathan, Varun Aaron and Dawal Kulkarani for company. It was quite an experience in Beigh’s young career getting a chance to fine-tune his skills under Lille’s tutelage, who groomed him as a bowler to become a better operator and emerge stronger. Lille had something profound to tell him: “Beigh, if you don’t make it big, you are unlucky.” Coming from one of the greatest fast bowlers to have walked the earth, Beigh couldn’t have asked for more so early in his career.

He had a fruitful 2007 Ranji season taking 25 wickets and playing a starring role in J&K’s victory over Goa with a six-wicket haul.

Beigh’s march for greater feats, however, continued to be derailed by injuries. To his credit, the strike bowler remained firm and kept working on his physique and skill and kept coming back even stronger.

Beigh has had his share of controversies as well. He was at the forefront when the players revolted against the then J&K coach Bishan Singh Bedi in the 2012-13 season, accusing former India skipper of undermining Kashmir based players. Giving in to pressure, JKCA sacked Bedi unceremoniously.

Beigh and his fellow players were lambasted by many for bringing bad press to J&K cricket. Unperturbed, he went ahead with his business and performed his best in the following 2013-14 season. He emerged as J&K’s most successful pacer with his team scripting first time quarter-final berth. Young pacers Ram Dayal and Umar Nazir talked high of Beigh’s mentorship that season. He did contribute with the bat as well, helping his side with crucial late order runs.

Beigh had another fruitful season in 2014-15 but the one that followed didn’t yield him desirable results. Murmurs of people calling for Beigh’s axing started surfacing which only picked momentum after the veteran of 61 first class games had two bad outings on the bounce this season. Team management took a big call by dropping him and Beigh even bigger – calling it a day.

158 wickets @38.77 with a strike rate just over 65 doesn’t do justice to the talent and skill Beigh possessed. Figures, they say, can be misleading. He didn’t get to play many 50 and 20-over games despite having excellent record in the latter.

So near yet so far from wearing the Team India jersey, Beigh did feature in zonal cricket representing North Zone a couple of times.

In a state like J&K, that hasn’t been able to leave a mark on the Indian domestic circuit, Beigh’s career should be celebrated and he surely does deserve a formal farewell by the state cricket body.  Beigh will always be counted among the players who gave cricket fans in J&K a glimmer of hope and a rarest of rare winning feeling.

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