File Photo/ KI
Timid J&K failed to impress yet again in the recently concluded Ranji-Trophy
For sports in Jammu and Kashmir, it is certainly a ‘golden’ era. J&K and its players are bagging gold medals at the rate of knots at various events: Local, national, international. A chain reaction of medals has started ever since Tajamul Islam pocketed one in World Kick-Boxing Championship in the latter half of 2016. Sports Council has suddenly looked the part, starting to counsel players to greater heights. There is a lot of activity on the field. More off it. The department has an active Twitter handle, never shy of parading its activities, howsoever small.
Nondescript sports have come into the spotlight. Martial Arts, Thang ta, Squay, Kick-Boxing and other lesser sports have been pumped into with lot of PR, column spaces and photo-shoots. Coaching clinics are conducted every other day. Without a shade of doubt, Sports Council has emerged as the most active department of the state. Amidst this gold-fest, cash-rich and hugely followed sport cricket has fallen behind the pecking order, having nothing of note to write home about.
The recently concluded Ranji-Trophy 2016-17 Season brought into fore perennial handicaps that have hit J&K hard over the years. It was same saga of sorry state of affairs, selection dramas, individual scores prevailing over that of team’s and team exhibiting that traditional also-rans mentality that one wished had become thing of the past post historic 2013-14 season.
In the annals of J&K cricket, 2013-14 Season is billed as the benchmark as it saw team securing the last, eight berth for the first time. It was the season that had players coming of age to showcase their skill and talent at the big stage. Parvez Rasool, the off-spinning all-rounder, got the reckoning amongst the men who matter in Indian cricket. One expected Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA) and the players to build on the telling performances of the team, but it has been otherwise since then.
Starting the 2014-15 Season with a win against mighty Mumbai is all J&K has something substantial to show off in last three seasons. Not all the blame lies on the players; JKCA has done its bit to hurt the performances of the team.
Relinquishing Parvez as skipper to hand over the reins to an ‘outsider’ Mithun Manhas was a shocker for all and sundry. Parvez, the leader, mirrored his individual performances to command respect and following amongst his teammates. Being replaced by someone who had left the state to ply his trade for Delhi during his prime years didn’t make for a wise decision. Manhas, on his last legs as a cricketer, was handed over all the powers. Captain cum coaching responsibility was too much to handle for someone who was once the mainstay of Delhi middle order. That reflected on team’s showing on the field. Last two seasons, J&K has won a game here, a game there. Individual performances have made headlines. Controversies and chaos have ruled the roost.
The year 2016-17 was all about Parvez emerging as the highest wicket-taker and run-getter for his team. He bagged 38 wickets to go with his 629 runs with the bat. He was asked to captain the side midway after Manhas resigned from the post to hold on to coaching post.
Seasoned pacer Samiullah Beigh had an okay showing with the ball and as a late order batter. But, players who made name for themselves in 2013-14 faded to being shadow of their past self. Young pacer Umar Nazir, once the next big thing in J&K, failed to replicate his pace, penetration and performance to be the benched for the last half of the season. Umar is a prime example of a player showing a lot of promise early in the piece but failing to translate it into runs or wickets thanks to players’ own attitude and JKCA’s lack of robust development programme. Cupboard seems to be bare when it comes to talent coming from age-group cricket. Barring a couple of young cricketers, there isn’t much to be excited about the supply line.
As many as 19 players were fielded this season which goes on to show inconsistency in selection process. When a player knows a selectors’ sword is hanging on their head, his performance is bound to be hampered.
A couple of selections were met with raised eye-brows with pundits and fans alike alleging that merit was compromised over blue-eyed players. Roping in Mumbia discard Harmeet Singh, a left arm spinner, didn’t yield any wickets for the struggling J&K side which could script only one victory in all of nine games. To occupy the eighth spot in the Group C overall standings sums up J&K’s no show this season.
Worrying aspect amid all this is that even U-19 side failed to make an impression this season leaving a lot to be desired for fans.
Save for Parvez phenomenon that reaped rewards with an India call-up for England T20 internationals, there isn’t much to cheer about for cricket lovers in the state.
All isn’t lost yet, though. A proper planning, picking the right men for right jobs, doing away with club politics and giving players the due is all JKCA, the custodians of the sport, needs to do. For players to perform well consistently, it is high time they embrace strong work ethics, fitness regimes, will to learn and team unity over individual glory. Little things done right, some years down the line, J&K cricket will be back on its feet.
As of now cricket has fans and money, but performances and medals belong to lesser sports. How desperately the cricket community would want to have the latter in their kitty.
Waheed Mirza is a sports writer. He tweets @mirzawaheedz