The Bijbehara cricket ground is a two-hour drive from Srinagar on the cratered and flooded national highway 1A. The journey takes you past saffron fields in Pampore and the Kashmir willow bat industry near Sangam, where the shops are plastered with posters of Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli and Shahid Afridi. In Bijbehara town, Anantnag district, you cross the ancient Vishweshwar temple as well as Gurudwara Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji Sahib built in the middle ages, and dodge a military convoy before you drive over the old bridge built by Dara Shikoh. Past the garden that bears the unlucky Mughal prince’s name, you reach a higher secondary school behind which is the ground.
The field is ringed by poplar and willow, and the sight of the mountains over cover or mid-on is spectacular enough to distract batsmen. The square on which a matting wicket would have been placed lies under a bed of unseasonal March snow. A cemented corner of the field has been cleared, and a group of boys in pherans play on that small, slippery surface. There’s one who is swinging his bat, eyes closed, and who, not unexpectedly, is a devoted fan of Shahid Afridi.
The game stops when Parvez Rasool shows up in designer Oakleys. The boys thrust their hands up, angling for a handshake they can boast about later. While the rest of their heroes are only seen on TV or on posters, here is one in the flesh.
Rasool is the biggest name in the Jammu and Kashmir cricket team. His breakout season was in the 2012-13 Ranjit Trophy, when he finished as the side’s leading run-getter and wicket-taker. That performance earned him an India A game against England. He subsequently got a tour game against the visiting Australian team, where he took seven wickets. He earned a call-up to the India team that toured Zimbabwe last year and then the India A squad that toured South Africa. He also became the first player from the state to sign up with an IPL team, the Pune Warriors. In January, he captained his side to the Ranji quarterfinals — the farthest they have ever gone in the league. They lost but ran their opponents close — the Punjab side which included four former India players, among them Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh. In that game, Rasool took five wickets and scored a century. At this year’s IPL auction, the Hyderabad Sunrisers paid Rs 95 lakh to have him in their team.
Even so, if you were a punter, you would not bet on Rasool’s career and J&K’s performance. Over its 55-year-old cricketing history, the side had never been competitive at any level of the game. Rasool’s continued…