After three rounds, Jammu and Kashmir are a mid-table team in ‘Elite-in-name-only’ Group C, at the foot of which sit Services. A fixture between the two laggards, beginning at the Airforce Sports Complex in Palam on Wednesday, should then brook little excitement. Except, the two teams have a history that makes this match-up rather interesting.
Nine years ago, in November 2009, Services had refused to play their Ranji Trophy opener against J&K in Srinagar, citing, of all issues that an armed forces’ team can cite, security. It led to their expulsion from first-class cricket that season. Since then, these two teams have played each other on four occasions, but an undercurrent of tension remains palpable even though the teams play it down.
“Let’s leave those incidents aside and focus on the cricket. Whatever happened in the past is not in our control. All I can say is that we’re just armymen who happened to take up this sport because we’re passionate about it,” said Services team coach Raju Singh. Barring their historic march to the Ranji Trophy semis in 2012, the Services team has not had much to show in terms of their performances. This season, too, they have two points from three games.
The J&K team, though, have notched up an emphatic win against Tripura at the Sher-e-Kashmir stadium. That win was a distant dream more than two months ago, when the J&K resembled a chaotically assembled bunch. A spate of some tepid losses during the Vijay Hazare Trophy didn’t inspire much confidence, despite the presence of Irfan Pathan, who was roped in as a player-cum-mentor at the start of the domestic season.
The real turnaround in the team’s fortunes came with a victory over Tamil Nadu in their penultimate game. “Competing against the likes of Abhinav Mukund, Vijay Shankar and Murali Vijay — players who have performed well for India, gave us confidence. Since then, I have been asking this team to enjoy the process and don’t fear about losing,” Pathan explained.
In their Ranji Trophy campaign, they have risked defeats for wins. For instance, in pursuit of 395 on the final day against Rajasthan in Jaipur, their batsmen, led admirably by captain Pervez Rasool’s unbeaten 110, took them past the 300-run mark. They ultimately folded for 315, but their approach earned them plaudits. “We lost the game against Rajasthan, but that was the first time in the history that we scored more than 300 runs in the fourth innings,” Pathan said.