Last year, after a few years of rejection, Rasikh Salam Dar turned up for a U-19 selection trial in Jammu & Kashmir. He got to bowl only three balls before he was stopped by Irfan Pathan, the former India player who had moved his base to the valley as player cum mentor, and was overseeing that trial. “Hey, how can somebody of such a young age bowl this quick? What’s your name?” went Irfan and Rasikh gave his details and his real cricketing journey began. On Sunday night, it reached a dreamy high when the 17-year old Rasikh found himself bowling to likes of Shikhar Dhawan and Rishabh Pant in the IPL.
Rasikh hails from the village of Ashmuji in Kulgam district. The last time Kulgam became centre point of India’s discussion was a month ago. Two Pakistan nationals among three militants were killed in Jammu & Kashmir’s Kulgam district encounter. In these turbulent times in the valley, comes a story of Rasikh’s impressive debut in IPL for Mumbai Indians.
Rasikh’s father Abdul Salam, a school teacher, couldn’t see his son’s performance in its entirety due to a power cut at home but is obviously overjoyed. Abdul says his financial position was never great and that the family has been through some tough times. There were days when Rasikh didn’t have money to even travel in bus, forget buying cricket equipment. “I was a part-time teacher before, I became permanent only a few years ago. Rasikh has seen troubled times but what could I have done. I never gave them any reason and my children too have never asked me much. Many people have helped. He was rejected during selection trials earlier but I had the belief that one day he will definitely play,” Abdul told The Indian Express.
On Monday, Rasikh spoke to his father and the conversation revolved around how to do better and whether the son ate something or not. Abdul, who says he too had wanted to become a cricketer but was thwarted by lack of money, wanted one of his sons to take up cricket. When Rasikh chose the game, the father was happy.
Irfan Pathan remembers that day at the trials last year. It was a under-19 selection trail for JKCA and Pathan had already travelled many districts looking for raw talent. “More than hundred boys had come for trials. All of them tall and I saw Rasikh for first time there. He bowled two or three balls and I asked him to stand in the side – it could be that he had become nervous,” Pathan recalls. But Pathan was convinced by what he saw in those couple of deliveries.
Post nets, Pathan went and met Rasikh, who had come with his uncle. “I was impressed and surprised why the boy hasn’t played for JKCA any junior or senior team. The boy is different, he swings with a decent pace. I told him to come for senior team camp where he played 11 practice games and then he was picked for J&K team for Vijay Hazare,” Pathan says. The decision of bringing unknown players had created a controversy in the state and Pathan’s interference in selection process had even led to some selectors resigning.
At the conclusion of the Vijay Hazare Trophy, Pathan had bumped into Rahul Sanghvi, manager of Mumbai Indians, at Mumbai airport. Pathan had shown Rasikh’s bowling videos and few days later Rasikh was asked to report to Mumbai to attend selection trials where he impressed everyone with his control and ability to bowl slower ones.
“The guy has never travelled before, it was first time he stayed in hotel with us. Once I was told he didn’t come for selection trials because he didn’t have money. He told me recently that if I hadn’t picked him that day in the trials, it could have been end of his cricket,” Pathan reveals. In fact, ahead of the trials, Rasikh had told his cousin Nadeem that he wasn’t going to try for state teams but he was counselled by his family and was cajoled to try one more time.
On Monday morning, Pathan got a call from Rasikh who sounded pretty calm and composed. “Did you see that ball he bowled to beat Shikhar Dhawan? For the first time he has bowled in such a packed stadium, he didn’t get carried away or too nervous – it shows that boy is eager to do well,” Pathan says.
Back in Kulgam, his father has been getting calls and visitors. Abdul hasn’t seen such day in his life. He has a long list of people to thank, from Ambani’s to Rohit to Yuvraj before concluding, “apne gaon ka naam uncha kar diya”. (he has made the village proud). In those days, everyone used to tell me that he plays really well and that one day he will earn fame. Look that day has come, he has reached where no one in our khandaan (clan) has reached. I am sure he will go places from here,” Abdul says.