Bandipora, February 06: A group of teenagers, a few of whom are as young as 12 years of age, every afternoon hit the cricket nets at Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium of north Kashmir’s Bandipora, given the weather conditions are favourable. After sweating out for almost 3 hours, these guys pack their kits and return home, however, clueless of what this could lead them to.
“I love this game(cricket) immensely. I practice here daily although I have no hero to look after around and follow his footsteps,” says Zubair Yahya, eldest among the lot.
From Gurez to Kulgam, cricket is both played and followed passionately throughout this sensational mountain-bounded Valley. Though the infrastructure is not the same everywhere. There are a number of cricketers from both south and central Kashmir, who have earned name in competitive cricket. However, the northern side hasn’t seen anyone making stretches in the recent past.
It is a surprising fact that not even a single cricketer from north Kashmir, which comprises of three districts viz Bandipora, Baramulla and Kupwara, has played in Ranji Trophy in last many years. Breaking the jinx, Auqib Nabi, a Baramulla-born cricketer, finally made the cut as he was included in J&K’s Ranji Trophy squad earlier this year.
The young all-rounder, after impressive performances in age-group cricket, did well for the senior team in limited overs cricket before earning the Ranji Trophy call-up. Not moved by the hype, Auqib decided to give his all and make this opportunity count. The right-arm pacer introduced himself in style by picking a five-wicket-haul in his debut match against star-studded Jharkhand.
“It was a very special moment for me to represent my state.” An elated Auqib recalls, adding, “I think you cannot count the amount of hardwork one has put to reach this level.”
Five matches on, the 23-year-old has become an irremovable part of the team, with 18 wickets, including a couple of five-wicket-hauls and a man of the match award to his name. Moreover, the right-hander, at the average of 34.80, struck some valuable runs for J&K down the order.
Owing to the success the lanky guy has owned at this level, the door of hope is finally opening for the north Kashmir cricketers.
“The way he is performing in Ranji Trophy will definitely boost the cricket in north Kashmir. He is setting a very good example that even a local boy can do well at the higher level,” believes Lone Nasir, who is seen as future of north in cricket.
“With spectacular numbers like Auqib’s at such level, cricketers see a hero and start following footprints of that cricketer.” Lone, a current member of J&K U23 team, says.
Haziq Bhat, another promising cricketer from Sopore, thinks Auqib could be the beginning of a new era in north Kashmir.
“Cricket in North Kashmir has been demanding a revival and Auqib could be the stepping stone to that.” He states.
“With Aquib’s performance, the road should become smoother for the players deserving to fit in that elite team group.”
When asked if his successful stint in Ranji Trophy would revive cricket in north, Auqib responded, “Yes, exactly. Cricket in North Kashmir needs some boost, I guess I could help in that. Of course I’m trying hard to do so. Hopefully, this will be a beginning of a better start for north Kashmir’s cricket.”
Mohsin Kamal is an editor at Kashmir Sports Watch.