Srinagar, May 15: On Wednesday around 10:30 at night, I received a text from a J&K Ranji Trophy cricketer. I replied and asked where he had been since we hadn’t spoken for a long time. He said, “Haalat (jkca) nay gaeb kiya (JKCA’s treatment has made me go into hiding),”! I wasn’t surprised by it. Every other cricketer in J&K says the same thing. But as the conversation moved on, I asked him how he did at the ongoing JKCA trials. His response left me shocked!
“Mai gaya nhi (I didn’t go)”! As I read it, I was like, “Whaaaat? Are you serious?” He said, “Left jkca 😔”! He actually meant he has decided to give up playing professional cricket. He is just about 30 years of age and has played near to 15 Ranji Trophy and a handful of Vijay Hazare and Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy matches as well. Just a couple of seasons back, he was J&K’s lone hope in the middle-order. He would score even at the pitches that were a heaven for bowlers. He was termed “the next big thing”!
But then what happened suddenly that he has already given up cricket?
“I am not in good books. I have no godfather. I have no one to back me. I don’t have a “sir” or “bhaya” behind me. All I have is my game. But do you think it’s enough to play at a higher level in J&K?” he asked!
I was short of words. I didn’t know what to tell him. I was completely blank. He continued, “First time in 17 years of my cricket journey, my heart is completely shattered. I have no hope. I don’t even want to go to the stadium, let alone participate in trials!”
I urged him to at least attend trials. He said, “I know they will select me for division …. Uske baad chutti! There are players who score tons of runs in trial matches, even get picked in the squad but then they don’t get included in the team,”
“Not just me, many others have left JKCA. They no longer want to play professional cricket. We have been ignored for too long now,”
He went on to name another cricketer, who was a part of every squad just before last season but only got a game or two in playing XI, saying he had also given up playing cricket.
“He met me yesterday and asked what I did in trials. I asked him the same question. He said, ‘Mein gaya hi nahi! Zyada se zyada mujhe squad mein rakhengai despite scoring so many runs in trial matches’,” he said.
They are not alone. There are many more talented, young and experienced cricketers who are giving up cricket in J&K, especially in Kashmir province. All of them cite the same reason of being cheated by JKCA.
“Pehli ek association ati hai, woh apne wale players ko support karti hai, phir doosri ati hai, woh apne walu ko karti hai. Aur ham beech wale, jinka koi nahi, waise ke waise reh jate hai (There comes one group to lead JKCA and they support their own players, then there comes another group, who again support their respective players, but where would we, who belong to neither of the groups, go?)” he said in a heart-breaking tone.
This is perhaps the harshest reality of J&K cricket. So many players are leaving cricket despite having everything that is required to play at the highest level.
“I used to go to practice every single day, no matter what! But this year, I realised I’m already 30, how long will I keep working hard without getting any opportunity! I might get married soon, my family has expectations of me. How would I earn a living if I keep working on cricket and don’t do anything else?,” he asked.
Young cricketers are also going through a similar phase. Those who haven’t played any JKCA nationals yet aren’t able to get near to any age-group team since they too don’t have anyone to back them. Selectors and everyone at JKCA prefer players who have already played nationals in all trials, leaving the newbies wondering what to do.
The other group is those who have played and done well in age-group cricket. Once they cross the age of 23 and are only eligible to play for the senior team, they lose their way. Most of them don’t get a place in the senior team year after year, forcing them to leave cricket.
There is no doubt about the talent that J&K possesses but as long as the cricket association is ruled by wrong people, the cricket and cricketers will keep suffering.