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Favouritism, biases & politics: Here's what is plaguing cricket in Kashmir

Gowhar Geelani | Updated on: 13 October 2017, 14:42 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

Kashmir Valley is perhaps the only place on earth where a gentleman’s game is run in a un-gentlemanly style since decades. It appears that the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA), the restive region’s premier cricketing body, loves to court controversies one after another. In doing so, the JKCA more often brings disrepute to the game of cricket.

In the latest controversy, the J&K High Court’s division bench had stepped in to bar the cricketing body from selecting U-23 cricket team for the ongoing CK Nayudu Trophy competition which is organised by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

The court had argued that “merit was overlooked”.

Ignoring the court order the JKCA went ahead and selected a team nonetheless. Many raised eyebrows over the final list, alleging that some deserving players were “dropped to accommodate a few blue-eyed boys”. Feigning ignorance, JKCA’s Vice Chairman (Kashmir Wing) Javed Kitab told a local television channel Gulistan News, in an interview, that the cricket officials did not receive a copy of the court order. Offering another lame excuse, Kitab also said that the BCCI had not released funds for the JKCA.

As a result, the first match of Jammu and Kashmir U-23 team, scheduled to commence from 8 October, was cancelled because the BCCI could not allow a match in violation of the court order.

But now, the division bench, comprising chief justice Badar Durrez and justice Alok Aradhe, has modified the order to allow J&K’s U-23 team to play its matches according to the BCCI schedule.

However, there are more controversies.

Adding to troubles

Jammu and Kashmir senior cricket team’s 16-member squad for Ranji Trophy was made to board a flight from Srinagar to Delhi and subsequently sent to Jaipur by road from Delhi on 6 October, only a few hours before their first first-class match (in Group B) in the current competition against Rajasthan.

Until the very last minute, the JKCA officials had not even bothered to name the captain. Instead, they unceremoniously removed Parveez Rasool, the team’s most successful player at Ranji level, as skipper.

The uncertainty about who would lead the team in Rasool’s absence caused the unwanted anxiety in the camp.

Mehboob Iqbal, former chairman of the JKCA and also a former first-class cricketer, told Catch that “Political interference in cricketing affairs is ruining the game of cricket in Jammu and Kashmir. The procedures are not followed by the JKCA officials. Unfortunately, cricket is not in the hands of cricketers. They (JKCA) are responsible for all the mismanagement.”

After the last minute intervention from some influential quarters, Parveez Rasool was retained as skipper while J&K team’s coach Mithun Manhas, a former first-class cricketer who represented Delhi in Ranji Trophy, was instructed to “not meddle in decisions like who should be the captain of the team”.

Sources in the camp reveal that many players from the J&K Ranji squad are unhappy with Manhas for his alleged “dictatorial attitude” and “intrusion” in matters like selection etc.

In an unpopular and controversial decision two years ago, Manhas was first hired as coach-cum-captain when the Rasool-led team had qualified for the quarter-finals in 2013-14 Ranji season. For most of his peak years as a batsman, Manhas played for Delhi in Ranji Trophy.

Well past his prime, his inclusion in the J&K team was seen as “post-retirement rehabilitation” at the expense of a star tearaway fast bowler Abid Nabi who debuted in first-class in 2004.

The 31-year old Nabi, once known as Shoaib Akhter of the Kashmir Valley and a “speed guy”, had represented Delhi Giants in the now-defunct Indian Cricket League (ICL).

Nabi’s first-class career is also very impressive. In only 30 first-class matches for J&K in Ranji Trophy, he has claimed 108 wickets with six 5-fors and nine 4-fors.

Five seasons back, Nabi was told that he was “not fit”.

“I worked hard on my fitness. Played in all cricket tournaments in the Kashmir Valley and outside the state and in most competitions was adjudged player of the tournament. What else do I need to prove?” Nabi told Catch.

A dejected Nabi believes that his “peak years have been ruined by the JKCA officials”.

Besides being a competent first-class player, Nabi is also known as a proficient all-rounder in the shorter version of the game.

“Over the last three seasons I have won most Player of the Tournament awards,” he said.

In 2005, Nabi also played seven matches in Minor County for South Yorkshire in which he claimed 38 wickets. He also played in the ICL and bowled at Pakistan’s test skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq.

A long list of wrongs

Like Nabi, another speedster who has been constantly ignored by the selectors and JKCA officials is 31-year old Sameer Ali.

Ali made his first-class debut in 2005 and has only played 15 matches in 12 years. He has claimed 31 first-class wickets.

Zahoor Sofi, another medium-fast bowler, has been continuously ignored by the selectors.

Similarly, a young aggressive opening batsman Adil Reshi who top scored with a 160 not out in one first-class game has also been sidelined. He has amassed 1,627 runs with a century and nine fifties over 27 Ranji matches.

Other players who are ignored include Imran Haroon, who scored a century (102 not out) in his debut first-class game against Bengal in January 2015.

On the contrary, players like Majid Dar managed to play 27 first-class, 13 List-A and five T20s with a mediocre batting average of 17.81, 10 and 11.61 in three formats respectively.

Issue of biases & failed mechanisms

There are many questions being raised about the two selectors Zahoor Bhat and Arshad Bhat, both former Ranji cricketers, as on what basis did they select the team when no two-day games in the longer format or major tournaments in the limited format were organised by the JKCA this season?

Two years back, elections for the JKCA snowballed into a major political controversy between the opposition National Conference (NC) and the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP).

After a lot of drama the JKCA – a tainted cricketing body because of a multi-crore scam – witnessed coup d'état after 44 out of its total 64 members convened a meeting of the Working Committee to do away with former Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah as president of the cricket association.

Imran Raza Ansari, Minister for Youth Services and Sports and Information Technology in the PDP-led coalition government, replaced Dr Abdullah as president of the JKCA. Abdullah had been president of the cricketing body for a record 35 long years.

At that time, Imran Ansari told journalists in a press conference that – “the new body is here to stay; our legal team will take care of the legal issues. Majority (46 JKCA members) is with us, we have already started working for the betterment of cricket and infrastructure development.”

But nothing changed on the ground, as political interference in cricketing matters continued unabated. The new body under Ansari failed miserably in defending the body’s constitutional and moral position on run cricketing affairs in Jammu and Kashmir.

Presently, Iqbal Shah, Abdul Rauf, Mohammad Ashraf, Javed Kitab, Rakesh and Sudarshan Mehta are acting as JKCA’s General Secretary, Treasurer, Joint Secretary, Vice Chairman (Kashmir Wing), Vice Chairman (Jammu Wing), and Joint Secretary, Jammu, respectively.

...and then the scams

Apart from club politics from influential clubs like Srinagar Gymkhana, Amateur Cricket Club (ACC) and Sangam etc, the JKCA is also under the scanner because of a multi-crore scam. The officials stand accused of illegally syphoning off money and depositing it in separate branches of the Jammu & Kashmir Bank.

In June 2012, Abdullah had assured that “all guilty officials will be brought to justice” but even after five long years the pace of the investigations into the cricketing scam has been extremely slow.

JKCA bodies, under the previous National Conference or the present PDP governments, have been accused of offering lucrative contracts to players like former India skipper and ace leg-spinner Bishen Singh Bedi, left-arm spin bowler Sunil Joshi and now former Delhi batsman Mithun Manhas. And this despite the fact that Kashmir is known more for producing quality fast bowlers like –

– Abdul Qayoom – 152 wickets in 47 games

– Samiullah Beigh – 158 wickets (eight 5-fors and five 4-fors) and 1711 runs (one century and nine fifties) in 60 first-class games

– Abid Nabi – 108 wickets from 30 games

– Umer Nazir

– Mudhasir Ahmad

– Mehjoor Ali Sofi

– Sameer Ali

– Zahoor Sofi

Rohit Sharma

– Ram Dayal

– Parveez Rasool has claimed 164 wickets (nine 5-fors and six 4-fors) and amassed 3,440 runs (eight centuries and 16 fifties) in 60 first-class games

JKCA had hired services of Bishen Singh Bedi for Rs 1 crore in the 2012-13 season while another former India player Sunil Joshi was brought in as the coach for Rs 35 lakh and Manhas for an equal amount in spite of the fact that J&K team had qualified for the quarterfinals in Ranji under local coach, Abdul Qayoom.

Also, under the previous regime, a certain female was promoted as JKCA’s media manager without any credentials, eligibility criterion or sports background.

Sadly, cricket in Jammu and Kashmir is often in the news for political interference, scams, corruption, nepotism, favouritism, unprofessionalism, club politics and selection biases etc and hardly ever for sporting achievements.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 13 October 2017, 14:42 IST
Gowhar Geelani

Gowhar Geelani is a journalist, commentator and political analyst from Srinagar. He was formerly with Deutsche Welle, Germany.