Parvez Rasool wants to do what he can to make the state’s future in the game brighter.
In an exclusive interview with Dafanews, the torchbearer of erstwhile state – Jammu and Kashmir – Parvez Rasool talked about how his career shaped to become lone international cricketer from the volatile Kashmir region. He further maintained about the niceties of cricket, J&K cricket, his struggles and future goals.
Not long back, I met Parveez Rasool near the Mohan Lal Higher Secondary Bijbehara School ground, watching a bunch of children play cricket as they waited for the captain of the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) team to arrive. The ground is fenced by poplar and chinar trees to the west. To the east, there are a few mulberry trees, and last June, they were decked with juicy fruit.
When Rasool and I sat down to chat at the far end of the open ground of the school he had once studied in, the students made a beeline to shake hands with the star of the state. Some of the students had partaken of the mulberry fruit during the lunch break and their hands and clothes were stained with the blood-red juice of the fleshy fruit. Rasool still shook their hands, while they sat around and even posed questions at times.
Now, Rasool, 31, is the calm and celebrated captain of the state cricket team. Known as Parry to team-mates, Rasool seemed to be camera shy in his early days of limelight, when he came to attention due to his exploits in the Ranji Trophy. Well-built and broad-shouldered, with a trimmed beard, Rasool was mostly attired in designer Oakleys and Reebok. Yes, he has come a long way.
In 2009, he was questioned by the Bangalore police after traces of an explosive material were allegedly found in his kitbag – an incident that keeps coming back to him, one that reminds him of the struggles he had faced before he became a symbol of success for the state when he donned the India cap in 2014.
His birthplace, the picturesque Bijbehara, approximately 40km south of Srinagar, is now densely populated. It is known for bat manufacturing, temples, and the majestic old chinar trees that line the roads and gardens and serve as a feast for the eyes.
At one point, the walls of stores and barbershops had photos and posters of celebrated players who are setting the tone for cricket betting like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Virat Kohli, Saeed Ajmal, Shahid Afridi, MS Dhoni, and Inzamam-ul-Haq plastered all over. In between, six out of ten posters were of Rasool. Such was his recognition.
Several state cricketers in past decades have honed their skills at the maidans and streets of different districts across the valley.
Rasool wants proper cricket grounds and organised district-level cricket. As of now, J&K has only a few venues, including college grounds, and a handful of turf wickets. Matting pitches are rolled out during the summer for all tournaments organised across the valley, and Rasool has decided to prepare a few turf pitches with his own money recently.
“I want to prepare turf wickets for budding cricketers, since we are lacking behind even compared to newly formed states like Jharkhand. Mostly the season is dominated by winters, and we need at least one indoor academy for practice,” Rasool to DafaNews in an exclusive interview.
“Whatever I had faced during the journey of my cricket has been with me only. Young players need exposure, and I want to do something for my state. There is a need to produce more players like Samiullah Beigh, Umar Nazir, Shubham Khajuria and so on … the friendliness in the team is the real reason for success.”
Coming from a family that took its cricket quite seriously, Rasool played the game at Islamia High School as a wicketkeeper-batsman. His father was his first coach, teaching him the grip and basic techniques. His journey to earning an India cap was tougher than it is for cricketers in other states, who had turf pitches and indoor academies to sharpen their skills at. Rasool played in paddy fields, on streets and in courtyards.
“I had been in love with batting and wicketkeeping, and when the stitching of gloves went off, I used to stitch it back myself most of the time. Sometimes, the needle sticking in my palm made me cry,” recalls Rasool. “But that was the love for cricket and for our equipment that we had. Things have changed now, with everything available more easily and technology making everything easier. But lots still has to be done to improve the status of the game in J&K.”
But, with Rasool, his struggles are almost as significant as his success in more recent years.
“I had great support from the family to play cricket as it was not easy in this part of the world. It was the passion and I felt there is a future when I had played at the Under-19 level,” he says even as his fingers twirl his phone around, almost as if he is itching to have a bowl.
“My brother has always been there through thick and thin. He is a man of principles. When I used to hit the windows of our neighbours’ houses, he used to take the blame and pay for the damage. Such was the love among us, but we fought too over the minutest of the things.”
The season for cricket in the state, unfortunately, coincides with school examinations, and several young sportspersons understandably choose to sit for those rather than spending time at trials and practice camps and tournaments. However, that trend is changing now.
“I used to board the bus from Pantha Chowk to play cricket at Sher-I-Kashmir Stadium. The journey was quite hectic and sometimes I used to reach the stadium too late for practice. But I believed in my talent, and that kept me going,” says Rasool, his gaze often shifting to the action in the middle.
Rasool practiced for hours with Abdul Qayoom Bhagaw, his childhood coach and mentor. He also trained himself by watching videos, mostly during the winters when there was no access of grounds because of the snow.
‘Chances make the best out of a player’ believes Parveez Rasool, the first player from J& K to bag a lucrative IPL contract with Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2014.
Bhagaw introduced Rasool to the City Cricket Club in 2005, and advised him to concentrate on bowling spin rather than keeping after seeing the drift, loop and turn Rasool was getting during practice. Then Bishan Singh Bedi, who coached the J&K side in the 2011-12 season, honed Rasool’s craft further. Bedi helped bring about accuracy and boosted Rasool’s morale too.
In the 2013-14 Ranji Trophy, J&K sealed their place in the quarterfinals with Rasool taking 7 for 87 in a close Group C game against Tripura. Rasool’s presence in that J&K team was key. Not only was he the star player, the sense of unity he helped bring about in the side helped in a big way, and the team made it to the knockout stages of the Ranji Trophy for the first time.
In that quarterfinal then, against a strong Punjab side that included Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh, Rasool took a five-wicket haul and scored a century, although Punjab still proved too strong for J&K.
Earlier, debuting in 2008 in the Under-19 team, Rasool had scored 525 runs and had bagged 23 wickets in a season to mark a strong presence. With coaches changing every year, it was difficult for players to gel and rectify their mistakes. Rasool’s induction somehow had made it easier to unite a bunch of players from two different regions, which has often not seen eye to eye politically and culturally.
“The Under-17 coach Rajesh Dharr once said, ‘Parvez you can play for India’. I remembered that when I heard that I have been picked for the Zimbabwe tour. I was overjoyed and delighted. It was dream come true,” says Rasool.
Rasool’s induction into the national team came on the back of solid performances – in the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy, he finished as the leading run-getter and wicket-taker for his side, with 594 runs at 54.00 and 33 wickets at 18.09 from seven games. That first earned him a place in the India A squad that played England in their one-day warm-up match in New Delhi. India were playing Pakistan then, and with the third and final One-Day International scheduled in the same city, Rasool was called up to the Indian nets on the eve of the match alongside Ishwar Pandey and Mohit Sharma.
In February 2013, Rasool was picked for a Board President’s XI side to play against the Australians before their four-Test series against India. He not only took 7 for 45 in the first innings, but also made a vital 36 with the bat, sharing a century stand with Ambati Rayudu.
“I felt I could do more in my game when I took the seven-wicket haul against Australia. After that stint, I was asked to play for four IPL (Indian Premier League) teams – Mumbai Indians, Rajasthan Royals, Kings XI Punjab and Pune Warriors India [This was before uncapped players were included in the auction]. But I had already committed to Pune as they approached me first, even before my performance against Australia, so it was the ethical decision to play for them,” reveals Rasool.
In 2014, Rasool was chosen for the Lala Amarnath Award for the best allrounder in the country’s domestic circuit. And the following Ranji season, he led an inexperienced J&K side to victory over Mumbai, the 40-time champions, on their home ground at Wankhede Stadium. It was the first time that J&K had beaten Mumbai.
In the 2014 IPL auction, with all uncapped players in the pool, Rasool was sold to Sunrisers Hyderabad for Rs 95 lakh. “Chances make the best out of a player,” believes Rasool, who was also the first J&K player to bag an IPL contract.
Rasool’s performance earned him a spot in the Indian team that toured Zimbabwe in 2013, but he didn’t get a game in the five-match series, which India swept 5-0. Later in the same year, he was part of the India A squad that toured South Africa.
In September 2014, the river Jhelum breached its embankment after torrential rains and submerged Srinagar, parts of central and south Kashmir. Rasool’s house was severely affected as well, as he and his family were left stranded on the first floor of the house with the ground floor underwater for several days. Cricket across the region was obviously abandoned and the valley was cut-off for a couple of weeks.
“Those were the most difficult days of our lives, not only for us but for all Kashmiris who suffered during the floods. I saw cars floating, communication broke down and I felt all the hard practice we had put in for the Ranji season was swept away too. The visuals were heart-wrenching and I travelled on a boat in swirling waters to extract the kit bag from the car, and kept it at the safest place I could have found at that time,” recalls Rasool.
Leading from the front, playing an active role in the success of his team, uniting team-mates, and putting his state on the country’s cricket map, Rasool has already done an enormous amount. And if he can do all that he plans to within the state as far as the next generations of cricketers are concerned, he will certainly be remembered for a long time in this part of the world.
Recently, under the helm of Rasool, the erstwhile state J&K made it to the quarterfinal for the third time since their insertion in the premier first-class competition in 1956-60.
In 82 first-class matches, Rasool has scored 4,807 runs at an average of 37.85. Besides, he has slammed 12 hundreds and 20 half-centuries.
With the ball in hand, in 131 innings, Rasool snared 266 wickets at an average of 29.31. The star off-spinner has 17 five-wicket hauls apart from 11 four-wicket hauls and three ten-wicket hauls to his name.
Tahir Ibn Manzoor is a freelance journalist based in Kashmir. He has previously written for Al Jazeera, Gulf News, ESPNCricinfo, Cricbuzz, Dawn and other international publications. He Tweets @Tahir Ibn Manzoor