Jammu and Kashmir always remains in the headlines. ‘Always’ really means all seven days a week. And ‘why is that?’, probably needs not to be explained. However, in a rare scene, there was some positive news coming out of the conflict-ridden place, earlier this year.
The erstwhile state was very close to doing an impossible by defeating one of the powerhouse teams, Karnataka, in the quarter-finals of India’s premier domestic cricket tournament, Ranji Trophy.
Although they fell short, lastly, a message still went out that there is no dearth of talent and passion in Jammu and Kashmir.
The struggle before the start
On August 5, when Article 370- which gave J&K a special status under Indian constitution- was repealed, everything came to standstill. Curfew on moment and communication was put in place for months. At that time survival was the prime aim, forget cricket or anything else.
Nonetheless, in spite of all this, the players came out of their houses and gathered at Baroda to prepare for the 2019-20 domestic season, where team’s mentor Irfan Pathan and coach Milap Mewada trained them.
With phone lines and internet shut, players had no idea what’s happening back home. However, they only had one thing in mind and that was to play the game they immensely love.
It would have been tough, without a moment’s doubt, but they fought it and fought it well. Now after some arduous days, it was time for Parvez Rasool and Co to show their strength in the ground.
They were all set, however, the rain played spoilsport in their first two matches of Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy as both the games were abandoned without a ball being bowled.
Dream run in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy
The wait finally came to an end as the J&K boys took the field against Jharkhand in the 3rd game. They lost the match despite putting in a hard fight in front of the star-studded Jharkhand side.
No, this didn’t let them down, of course it proved to be a gateway to success. They won four consecutive matches afterwards, leaving everyone surprised.
They were just a one win away from making it to the second round of the tourney for the very first time ever. Though they lost the race against strong Gujarat. This again didn’t stop them. Next target was the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy.
The competition didn’t prove to be very good for the team, however, they still managed to pull off a few good outings. They finished the tour with 4 wins out of 9 matches, ending at 6th place in the Group C points table. Now, the toughest challenge was waiting for them.
Unforgettable Ranji season
Before the team could start its journey in the multi-day Ranji Trophy, a bad news halted them. Captain and most senior player of the team, Parvez Rasool faced an injury, leaving him out of the team. The onus was now on a young team led by 21-year-old Shubham Pundir.
The J&K side, instead of complaining about Parvez’s absence, went out to write a new history. They pulled off outright back-to-back victories in the first four matches, making sure they sit at top of the table. With all-rounder Parvez joining them in the fifth game, the confidence doubled as the north Indian side continued its dominance.
Lastly, the side finished at top of Elite Group C, making it to the knockouts of the Ranji Trophy, only for the third-time ever since their entry in the tournament in 1960.
In the quarter-final, mega Karnataka though defeated them, at one point it seemed J&K might make it through. They were just 14 runs short of taking the first innings lead with 3 wickets in hand. However, the domestic giants showed their brilliance, piping J&K with ease at the end.
Back in the 2013-14 Ranji Trophy season, J&K made a similar stretch by qualifying for quarter-finals. Started next season by defeating the then 40-time-champions Mumbai in the first match. However, all of a sudden, they slipped from better to worse. Their performance-chart declined constantly just till this season.
They wouldn’t want to repeat the mistake this time around and only take higher steps. The main difference now is that there are several promising youngsters making their way unlike last time, when the team was dependent only on a few experienced lads.
Irfan Pathan, the former Indian all-rounder, will continue to mentor Jammu and Kashmir this season as well. While the likes of Parvez Rasool too shall drive the team. The youngsters need to step-up further and take J&K cricket to the next level.