India takes on Zimbabwe in a 5-match One Day International (ODI) series starting July 24, 2013. On paper, this is a no-contest (despite India having only an average record in Zimbabwe historically) – India is the number 1 ranked team while Zimbabwe is currently one of the worst ODI teams.
However, this series is important for a few individuals – Virat Kohli will finally come out of the giant shadow cast by Mahendra Singh Dhoni and captain a side on his own, Mohit Sharma will look to translate his IPL Potential into national colors and Cheteshwar Pujara will try to prove he is not just a Test player. But perhaps the man who which this series matters the most is a certain Parvez Rasool, the first player from Kashmir to get a India senior team call (Suresh Raina is of Kashmiri origin, but that’s a deeper story beyond the scope of this post)
In 2009, I first heard of Parvez Rasool. He was detained by Bangalore police on charges of carrying explosives that caused a blast outside the Chinmaswamy Stadium just before an IPL Match. I follow domestic cricket keenly, but here was a cricketer I had not heard of. I asked around, nobody did. An internet search showed he played his cricket in Jammu and Kashmir.
Now Jammu and Kashmir is not the strongest of cricket teams (despite the fact that some of the best cricket bats are produced from Kashmir willow) playing domestic cricket in India, and Rasool back then wasn’t exactly setting the cricket scene on fire. Then the usual politics began, and Rasool, as an individual somehow slipped into the background and from our memory.
Cut to the 2012-13 Ranji trophy season. Jammu and Kashmir still wasn’t doing anything remarkable, but Parvez Rasool was. He was the highest wicket taker and run scorer for the side and was easily one of the top-of-the-mind all rounder of the season. His name began to be taken with respect in sports journalist circles and was widely tipped to be the first cricketer from his state to make it to the India-A team. What they didn’t expect was him to go a step further
Rasool was born into a cricketing family – his father and 2 brothers have all played or are playing at different levels. He idolizes Abdul Qayoom, another cricketer from Kashmir who did well in First Class and List-A cricket in the mid-80s to early 2000s. He grabbed whatever chances were given to him, which a lot of cricketers have failed to do, and ended up with a 7-wicket haul vs. Australia in a 3-day match as part of the India-A team. This propelled him to an IPL contract with Pune Warriors India (where he generated a bit of controversy by refusing to wear a sponsors’ logo which offended his religious sentiments, something which Hashim Amla of South Africa also does) and finally, when a few senior cricketers were rested, a place in the Indian senior national team.
For once, this is a superlative achievement. Rasool’s selection cannot be seen in isolation and cannot be compared with a selection of any other Indian player. Here was a man who has played in one of the most disturbed areas of the country. Young men of his age have taken up arms and have either fought for or against the Indian state. Rasool has admitted that he has been used as a political pawn many a time.
The facilities, infrastructure and the cricket administration are nowhere close to as some of the cricket powerhouse associations like Tamil Nadu, Mumbai and Delhi. Yet he has toiled on, despite the system – (he reminds me of Novak Djokovic, the current Tennis World Rank 1, who came up by playing in war-torn Serbia where he used to practice in empty swimming pools). If all these were not enough, he was suspected of being a terrorist – this 24 year old young man has indeed seen a lot.
But then, there have been good Samaritans to help him along the way as well. Bishen Singh Bedi, the former Indian spin great, coaches him. Allan Donald, one of the greatest bowlers of all time, has been his mentor at the Pune IPL team. His fellow 24 year old and captain Virat Kohli has high regards for Rasool as an individual and cricketer. I sincerely hope that he gets to be part of the playing Xi in Zimbabwe as well
What Rasool’s selection means to the valley
By his own admission, being a cricketer from Kashmir has not been easy. People have hounded his family saying cricket is a form of entertainment and he should stay away from it, separatists have issued threats against playing for India and a few coaches, team mates and selectors have either looked at him with sympathy or disdain
But these are not normal times. Despite Central and Kashmir Government trying their best to reach out to the youth in the valley, there have been protests every summer against what they consider a heartless and apathetic administration that ignores or hates them. Separatists use this anger and disillusionment to further their anti-India agenda and incidents like the one in Ramban this year further adds to the mistrust
In this volatile situation, it will be young men like Rasool who will act as the bridges and help to build trust. Yes, there has been an Indian Administrative Service topper from Kashmir and a few other successful Union Public Service Commission candidates, there have been journalists, authors, film-makers and even other sportsmen, but then, no one of them has been a cricketer. They say, in India, cricket is the biggest religion and unites all. It is still the favorite pastime and topic of discussion across the length and breadth of this country.
One of their own becoming an icon, earning loads of money and then giving it back to develop infrastructure will be a massive boost to cricket in particular and sports in general (already, selectors are looking favorably towards the state and another player Shubham Khajuria has made it to the national Under-19 side). I can only hope and pray this will channelize the energy in a positive way and reduce trust deficit on both sides. Finally, India can do with a good spinning all-rounder as a back-up / competitor to “Sir” Ravindra JadejaJ, and young Parvez Rasool fits the bill