Sports has always proved its worth to create a healthy nation and a sense of nationalism in the hearts and minds of the dwellers. In India, one such sport is cricket which has its roots to colonial rule and a rich heritage to admire. The game is often treated as a religion in the nation and this feeling blends into a single heart beat “India”. Cricket is the glue that holds the people of the country together and symbolizes peace and harmony. Indian Cricket has seen various cricketing sensations who in their paramount contributed a lot to make India a leader in the cricketing universe. Earlier players used to come mostly from the major cities like Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta and Madras etc., but now raw talent is coming into national and international diaspora with the advent of IPL and many small-scale tournaments with talent hunt agendas. In a country of wide ranging topographical, cultural and linguistic diversities, cricket is one of the major unifiers that help further the nationalist grand narrative.
Kashmir valley which was a dormant state in the Indian cricket till early 2000s has now sprung and providing a great amount of talent. Many talented players of Kashmir had suffered in the past due to militancy in the state and could not make it to the international level, however cricket was always one of the sports that encouraged youth of Kashmir valley to prove themselves at the national level. Cricket as a sport is immensely popular in the state. It is a sport that plays a therapeutic role as it allows locals to escape the realities of their dreary political situation. The rise in militancy in the 90s affected the growth of cricket in the region. Abdul Qayoom bagaw, who was the leading wicket taker for J&K and later coached the team, is one such prime example. Back in 1992, he had taken 86 wickets after just four seasons of first-class cricket and was poised to make the transition to the national stage soon. A death threat was signed by the militants warning him not to play for India which lead to the end of career of the ace. Though, later on Qayoom got back but was never the same. This is one such example, however, a generation of promising cricketers saw their careers sacrificed due to militancy and political upheavel. Others like Mithun Manhas had to leave state to continue their career.
The economic state of the nation has improved a lot and India winning 2 world cups in 2007 and 2011 made the country a well-deserved leader in the same. The improvement in the infrastructure, cricketing facilities, more avenues like IPL and the hardwork of former cricketers in the valley led a pathway to this new generation of players. Cricketers like Mithun Manhas, Abdul Samad, Parvez Rasool and Umran Malik has made into the IPL and international Indian cricket squad. These players are well known names and youth icons for the young aspiring players. Parvez Rasool received his maiden call-up for the national team in 2013 for the Zimbabwe tour and debuted against Bangladesh on 15 June 2014 and played a T20 against England in 2017 with bowling figures of 1/32. Cricket in J&K is also inspiring women cricketers to take the sport as a career. Jasia Akhtar from the Shopian district of Kashmir is one such name who is performing to the name of the valley and became the first women cricketer from J&K to be selected for the Indian women’s national cricket team.
Indian Govt has realized the influence of Cricket in the region and many opportunities are being created to connect the youth to the mainstream India. Indian Army who has been actively contributing to maintain the peace in the valley by conducting Sadbhavna events, also grabbed this sport to drive the youth towards nationalism. Kashmir Premier League aka KPL started by Indian Army and the government of J&K in 2011 has grown immensely popular in the valley which is looked upon by every cricketing fan of the valley. In the 2021 edition, Badgam Braves won the tournament by defeating Shahi Shopian at Sher-i-Kashmir Stadium on 29 August 2021. Indian Cricketer Yusuf Pathan was present as the chief guest in the final which was a great endeavor by the cricketer to inspire the young players. All these avenues and platforms are impacting the young minds of the valley, thus bringing them into the mainstream country and unifying them.
Under the Prime Minister’s development package for infrastructural developments an allocation of 45 Crore was announced and currently being utilized. T20 Cricket is rapidly gaining popularity and is not being utilized as a talent hunt but for also giving an institutionalized name to the sport. The State Cricket Academy (SCA) in Kashmir, which was set up for Rs 1 Crore under the “Khelo India” Programme has roped in thousands of players to form teams across 10 districts. The main motive is to promote the importance of cricket and sports in the militancy-hit areas of the valley.
In the coming times this sport can play a major role in nation building and connecting the northern most state to rest of the nation. With the growing infrastructure in Kashmir, cricket will be accessible to most of the districts of the valley and many talented players will come into limelight. The sport will also help to drive out the fears in the people of Kashmir against militancy and the ideology of “ONE NATION” sorted by the leaders of India during Independence especially by Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel will become stronger. As rightly said by the 11th President of India – Dr APJ Abdul Kalam “ Kash har Hindustani ke dil me jalti hui lou ko parr lag jayen aur uski parvaj se sara jahan roshan ho jaye. The day every Indian will understand the deep meaning of these lines, the bridge to peace will be crossed and harmony will nurture.