The BCCI announced the inclusion of Kashmir cricketer, Rasool, in the India Squad for the ODI series in Zimbabwe and the India A squad to South Africa. From an unfortunate episode with the Karnataka Police to the IPL and now the India squad, Rasool’s is a fascinating story
By Shalabh Manocha
The second day of the new year in the capital, when most in the city were either reeling from the festivities of the previous night or staying warm indoors, the Indian cricket team was braving the dipping temperatures and icy cold winds at a practice session at the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium. Just ahead of the last of the three-match ODI series against Pakistan, as the Men in Blue walked out for a nets session, a fair young man with sharp features stood out. It wasn’t just his appearance that made him so conspicuous. The 23-year-old Parvez Rasool Zargar from Jammu and Kashmir was a new face, one that had not featured in this squad before.
He looked slightly ill at ease, but not because of the chilly weather—he grew up in temperatures much lower than this. It was the discomfort that comes with the realisation of your biggest dream. He looked perplexed, like a young boy on his first day of college. It was perplexity born out of the responsibility that he was going to undertake. What he had achieved, after all, was a feat not many from his state could boast of. There must have been many questions going though his mind as he accompanied the seemingly nonchalant stalwarts to the nets that day. It was just a practice session. But, for him, it meant the world. Was he even good enough to be with the men he was with?
He represents J&K, a state that has been through some torrid times. Terrorism, for one, took its toll on Rasool’s personal life too, just as it affected the lives of many other boys growing up in Kashmir in the 1990s. But what set him apart was his ability to flower under the cloud of adversity. He remained focused and continued to strive for excellence in the sport he had always
aspired to pursue at a serious level. His hard work paid off when he caught the attention of selectors and was picked to play for the India A side against England in a warm-up ODI in December. He became the first J&K cricketer to play in the India A team.
However, had it not been for his courage and the support of loved ones, Rasool too could have lost his focus and wavered, especially after what he went through in 2009. On Oct. 18 that year, the state’s U-22 side was turning up to play a C.K. Nayudu Trophy match against Karnataka in Bengaluru. The team arrived in the city a day before the match and was lodged at the Chinnaswamy Stadium guest house. The Champions League was also going on at the time and a game between Victoria and Cape Cobras was to take place at the venue that evening. The police were going through their routine frisking exercise and security drills when they barged into Rasool’s room, shared with teammate Mehrajuddin.
The police were frisking the players’ kitbags when, suddenly, one of their devices buzzed. An officer peered inside the suspicious bag and found some particles that the police thought to be remains of an explosive. From young cricketers, Rasool and Mehrajuddin quickly turned into suspects. Coach Abdul Qayoom, who is also Rasool’s childhood coach, was called by the police and told that the two players would be interrogated at a police station.
“I told them that I would not let them go alone,” recalls Qayoom. “I accompanied them since I knew they were innocent and there had been some misunderstanding.”
The news spread like wildfire and the Champions League game was delayed. Soon, there were frantic calls from Bijbehara village near Anantnag in Kashmir where Rasool lived with his family.
“My phone rang the whole day. I got calls from Rasool’s family. They were very worried. Meanwhile, one after the other, various security agencies kept on asking the youngsters the same questions,” adds Qayoom. “Though I wasn’t worried about the fact they would come out clean, what disturbed me was the effect it could have on the two when they were back.”
Needless to say, for Rasool, the incident was difficult to forget, and even more difficult to make peace with, at least then. “At first I was shocked when they said that they suspected it to be some kind of explosive. The media also hyped the incident and my family members got very worried,” says Rasool.
The entire day was spent answering questions about who he was, what he did and communicating other details about his family. Finally, late in the evening and after Qayoom assured the police that he would cooperate if the team found anything against the two players, they were allowed to leave.
It was still a tense evening ahead. “I called him to my room. He looked nervous. I told him that it was over and that he should not worry about what happened,” says Qayoom. Another thing that the coach told Rasool was to “score big” in the game the next day. And Rasool did exactly what he was told, playing a brilliant knock of 68. After the knock, he said, “I am not a terrorist, I am a cricketer. I played the game with only cricket in my mind… possibly that is the best way I can respond.” He would later add, “I even thought of quitting. I couldn’t sleep the whole night after the incident.”
A few days later, Rasool was given a clean chit. The police also apologised to the cricketer, saying that the forensic tests had proved that there were no explosives in the kit. They also mentioned that the frisking instrument they had initially used to check the bags might have had some technical glitch.
Not letting the incident bog him down, Rasool used it to come back stronger and more determined. “I just didn’t think about it much. There have been people in our part of the world who have seen worse, so I, in a way, was lucky,” he says.
It was a bitter pill to swallow, but Rasool had decided to move on and concentrate on the sport. And, although it took the world almost four years to take notice of his talent—he was selected in the India A squad only on Jan. 2 this year—he always strived to give his best on the cricket field after the Bengaluru episode. Before his India A call-up, he had scored 165 against Haryana and 167 against Delhi in the longer version of the game. This Ranji season too, Rasool delivered both with the bat and the ball. He amassed 594 runs with two centuries and a half-century with a highest score of 171 not out. He also picked up 33 wickets with three five-wicket hauls, his best being 7 for 41 against Assam.
“I think he can contribute in both the departments,” says Qayoom. “People consider him more of a bowler but, according to me, he is a batting all-rounder.”
Former Indian spinner Bishen Singh Bedi, who is also the bowling coach of the J&K team, feels Rasool has what it takes to play at the highest level. “He’s very promising,” he says. “I’m happy to know that he has performed like a champion this season.”
Rasool, on his part, modestly credits his success to the former India skipper. “Bedi sir has a huge role in my success. Initially, I was a batsman who could bowl part-time off-breaks but it was on his insistence that I began to concentrate more on developing my bowling skills,” says the youngster. “When someone of his stature tells you that ‘you are the best off-spinner in the state’, you feel that you are special. Then you start working extra hard to repay the faith he has shown. He gave me tips about how to use variations in flight, and how to use the loop effectively and decide
on field placings according to the batsman’s strength.” Amongst players, Rasool idolises Sachin Tendulkar. With regard to
bowling, he is an ardent admirer of England off-spinner Graeme Swann. However, he is still waiting for his chance to
interact with the two greats.
On the surface it looks like any other struggler’s story, but if you scrape deeper, you find Rasool’s struggle is much more than just that. It is also an inspirational story of a boy who dared to chase his dreams even in the face of grave dangers. He had grown up in an era when you could follow the game on television, but not play it yourself in the Valley. “I remember, during my playing days, a terrorist outfit sent a warning letter that I shouldn’t play cricket for India or in India,” he says. “Yes, when I was growing up there were these (terrorism) problems. But over the last decade things have been fine, there have been no such issues.”
Not limited just to terrorism, Rasool’s is also a story of a child who wanted to play a sport, but the region he belonged to didn’t have proper infrastructure to support his dream. It is something he still feels strongly about. “We don’t have enough facilities,” he says. “There are only two turf wickets in the Valley, one at the Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium and the other one at Kashmir University in Srinagar. Apart from this, we have one turf wicket in Jammu. I hope the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA) will look into this matter and provide us even better facilities in future.”
Even when there were no issues regarding the security and infrastructure, there were financial constraints. Although his
father, Gulam Rasool, and elder brother, Asif, have both played domestic cricket for the state, the Rasools belong to a humble background. Gulam is a driver and could barely afford to meet the needs of a
modern-day cricketer with regard to the equipment and facilities required. This is where Qayoom stepped in again. “His dad found it hard to support him financially. I was playing for the state and Air India when he began, so I used to have a couple of sponsors who would give me cricketing gear. I knew this kid was talented and I didn’t want his talent to go waste, so I gave him whatever he required at that stage,” says Qayoom.
Therefore, it is also a story of conquering all odds.
As he is fast climbing up the ranks, finances today are not a problem. In today’s IPL age, even a first-class cricketer can get by relatively comfortably. Rasool also sees the IPL as a good platform to steal the spotlight and has been for the trials of teams like the Rajasthan Royals, Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings XI Punjab for the past five years. “Maybe my performance will get noticed by the franchises and, hopefully, I will also get an opportunity to play the league one day,” he says.
Coach Qayoom also feels Rasool is ready for the shorter format. “A season ago, KKR assistant coach Vijay Dahiya told me that he was good, he only had to work hard on his fitness. Now that he is an improved
cricketer in every aspect, I think he is ready for this version. Perhaps, this season, some of the franchises might be interested in him,” Qayoom says.
But Rasool’s ultimate dream is to represent the senior national side. Considering his clarity of purpose and priorities, that dream might not be as far-fetched as it sounds.