By Anznoo Wasim
Bijbehara, my birth burg, besides the town of chinars, was once popular for its cricketing talent of its youth. The game was played with passion even in the worst of the times here. People from all walks of life, irrespective of age and occupation, used to follow the game fervently. Every big game played here used to be discussed by all for weeks together till a new event was organized. All the famous Cricket Clubs of the valley used to enjoy playing the game here. And, the support of the locals was always for a better playing side.
Such was the enthusiasm of the game among the inhabitants of this place that they used to occupy the better viewing patches of the field from morning onwards. This is despite the fact thate two parts of the town were separated by river Jhelum sans any connectivity then. Traditional boats (Shikaras) were used to ferry people across the river. Cheering crowds, including men and children, used to come in droves for watching their favourite players in action. These included many from different parts of the valley as no distinction was made. The crowd never disappointed the winning side from making their triumph special.
Few local players like the speedster Abdul Qayoom Bagow were eulogized as International cricket stars. Even their net practice sessions used to attract a good number of fans watching it. For rookies of the game taking part in these practice sessions along with the seniors was taken as a big stride towards achievement. They used to boast of carrying the kit bags of these doyens of the game in their personal conversations. If any of them would be given a chance in some non-important game after years of toiling hard, they would take pride in it for many times to come. We as children used to mimic the seniors in their style of playing the game.
This is only one side of the game. On the other hand in the matches between the local clubs like Bijbehara Cricket Club (BCC) and Shamsu lhaq Cricket Club (SCC)the upsurge would be like that of an Indo-Pak cricket match. The crescendo used to reach its zenith when the opening batsman of SCC, Iqbal Mufti used to face the deadly bouncers from the operate bowler of BCC, Abdul QayoomBagow without putting on the helmet. Remember , J&K is yet to produce anybody who would come close to the bowling skills of Mr. Bagow. The crowd used to remain on its toes till both of them were face to face. The match used to be like a festival for the locals. Trophies won by any of the team in the final, anywhere, used to be paraded in the whole town by its players and fans on top of any vehicle amid cheers and slogans.
The playfield of the Higher Secondary School Bijbehara was cherished as our version of Lords Cricket Ground. The performance made there was the benchmark in determining the talent of any player and locals always deem and care for it like that of SCG and MCG. Treading the boundary line of the field while match was going on was inconceivable on our part. Playing on the green mat spread over the concrete turf on the field was every local cricketer’s dream. They used to chase it passionately thereby adding class and quality to the cricket played here. It would be no ordinary game for them they used to invest their time and resources to reach here. And, spectators also were not oblivious of this fact. Theyon their part would try to make their each moment on the field blissful forever.
Tournaments like Manzoor Memorial Cricket Tournament inviting best cricket clubs all over the valley were organized round the year. Wonder Boys Srinagar, a famous and successful Cricket Club of its times, was the most sought after team in terms of followers. The cricket played here used to be of good quality and players playing it of fine class. It was for the reasons of such a high profile matches played here that many of the elite class players were produced here.
But , times took an ugly turn. The passion vanished pretty rapidly than expectations. The hustle and bustle witnessed there once has gone- perhaps forever. The youngsters are no more inclined towards the game despite having all the facilities available unlike the past. The playfield has lost its sheen which it once was cherished for. Cricket Clubs of good repute are not seen now playing here and the tournaments, sometimes, organized are not worth the time to be spent watching them.
Earlier, the game was played simply for passion and drive alone but now professional constraints have limited its appeal among the rural population. If the role is not played now in promoting the game in such areas , no more youth would be seen adopting it. The talent and desire to play it is there but the platform to chisel and harness it for better is missing. Players like Parvez Rasool were produced by the momentum and encouragement of those times. But the future of this game here seems to be as drab as the situation of the ground now it used to be played in.
—The Author is PG Mass Communication & Journalism, University of Kashmir. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org