It’s Only a Game

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Photo: Abid Bhat

The faded red cherry left the young bowler’s right hand. Matthew Wade, the aggressive Australian cricketer, charged. The delivery was a flighted off-breaker. A perfect deceiver. The stand-in Aussie skipper misjudged the length, sending the ball high into the air to be caught at long-off. For Parvez Rasool Zargar, the 24-year-old Kashmiri all-rounder, it was his “most cherished, career-best” wicket. He took six others in the two-day warm-up between the Indian Board President’s XI and the touring Australians last month.

He also scored 36 runs, the second highest in the first innings. “Taking wickets and scoring runs tastes different now,” says Parvez. Having already reached the highest level of cricket played by any Kashmiri, he now presents the Indian selectors with a luxury problem: how to fit him into the side at international level. He was raised in the pro-Azadi bastion of Bijbehara in South Kashmir, amidst gunfire and curfews that lasted days. “Parents wanted their children to study,” says his father Ghulam Rasool Zargar, “to become doctors or engineers. But I always wanted my children to follow cricket.” Ghulam himself was a roller operator in the government’s mechanical engineering department, but perhaps his passions were more engaged in the cricket he played at district level. The growing civil unrest in the Valley put paid to any cricketing aspirations he might have had but he was determined that things be different for his boys, Parvez, Asif and Umar.

All three have represented Jammu and Kashmir at tournaments. “You have to be lucky to be born into such a family,” Parvez says, “for whom cricket is more than an amusement, a game for kids who can’t excel at science or mathematics.” His supportive father and cricket-playing brothers aside, Parvez also found a mentor in Abdul Qayoom, once the poster boy of J&K cricket. Qayoom, who also happens to come from Bijbehara, spotted Parvez as an 11-year-old at the local sports club where he coached children. “When I first saw him in the nets, he would bat well and keep wickets. Then, one day, he insisted on bowling to the tail-enders. He finished them off one by one and then I knew he was a talent, a real all-rounder.” Parvez went on to play club cricket in Srinagar at various levels; he played for another youth team, coached by Qayoom, that travelled extensively, giving him experience under all conditions. Another marker of his promise, Qayoom says, is how quickly he picked up what his coaches were trying to show him and how easily he adjusted.

Parvez’s appearance belies his athletic prowess. Of average build, with short hair, a long nose and brown eyes, he looks humble, though the intensity of his gaze may hold your attention longer than most. He’s shy too, religious, loath to talk about things other than cricket. He won’t even speak of the time in November 2009, when the police in Bengaluru accused him of carrying explosives in his kitbag. A few days later, the forensics report exonerated him completely. Rajesh Dhar, a working committee member of the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA), another of Parvez’s mentors, recalls, “At the airport, a sniffer dog began to sniff at his bag. Parvez keeps his Quran in the bag and was reluctant to have the dog come too close. This evoked suspicion and there were all these media headlines about explosives and terrorists.” Parvez proved his mental strength though, telling Dhar that the incident only made him more determined to become a professional cricketer. He was true to his word, scoring four consecutive half- centuries against the formidable bowling attacks of Karnataka and Kerala.

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