SRINAGAR: The future of cricket in Kashmir is heading to complete darkness due to inaction from the responsible authorities. Harmful mat cricket is being encouraged and the fee structure set without any accountability. As the administration fails to act, motivate and regulate, a large number of youth have started giving up their interest and love for the game.

"Strokeless wonders of the valley who have failed in the trials held by the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA) over the years are dominating in mat cricket across the valley. This is resulting in zero opportunities to young cricketers who have the caliber to represent J&K at different stages. They are killing the future of Kashmir silently," said Shahid Khanday, a cricketer from Tral in south Kashmir.

Over the years, cricket in the Kashmir valley has come up as the sole game to receive loads of attention and popularity among sports lovers and players. Yet the game has witnessed a lot of transitions that have almost killed the future of Kashmir. Zubair Dar, one of the senior cricketers of north Kashmir who has headed the Baramulla Cricket Club (BCC) Reds for nearly a decade now, says cricket in the valley has become more of a business now.

"Organisers fix a hefty amount of fee for tournaments and don't bother to provide any facility like refreshment or the main infrastructure and proper wicket for play. No wicket is properly maintained," he said. "The mats used by these organisers are years old and ruin the potential of the player. Even now mat cricket is encouraged, which is directly impacting the future of upcoming talented youth with the potential and skills to make Kashmir proud."

Citing an example from his district, Zubair said the Baramulla Cricket Forum had pooled money to prepare two separate dugouts and a proper turf wicket and developed the required infrastructure.

"It took us around 4 lakh rupees to prepare the turf wicket. We pay 12,000 to two local boys for maintenance of the wicket. We have a bank account that is open to accountability at the Jhelum Stadium in Baramulla. We share all the details including the expenses and fees collected from teams on social media platforms."

By contrast, he said "No tournament body across the region is held accountable for collecting huge amounts of money as fee and spending a very low amount. No one asks them about the fee structure and the whole sum of money collected from teams without giving any facilities."

Zubair, who is also general secretary of the BCF, said tournament organisers are well aware the administration won't give them prepared and developed infrastructure and that they are responsible for the same.

"They charge a huge amount of money as tournament fee as per their will. Some tournaments even charge 25 to 30,000 rupees fees but don't even provide the basis that are required."

Overall, he said, cricket in the Kashmir valley is just a money minting industry.

"There is no quality cricket which is actually required at the levels ahead. The fee structure set by self-styled organisers is unjustified and can't be justified. They do it at their will and there is no check from the competent authorities."

In recent years the valley has witnessed a drastic change in the game. "Kashmir is left without a sense of cricket, quality and discipline. Youngsters don't get any chance to showcase their talent and potential given how more money is involved," he said.

Another cricketer, Aabid, pointed out that the "BCCI has already banned mat cricket but still it has huge prevalence to a great extent in the Kashmir valley. We are failing to prepare our talented guys for longer formats at professional levels. Undoubtedly there is immense and diverse talent in Kashmir but the current situation is killing the future of cricket in Kashmir."

Waseem Lone, a cricketer from Baramulla who lost his father years ago, has left playing cricket for the last couple of seasons in view of the fee structure.

"I'm telling you very honestly I left playing cricket for the last 2 to 3 years with the reason being the hefty amount of fees which I'm not able to afford, though I still have love and attraction towards the game. But in recent years this game has become a source of gambling for those vested interests who organise tournaments for their own good," he told The Citizen.

Waseem said these organisers don't even bother to give chances to young players by not asking teams for their squad for a particular tournament, which is a rule. "As a result some teams bring players from parts of the Valley and India to have their team win the prize money. They are able to do it only after getting hand in hand with the organising body."

While on the ground the reality is something else apart from a hefty amount of fee the grounds and pitches are not maintained to a level of good cricket. Pitches are lying in ruin and still, the tournaments are organized to make money alone. Players say they are made to face tough times by these organizers. No refreshments or any privilege is given to any of the players during the games.

And despite mat cricket pushing the future of youth to the wall, sources say that in some places the government had even sanctioned turf wickets, but still, mat cricket is being promoted in these places, and the whole sum of money has gone into the pockets of those district association members who are hand in hand with these organizers to bring ruin to this game.

It was a different story in 2014 when the valley's lone cricketer Pervaiz Rasool was "auctioned" by an IPL franchise and later inducted into the Indian cricket team. It was a source of encouragement for the youth of Jammu and Kashmir, with many other valley based cricketers making it to the IPL like Manzoor Dar and Rasikh Rasool, Abdul Samad and Umran Malik from the Jammu division.

Also the debut of the famously known Jammu express Umran Malik with the Indian cricket team was more encouraging for the youth in recent times. All of this attracted more youth towards the game.

Now Shabir Khanday, the cricketer from Tral, says the future of cricket is dying a slow death. Citing the example of a tournament there, he said an organising body has announced plans to start a tournament in which 32 teams are allowed to participate.

"Entry fee is 7 thousand rupees for each team. Entry fees of 32 teams take the total sum of money up to 224,000 rupees. Irony is that the organiser is announcing the winner price of Rs 70 thousand only and half of its amount to the runners up team. They will collect the ball fee as well. This will go to them as well," says Shabir.

"Cricket in Kashmir has become a tool of business for self-styled organisers who are making money without any check from the government and JKCA in particular. Organisers who even collect tournament fees up to 3 to 4 lakh rupees give away only 50 thousand or 1 lakh winning price while the rest of the money goes to their pockets pushing the true essence of the game into the bin." He says it's the same everywhere else in the valley.

Sheikh Junaid, who was adjudged the most valuable player in the recently concluded Kashmir Premier League, while expressing concerns said that neither the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association nor Youth Services and Sports provides any infrastructure like turf wickets. A lot of former players of J&K have worked to bring an end to mat wicket but to no avail.

Saying that the cricket mafia is going on in the valley, he stated that under the vigil of JKCA a body must be constituted in each district of former senior players to fix tournament fees, and later as the tournament culminates the organiser held accountable.

"A proper audit of each tournament must be done to bring an early end to this so that the future of cricket is not choked like this," he said.

About the strangling of opportunities for youth jeopardised by a few vested interests, Junaid said that a lot more money is involved, leading to less opportunity for local youth. "In these tournaments preference is given to the money, not the talent of a youth. All of this is not going in favour of cricket, rather business."

Meanwhile the JKCA continues to be controlled by politics and politicians.

In June last year the BCCI appointed a three member committee to run its affairs. The committee includes former J&K skipper Mithun Manhas and two Bharatiya Janata Party spokespersons, Brigadier (Retd) Anil Gupta and lawyer Sunil Sethi.

Majid Dar, a valley based cricketer, was also appointed by BCCI to look after the development of cricket in Kashmir. The committee was formed after the High Court of J&K and Ladakh directed the BCCI to take up the cricketing affairs of JKCA due to alleged mismanagement.

Majid Dar while agreeing said that due to all of this happening in Kashmir, players registered with the JKCA are not allowed to participate in the unauthorized tournaments organized in the valley. "We want to bring the system back on track," he told The Citizen.

"Mismanagement has been going on for years now. We can't change things in just one go, it'll take some time but slowly things will change," he said. "The malfunctioning will come to an end like non cricketers running the affairs of cricket. We are taking appropriate measures to ensure quality."

About the unauthorized tournaments, he said "Next year we plan to issue a notification and direct the players that no one can play without the permission of JKCA." Agreeing that a handful of cricketers are being allowed to dominate across the valley, he said it's because they are not associated with the JKCA, resulting in their participation in almost every district.

Asked about the self-styled organizers and their fee structure, Majid said that no players who are not registered with the JKCA have approached them with any written complaint against a particular organizer or tournament. "If something comes to us in writing we will act."

And on the high prevalence of mat cricket in the valley, he stated that players who desire to play quality cricket must avoid playing these local tournaments on mats without a proper wicket. "We welcome all the under 16 players across the valley to avail the turf wicket for practice at JKCA for their good future," he said.

Caption and credits: Sher-i-Kashmir stadium, credits: Facebook/Divine Baseer