The state of Jammu & Kashmir holds a lot of promise in terms of cricketing talent, but when it comes to promoting that talent, it cuts a sorry figure. The only hope from the northernmost part of the country shines with Parvez Rasool, a consistent cricketer in the first-class circuit but often missing the bus when it comes to the national selection.
It would be apt to call his non-selection "unfortunate" rather than "simply missing out". Of late, he failed to attract any franchise bidding in the Indian Premier League. What kind of consistency and good luck can bring him in the reckoning again?
In an exclusive interview, Parvez Rasool talks about his dream, his struggles, and how is he a beacon of hope in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Congratulations on being adjudged the Best All-rounder by the BCCI for the second time in Ranji Trophy. How does it feel?
It's a great feeling. Whoever plays cricket wishes to be a part of such an achievement. Very less players are able to win it twice. It's a very proud moment for me and the state of Jammu & Kashmir. The state is not that highly ranked in the domestic circuit, so it matters a lot. I also won the Lala Amarnath award in 2013-14.
You have played just one ODI and an equal number of T20I for India. Did you feel that you were not given enough chances?
My game is constantly improving. The important thing is to get picked based on my performances. There are less opportunities. Whenever I am doing well, my name is being noticed. Last year, I got a call for the England T20Is and Bangladesh tour. My job is to give my best every time. Before the Zimbabwe tour in 2013, I had taken 33 wickets and scored 594 runs. I was picked but did not get to play a match in the five-match series. Earlier in the same year, I took 7/45 for Board President's XI against the visiting Australian team. The team played well against Australia too. Coming from a state where cricket has not developed much and still competing with performances like this, it is a great thing to do.
How did the IPL stint help you?
When I was picked for Pune Warriors India, I played only 8-9 games. I feel I should have got more games, be it IPL or the Indian team. The opportunities were less. I could have seen myself where I stand. Had I underperformed, it would have been a learning. I was obviously upset, but one should not be bogged down. I won the best all-rounder in Ranji Trophy for the second time in 2016-17. J&K reached the quarter finals for the first time ever in 2014-15. I got two wickets on my ODI debut against Bangladesh in 2015. It's always good to contribute for the state. I got 38 wickets and scored 629 runs in the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy. After that, I got a game against England.
It would have been a different thing had it been a Test match. I got a call from the Bangladesh Premier League. In the first year itself, our team reached the finals, and finished as the runner-up. I was also the best foreign player. They drop the contracts if you don't perform well enough. Last year, the team I played for won the finals. I am pushing myself to a great extent.
What do you think went wrong with your IPL auction this year? Was it expected?
I was shocked. I didn't expect to go unsold this year. I got 28 wickets in the domestic season, and 5 wickets in the Duleep Trophy in the first match. These things are not in your control, but that's how you learn. I try to perform wherever I can. BPL is competitive so I am trying to improve as much as I can by playing there.
What level of cricket are you playing in Bangladesh? Do you think it can be a stepping stone for your selection in the IPL?
I am playing as much as I can to better my performances. I got a hat-trick against Saurashtra in the Vijay Hazare last year. My T20 economy rate was also good. I managed to be on a hat-trick twice. I am working hard but I don't know the reason on my non-selection. IPL and all is fine, but the ultimate aim is to play at the highest level. If you don't play anything at all, it's very upsetting.
Being a senior member in the side, how do you plan to lift the status of J&K cricket in the domestic circuit and put it on the national map?
It will take some time to reach the level of cricket that a team like Mumbai has. The facilities do matter. It's been very unfortunate that the association couldn't prepare a ground since the last 50 years.
But now, the things have changed with CoA taking things into their own hands. Since the last six months, it has been a gradual change. There is much professionalism around, the practice matches take place, and the district tournaments that were always been ignored are now happening. There are 16 clubs in the district, cricket is our passion. Every district had a great turnout, the selectors came and shortlisted the players. Everybody is working hard. For the first time in history, the practice camps have now been set up three months prior to the start of the domestic season.
Till last year for the Ranji Trophy, we used to play the match straight after heading from the hotel without any prior practice. We reached Jaipur from Delhi, and next day against Rajasthan got the first innings lead. How can a player realise his potential in such conditions? The support of the association was next to zero. In Anantnag, I have made a couple of turf wickets from my own pocket. Small children are benefiting from it. I say give them facilities, they will become players on their own. When I first played first-class cricket, it was a transition from matting to turf wickets. Unfortunately, we are working on what the association should have done. CoA has signed a MoU with the government for providing 22 grounds to the state across different districts, and appointed me as the technical head in the cricket association. The process has just started for the first time in six months, and it is the best period. Those who were deprived previously are now getting the opportunities to play with better infrastructure.
What is the reason you think that the state doesn't produce enough cricketers at the highest level?
For the kids growing up, the setup was very bad. Even Tripura has better grounds. There was just one ground to play in the entire district. There should have been at least the basic facilities. Had it been even 50 percent of what the other states have, it would have been solved the purpose. We defeated Saurashtra who were in the finals later that year. Before that, we topped the T20 charts in the North Zone. The most basic thing is the availability of a good wicket. There was not a wicket to play on since many decades.
How has the political trouble in the Kashmir valley hindered the prospects and the progress of the game?
To be honest, that has never been the factor. If you see, mismanagement and unprofessionalism has always been the case. The people in the administration never wanted to work. Such things keep on happening. The best thing is Jammu doesn't have winters, we can play 12 months. Even in Srinagar, we can play six months. It is the only state in India where we can play non-stop cricket without a break, unlike other states in India where rains halt play for a period of three to four months.
If initiatives are taken, there can be a lot of progress. Every district tournament has almost 600 teams participating in the tournaments. The district of Baramulla has 140 teams, Srinagar has 200. Cricket should have a proper structure. A cricketer goes through a process that makes him better.
How has Bishen Singh Bedi encouraged you while he was the coach of your state team?
He was the first person who brought about some change in the state of cricket at our place. Whatever development has happened is due to him. We were not winning much in the last 30-40 years. He changed our mindset that do not go as a participating team, but as a competing one. Winning and losing comes later. Post that, we started winning matches. We defeated Mumbai at Wankhede and also defeated Delhi and Baroda in Vijay Hazare. Bishan Sir taught us a lot. Unfortunately, he left us early even before the contract ended because of the incompetence of the association. You don't treat a legend like this.
He did a brilliant job when he was there. Cricket is respected, he played a great role in grooming me as a bowler. It was the turning point of my career with him. He motivated to play for my country. He told me you are the best off spinner in the state and you will play for India soon. It's because of his eye on me, God and my hard work that I have come so far and I played IPL and India A. A lot of my firsts are attributed to him.
Cricket is a part of your family. How has it helped you over the years in the tough times?
If u see in our part of the country, cricket was not that popular. We were hardly winning anything and parents also didn't support much. If you stay on the outskirts, it was again very difficult. I was really lucky that my dad was a cricketer and he supported me. He never disallowed me from playing. He also played a lot of local cricket and let me play it too. Also, my brother has played Syed Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Hazare tournaments much before me. It's a really nice cricketing atmosphere in the family. I used to travel 50 kilometres for my practice with big kits and troubling others, but I am glad it has paid off.
What are the future plans, with respect to your state team and the national side?
Every cricketer wants to play at the highest level. I am working pretty hard. The selectors keep on looking for performers as per the requirement of the team. I am putting in my constant efforts.
Whom have you grown up idolizing?
As a cricketer, I have watched and followed Sachin Tendulkar. As far as my bowling is concerned, I have followed Graeme Swann, Saqlain Mushtaq and Nathan Lyon. Ravichandran Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh are the ones I look up to in Indian cricket. I used to watch Ashwin's videos for his bowling variations and picked up a lot from it. When I was with the Royal Challengers Bangalore, I spent a lot of time with Daniel Vettori.
What are your thoughts on Irfan Pathan's addition to the Ranji side?
We now have Irfan Pathan on board. For those players who watched him play on TV and to be able to play with him now is like a dream come true. He surely has a lot to contribute in every aspect of the game. He has also helped in a lot of initiatives to maximise the cricketing potential in the state.
Lastly, how was it getting back in action for India Red in the Duleep Trophy?
Last year also, I performed well in the Duleep Trophy and got the Man of the Match. I did not get to play the first match this time. But in the next two matches, I got 11 wickets. If you perform well at this level, the selectors keep an eye on your and it boosts the confidence. I am looking forward to the domestic season now. We won't win the Ranji Trophy overnight but we can get better and better.