The armed guards at the gate of Sher-I-Kashmir Cricket Stadium in Sonwar, Srinagar - a high-alert heavily secured area - check every passing vehicle thoroughly. “Trials ke liye aaye ho?” a guard asks me. I nod; he lets me pass.
Overlooking the famed Zabarwan mountain range, Sher-I-Kashmir Cricket Stadium, despite being poorly maintained, is incredibly beautiful. Flanked by large Chinar trees, it provides the perfect scenic setting for a great game of cricket.
Trials for the upcoming Ranji season are on at the practice pitch that lies adjacent to the main ground. Bowlers assemble under the harsh September sun listening intently to the instructions they are getting from a burly man wearing a hat. The batsmen, meanwhile, are putting on their pads under the shade of the Chinar trees, waiting for their chance at the nets.
Jammu and Kashmir’s first match of the upcoming Ranji season, against Rajasthan, is scheduled on the 6th of October away from home.
Just like in the rest of India, cricket has a huge following in the state. Salim (name changed), 25, has travelled all the way from Anantnag – 70 Kms from Srinagar – for the trials. A right-handed batsman, and occasional bowler, he has been waiting for an opportunity to get on the pitch all morning. He finally got his shot and took the crease to face a ferociously fast bowler. He missed the first two deliveries; they slipped right past him. He connected on the third, managing to edge it squarely into the vacant gully.
Three deliveries in, he was told the selectors had seen enough; the looks on their faces indicating that he failed to make an impression.
As he walked out of the nets, Salim was visibly annoyed with himself. He was upset. But deep inside he wasn’t expecting to get selected anyway. It was hope that brought him to the trials, not conviction.
These trials were, after all, the first time he was playing on a turf wicket. “We play on mats. This was a new experience,” he says with a smile. “I couldn’t judge the bounce or movement of the ball, and I got kind of nervous. I could have done better.”
Salim, however, wasn’t the only one at the trials uncomfortable playing on a turf wicket. Firdaus Ahmed, also from Anantnag district, was just as disappointed. He was in the nets before Salim and got to face only a few deliveries before being told he was done for the day.
“Let’s see what these guys will do in the season,” Ahmed says with contempt.