Cricket in the time of floods
On Thursday Samiullah Beigh, Jammu & Kashmir's senior-most and best fast bowler, went to the suburb of Nishat, about eight kilometres outside Srinagar, to attend his friend Tariq's funeral. Though it's unclear how he died, it has been suggested that Tariq, volunteering to rescue victims caught in floods that ravaged the north Indian state, might have been electrocuted while clinging to high-tension power cables, a survival tactic thousands were using as water levels rose dangerously.
On September 7, the river Jhelum, the lifeline of J&K, breached its embankment and submerged not only remote districts of the state but also Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, half of which continues to lie under water.
Cricket, then, is the last thing on anyone's mind. Beigh last played cricket on September 1. Heavy rains washed out the Ranji Trophy trial matches, scheduled to start on September 3. The ongoing Downtown Champions League, a local T20 tournament, also had to be abandoned. Three days later, the flood waters entered Srinagar. Beigh was at a relative's place in Buchpora, a town on an elevated level on the outskirts of Srinagar. But in Allochi Bagh, in the commercial heart of the capital, Beigh's family was not so lucky. Jhelum was raging and houses were fast filling with water. Phone and power supply had been cut. "The last thing I heard from my sister was the ground floor of our three-storey house was under water. That was on the afternoon of September 7. For half the following week I did not hear from them," Beigh recollects.
Beigh's tale is similar to that of J&K captain Parvez Rasool, who was stranded along with his family, trying to stay afloat above the fast-rising flood waters in his house in Bijbehara in Anantnag district, about 50 kilometres from Srinagar. Rasool had seen cars floating in the water from the third floor of his house but had taken the risk to extract his kit from the boot of his car in the nick of time.
"The last 15 days have been the most difficult days of my life," Rasool says over the phone, explaining it's still difficult to get a phone signal in Bijbebara. "Every year or alternate year, floods cause some damage, but this year, it was worse than I could have ever imagined. All the vehicles in my neighbourhood were washed away. At least 125 houses have been badly damaged. Even houses constructed on elevated structures above flood levels were virtually submerged this year."
Back in Srinagar, Beigh used makeshift rafts to join the relief squads. On the way he was heartened to meet fellow Ranji team-mates Obaid Haroon, Zahoor Sofi, Sajad Sofi and Abid Nabi. "I was delighted to see Nabi alive, because, according to reports, Pampore, where he comes from, was one of the most severely affected," Beigh says. "No one among us can even think playing cricket because we are yet to recover from the shock and the loss due to the floods."
Beigh says most of the state's cricketers depend on the game for their livelihood, so the current situation is going to affect them badly. But he doesn't know whom to approach for help.
The Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association offices are housed in Srinagar's Sher-i-Kashmir Stadium, which is reported to be still under 15 feet of water. The players usually train at the stadium because the facilities are better than any in Jammu. ML Nehru, the JKCA secretary, believes it is highly unlikely any cricket will be possible in Srinagar this year since winter will set in two months and the grounds will soon be covered by snow. "We still cannot really say that the situation is under control. There are plenty of boys who we have been struggling to get in touch with, across age groups. The natural calamity was so severe that all the grounds in Srinagar are still submerged. Though the situation in Jammu is slightly better, all the wickets are severely affected, so we are not really sure when will things get back on track."
According to Nehru, the selection trials' matches for various age groups will need to be moved to the Science College ground in Jammu. But Beigh is uncertain about the inadequate facilities at college ground. "The problem is there are no facilities in Jammu. There are no practice pitches. There is only one turf wicket, which is in the central square and needs to be utilised for the four home Ranji matches, so it needs to be preserved."
Rasool is anxious to get on with his cricket as he is likely to feature in the Duleep Trophy starting in October. If the Jammu ground is unfit, he may consider moving to Delhi and practise on his own.
Both Beigh and Rasool hope the BCCI will step in and help the players.
"If the BCCI could help us train at NCA, or some good facility outside J&K, that could be a solution," says Beigh. "In a month the domestic season will start. In November the domestic ODIs will start followed by the Ranji season in December." The BCCI is "very cooperative", Nehru says, without elaborating on any plan of action. "They have assured as that they will extend all sorts of help we will require."
Nehru says without help the JKCA's hands are tied. "The Under-16 tournament starts early in October and I doubt if we can participate in it. I doubt if we can conduct the selection trials of the kids and it is not advisable for the kids to travel at the moment. We will explain the situation to the board and take a final call."
Beigh is confident of bouncing back if help is offered to J&K's cricketers. "Provided we get the best facilities during our preparation in October," we can put up a good show. Without that I am not sure we can even participate in Ranji Trophy."
Rasool is equally confident. "Till the floods, we were playing trial matches, were training hard, but now cricket has taken a backseat. If it's difficult to restore the facilities even in Jammu, it would be better if our training camp is moved out of the state."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo