Beigh hopes country taps into J&K's fast-bowling reserves
On a good pitch in Baroda, few gave Jammu & Kashmir a chance in their first Ranji quarter-final in over a decade, especially against a Punjab pace attack touted to be one of the strongest in the country. Harbhajan Singh, the Punjab captain, had a smile on his face when he saw the conditions in Baroda; he played three pacers. J&K went one step ahead; they fielded four.
Allrounder Parvez Rasool had a role to play in their last two matches of the season, but J&K's rise has largely been scripted by their seamers. Samiullah Beigh, Mohammed Mudhasir and Ram Dayal featured in all nine matches the team played this season, and shared 95 wickets among them. These bowlers could stake a claim for being arguably the most consistent pace trio in the country. In the first innings in Baroda, another seamer - the tall and lanky 19-year-old Umar Nazir - impressed with his pace and bounce, picking up four Punjab wickets in the first innings.
Beigh is the leader of the pack with 35 wickets this season. He feels the team has managed to grab the attention it has yearned for in the past, and now it must show that this season wasn't a fluke. As for fast bowling, it's comes naturally to most cricketers from his state, he said. "There is something in the food, the geography, the genes... we like to bowl fast there. There are at least five fast bowlers after us who also deserve to be in the side. In J&K, you need to be a very good fast bowler to play. It's been like that in Kashmir. Our coach [Abdul Qayoom] was a very good fast bowler too."
But being able to bowl fast is just one of the things one needs to become a successful fast bowler. Another thing one needs is to be in the right place at the right time. Being in a smaller team like J&K, as Beigh says, has been a handicap in the past.
Beigh made his Ranji debut in 2003 and played cricket while pursuing a degree in engineering, but only after finishing his degree - and thus securing a future - was he able to fully concentrate on the game. He was one of the seven players handpicked in 2006 to undergo a camp at the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai. Out of those seven, only Beigh has not gone on to represent the Indian team.
"I was there for six months and I learned a lot from Dennis Lillee sir," he says. "He used to rate me quite high and said that I had it in me to reach the top. He used to say that I would be very unlucky if I didn't get to play for India.
"From 2007, I could play cricket seriously. In the first season, I took 25-odd wickets, got into the zone team, but didn't get a game. In 2008 or 2009, I took 25 wickets in five games and scored 300 runs as well, got into the zone team, but wasn't included in the eleven. In the one-dayers, I got 10 wickets in five games. I got selected for Deodhar Trophy, but still no game. So that has been the story so far. I make it to the zonal level, but they don't play me."
Beigh, like a number of players in the country, could have chosen to move to another state to further his chances, but after completing a masters in structural engineering and getting a job with the J&K public works department, it wasn't a feasible choice.
"I got offers to move out.. I played a game against Railways and got a five-for against the Sanjay Bangar-led side," he says. "They offered me a job because they wanted me to play for them. But I had just got a very good job and I couldn't leave and my parents didn't want me to leave either. The next year, I was offered a place in the Himachal team, but my government job didn't allow me to play for a different state.
"Sanjay Bangar still tells me that you spoiled your career and even TA Sekar sir, he also wanted me to change the state because he said I would never play for India from Kashmir. But considering all things, I could not move."
Being from J&K has also brought other kinds of problems. In 2009, Rasool was detained by the police in Bangalore. This season, the team hotel was searched in the middle of the night, in Jammu, while a Ranji game was on. Beigh was the first one to protest.
"We haven't got anything against or for anybody, but when you see you are being treated differently, then it hurts," he says. "A common person doesn't even know that J&K play cricket.. Now that we are doing well and people are getting to know us, these things will automatically go down."
The success this year has brought recognition and Beigh hopes that their performances don't go unnoticed when the IPL happens. Beigh was once part of the 2010 Deccan Chargers squad. His bowling partner, Mudhasir, once featured in the Kings XI squad in the first season.
"I don't blame IPL teams to have overlooked J&K in the past," Beigh says. "The feeling is that it's a troubled region, and no one plays cricket there and there are only one or two players. But this year we have done marvelously well. The kind of cricket we have played this season, we expect at least five or six of us to play in the IPL this season. We are very hopeful that we'll be given a chance."
It will be a step forward, Beigh feels, and just like Rasool's popularity has brought focus to the cricket in J&K, it will open doors for more players. He says there is a thriving fast-bowling culture in the state which needs to be tapped into, but needs support. Beigh, the senior pro, is doing his bit to inspire the next generation.
"A few days back, Nazir and another U-19 guy, Rohit Sharma, who is also very good, they were bowling in the nets and I spent some time with them sharing some technical tips. And I was shocked when they said, 'Bhaiyya humne apna action aap par hi model kiya hai (We have modelled our action on you).'"
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo