Virtually every domestic cricket season in the last five years has begun with controversy and crisis at the Jammu & Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA). With less than a month before the Ranji Trophy is scheduled to begin, the JKCA and players are waving the red flag as the state's participation in the tournament remains in severe danger if the BCCI fails to inject fresh funds.
Both the JKCA and the players have communicated their plight to Vinod Rai, the chairman of the Committee of Administrators (CoA), seeking his urgent attention. Earlier this year, the CoA, at the behest of the Supreme Court, had asked the BCCI to stop disbursement of funds to the state associations unless they made written submissions in the court stating they would implement the Lodha Committee recommendations.
Although the JKCA gave verbal assurances about implementing the reforms, there has been no written submission yet. With the JKCA talking about "pulling out" of the Ranji Trophy, the players, the biggest stakeholders, have now decided to intervene themselves.
On September 7, Samiullah Beigh, J&K's senior-most player, and a few other players met Iqbal Ahmad Shah, the JKCA secretary, at the Sher-i-Kashmir ground in Srinagar. Shah told the players that JKCA's funds were frozen in the bank, which could only be released subject to the BCCI sending a letter.
On Monday, Beigh sent an e-mail to Rai, asking him to resolve the "genuine grievances", saying: "Esteemed sir, I on behalf of all Ranji cricketers of J&K is addressing this plea to a man with impeccable record of honesty and delivery with a hope that our genuine grievances would be redressed on top priority," Beigh wrote in the mail.
"Few days back, we as senior players had a meeting with JKCA office bearers regarding upcoming season and its preparations. It is very unfortunate to say that they claimed they are without any funds to run the show. They even said that unless BCCI gives 'letter of authority' in our favour which we have to produce in the court, we may not be able to get released the money already present in our JKCA accounts."
Beigh pointed out in his letter that with the first-class season "just 20 days away", JKCA had not conducted pre-season preparatory camps citing non-availability of funds. The importance of pre-season camps, Beigh said, could be seen during the 2013-14 Ranji season - it was conducted three months prior to that tournament - when J&K made their maiden quarter-finals.
Shah claimed he informed Rai recently that without fresh funds, JKCA would be forced to pull its teams out of domestic competitions. Since the corruption scandal involving misappropriation of the board's money was unearthed in 2012, the BCCI has been strict about disbursing funds to the JKCA.
"Since 2012, when the scam [financial misappropriation] was unearthed, funding has stopped," Shah said. "Then, we received some funds which we used to run the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. But, after the Supreme Court judgment [on freezing funds to state associations not compliant with Lodha recommendations], funding was stopped, and our reserves have been exhausted. We have been severely hit."
Consequently, the players have suffered the most. The JKCA has not been paid its dues for the 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons. According to Beigh, most of the J&K players are "unemployed" and they need the money to keep their passion for cricket alive. "Most of us are unemployed and cricket is our sole source of income, and we are subsequently unable to even buy our cricketing equipment due to non-payment of dues by the BCCI. As such, I on behalf of all aggrieved players of J&K state humbly request your good self for personal intervention into the matter and direct the CEO of BCCI to resolve our issues on priority," Beigh told Rai.
Beigh told ESPNcricinfo that the J&K players were in favour of reforms being implemented but not at the cost of their livelihood. "We all want the Lodha orders to be implemented, there is no doubt about it. It is for our good, but not at the cost of players' livelihood. Our careers are at stake and we're all worried. Unlike other states where many cricketers are employed, we don't have too many players who have employment. Cricket is their bread and butter. We have to also bear expenses like for gyms, training, diet. None of these are taken care of by the association."
With inputs from Arun Venugopal