From the mountainous Kulgam district in Jammu & Kashmir to steaming Mumbai, it will be a long journey for Rasikh Salam Dar when he takes his place in the Mumbai Indians squad for the 2019 IPL. Dar, a 17-year-old right-arm fast bowler who has hit speeds of 135 kph, has a lovely inswinger and a dangerous yorker, and was signed by Mumbai Indians for INR 20 lakh (approx US $27,000).
Dar's reputation began to grow with the hat-trick he took in a practice match at the Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium. He excelled at a district-wide T20 tournament earlier this year, was drafted into the state's Under-19 team, and finally moved up the ranks to play for the senior side in the Vijay Hazare Trophy in October. With a skiddy action that bears a resemblance to that of Pakistan's Hasan Ali, and a desire like Shoaib Akhtar to instill fear in batsmen, Dar took three wickets in two List A matches during the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
His next stop was the Mumbai Indians nets. This came about after he was spotted by the franchise's scouts during the Under-19 Cooch Behar Trophy, where one of his performances included a six-for. At the nets, he went through a trial with some of his fellow fast bowlers, and come the day of the auction he received the news that he had been picked up by the former champions for the upcoming season.
"I am yet to come to terms [with the selection], so is my family. As an individual, I am very excited and equally happy to be the part of Mumbai Indians' camp. God willing, if given a chance I will give 100%," Dar told ESPNcricinfo. "It's a proud moment for me to play alongside Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh. I am looking forward to learning tidbits from Lasith Malinga. In many ways, he is a treat to watch when it comes to hitting the right line and length."
That he has shot to such widespread prominence in a state where cricketing infrastructure hasn't always been great makes his story all the more compelling. Jammu & Kashmir has only one ground with a turf pitch - and the players can use it only when the weather permits. As recently as March, there were no indoor facilities. Nevertheless, it was his performance in the Burzhama Premier League, a privately organised district-level competition, that helped him gain visibility. And seniors such as J&K captain Parvez Rasool and Irfan Pathan, who has joined the team as a player-cum-mentor, have contributed to his growth.
"I've been very lucky to be nursed by a star player like Irfan, who represented India at the highest level." Rasikh said. "It has to be quite an achievement to be remembered for a lifetime. Also, the support of Parry bhai [Rasool] in itself has been immense. I had worked hard to go up the ladder and I have a long road ahead."
Rasool, the first cricketer from J&K to represent India, said he was proud to see the assembly line produce players like Dar. Until that district T20 tournament - Rasool says it was the first of its kind in J&K - Dar had been a virtual unknown. He used the stage to showcase his talent and now has the chance to break into a larger playing field.
"I am very glad he had made it all through," Rasool said. "I wish him luck for the future prospects. He has worked hard to shape himself up as a young rising star from the valley."
Former J&K captain Samiullah Beigh urged Rasikh to stay focused. "I hope that boy keeps his head down and utilises this opportunity to learn. I have not seen him bowl yet but have heard a few good things about him. The onus is on him to see whether he gets blown away by the limelight or uses this opportunity to grow and succeed."
All Dar has to do is live up to his name, literally. "Rasikh" means stability in Kashmiri. He has age on his side and is aware that he has the perfect setting to improve. "I often try to work on my basics and execute them to perfection. Whenever I fail to deliver, I go back to the shed and do shadow practice. I have always been a greater believer of making things happen rather than sitting back to live by daydreaming. Fast bowling pushes me to return stronger than before. I'm eager to cash in on the opportunity by the grace of god."
He also credits the efforts of J&K coach Milaph Mwande and attributes his success to his brother Irfan Salam Dar and cousin Nadeem Ahmed in his journey so far.
"Indeed, it's a matter of pride for all of us," his father Abdul Salam Dar said. "We've always backed him to study hard. While following my son closely I found him excelling in co-curricular activities and then I thought let us give him the room to prove his credentials on a wider scale."
There can't be many wider than the IPL.
Tahir Ibn Manzoor is a Kashmir-based sports journalist. He tweets cricket @TahirIbnManzoor