As Jammu & Kashmir fought to stay alive in their Ranji Trophy quarter-final against Karnataka, a dapper-looking government officer, who was in Jammu to attend meetings and finalise a tender for the installation of a water treatment plant, rushed to the Gandhi Memorial Science College ground to watch "my boys" attempt to do the unthinkable. He could've easily been in the tent meant for VIPs, but instead chose to sit and watch with the general public.
Police officers on duty waved to him, a few players from the J&K bench walked up to shake hands during the tea interval while on a jog around the ground. Match officials, who've seen him from close quarters, smiled at him.
Until three years ago, he was one of J&K's key fast bowlers. Samiullah Beigh, the former captain, retired in 2017 after a run-in with the erstwhile administration. He says he hasn't stepped into the JKCA office since, but keeps a close tab on the team.
"You see, I've been a rebel of sorts," Beigh tells ESPNcricinfo. "I've always called spade a spade. JKCA hasn't honoured me in retirement or even during my playing days, but I have no regrets. Not many stand up for what is right, I did and I'm proud of that. Whatever issues I had was with JKCA, the players are dear to me, that is why I'm here."
Beigh leads a busy life these days. He has a bachelors degree in Civil Engineering and a masters degree in Structural Engineering. He currently works as an Assistant Executive Engineer in J&K's Public Health Engineering department, with a team of 150 employees under him.
He travels around the state for laying and installation of pipe networks and water filtration plants. It is one such assignment that has brought him to Jammu. He was to return to Srinagar, where he lives, the same day, but the temptation to watch "my boys", many of whom he's shared a dressing room with, was hard to resist. He even extended his stay to see if J&K could pull off a first-innings lead, and upset favourites Karnataka.
We're watching Shubham Khajuria and Suryansh Raina confidently bat against Karnataka's pace attack. As he speaks, one eye is on the game. As and when ball hits the middle of the bat, he yells out words of encouragement.
'Played, Chintu' he repeats regularly. Khajuria is nicknamed Chintu. The two were one-time team-mates, Beigh a senior by a decade. Today, Khajuria is their leading batsman, a senior player. and Beigh is far away from the team, even if he'd like to contribute to the growth of cricket in the state.
"I've spent more on flights from my pocket, more than the match fees I earned initially, to fly back home to write exams during my B.Tech. Selectors would tell me on my face, 'You won't get a chance.' But in club cricket next year, I used to do even better, so they couldn't ignore me."SAMIULLAH BEIGH
Last year, Beigh earned a coaching degree for junior cricket from Cricket Australia. He runs an academy in Srinagar which he founded with a few "like-minded people". His day typically starts early with coaching, before he sets off for field work stretching to "10-12, maybe even 14 hours at times." Such a routine can be draining, but Beigh says this is a life he has been used to since he was a teenager.
"I came from a studious family. I'm the only rebel," he laughs. "My younger brother is a doctor - ENT - my sister is a teacher, my mother a teacher and father was a revenue officer. There was no sports background to speak of. So once I told them I was serious about cricket, they said you can go, but you can't miss exams, you can't fail exams. So wherever I went, I used to carry my books. So I'm used to this intense schedule.
"When I finished engineering in 2006, I got a scholarship at the MRF Pace Foundation after impressing in the trials. I spent five months learning the ropes of fast bowling under Dennis Lillee. It used to be two sessions of cricket, with a lunch break. Evening used to be our fitness work. And then at night, I used to go back to my room to study for GATE (an entrance exam for post-graduation degrees in Engineering).
"I used to also teach Varun Aaron and Dhawal Kulkarni, they were in Class X or XII. So we used to all train in the morning until 4.30-5.00 pm, and in the night, we used to freshen up and sit to study in our rooms. This is how it was for six months. That is where I learnt the ABC of cricket. Whatever I did outside that was all natural ability. Because we didn't have coaches here who were qualified enough to tell us what our weakness was, so in the name of coaching, our natural abilities were being compromised. The MRF stint was an eye-opener."
Beigh's first-class career may have lasted 15 years, but he truly found his peak only after 2008. Prior to that, he was in and out of the team, mixing cricket with engineering. In his first five years, he featured in just six first-class matches as a result.
"I've spent more on flights from my pocket, more than the match fees I earned initially, to fly back home to write exams during my B.Tech," he says. "Selectors would tell me on my face, 'You won't get a chance.' But in club cricket next year, I used to do even better, so they couldn't ignore me.
"But I also made mistakes, I never told them I had to miss matches for exams. I used to cook up excuses. 'Important call from home', 'mother not feeling well' - she wasn't yes, but not so bad that I had to miss matches. I had thoughts of focusing completely on studies at times because cricket had no career security. My first match fees was INR 1500 per day. For five one-dayers, I received 7500 INR. It was a very small amount.
"Giving up studies was a heavy risk. I played it safe, that's the one thing I keep thinking about. If it would've happened now, I would have taken the risk. Now, even if you don't make it to the top, if you're a domestic stalwart and play a few IPL seasons, your career is secure.
"Even after 17 years, my parents tell me, 'You could've done better in studies'. Now, that perception is changing among people and parents. I was given no relaxation for sports during my graduation and masters. They realised only after I finished that I could do it, because I was made captain."
"I used to also teach Varun Aaron and Dhawal Kulkarni, they were in Class X or XII. So we used to all train in the morning until 4.30-5.00 pm, and in the night, we used to freshen up and sit to study in our rooms. This is how it was for six months. That is where I learnt the ABC of cricket. The MRF stint was an eye-opener."SAMIULLAH BEIGH
In 2007, Beigh received an offer to move to Railways. It brought with it not just the promise of playing for a "slightly better team" but also job security. But the basis of that offer was to do with his cricketing abilities. On a flat, Karnail Singh Stadium deck, he bent his back to pick up five wickets against a strong Railways side. J&K lost but Beigh had made a mark.
"There was an upsurge after my MRF stint," he remembers. "I was on the brink of getting neglected forever by my state, but word got around that a J&K fast bowler is here. So I remember, once I returned, I was picked for a match against Railways in Delhi. Sanjay Bangar was captain. That is the match that changed my career.
"After the match, Bangar spoke to a few Railways authorities, and they handed over an appointment letter as an engineer that evening. It was a posting with Western Railways, so I had to move to Mumbai. It was an awesome feeling; he didn't even ask me if I had a job or anything. He felt if I had to play at a better level, I had to choose a better team, because J&K was going nowhere those days.
"There was logic, I was convinced, but I didn't want to go to Mumbai, because it'd mean settling down there forever. Somehow, I also felt the job didn't resonate with my profile. I felt it was too small a job, a Junior Engineer, non-gazetted post. I thought for career's sake I can sacrifice, but for how long? I talked to my family, they didn't agree. Here, we're all attached to our families. If any other state offered me, I could've played during the season and returned home after it, but for a full-time settlement outside, it didn't feel right. But in that match, I realised I had the potential."
Beigh gave up on the offer, just like he had a year earlier when he was offered INR 75 lakh by the Indian Cricket League. "Dhruv Mahajan, Abid Nabi had left, so I didn't feel the time was right. The team needed me," he says. "I spoke to my parents too, and they weren't in favour of the cash. Karsan Ghavri was one of the team coaches, and he'd sent me the contract papers. He'd seen me in a game in Tripura, so he wanted to sign me up with the team he was associated with. As difficult as it was to tell him no, I had to do it."
From 2009 to 2015, Beigh enjoyed his best years for J&K. It coincided with the side's first-ever appearance in the Ranji Trophy quarter-finals in 2013-14. Rewarded with a promotion to Group A the following season, they went on to upset Mumbai. He also led the state in the same period.
"As J&K cricketers, we learn to cherish small things in life," he says. "Some people may say, 'so what, it's just one win', but they wouldn't know the struggle for that one win. For me the progress we made despite all our challenges, both administrative and political, is a big win. There is real passion for cricket here. People are crazy about the game, but don't know how to go further. If this game is in Srinagar, I can give it to you in writing: there would've been 5000-6000 people."
The day's play draws to a close. Beigh is ready to leave, but delays booking his return tickets. J&K end on 88 for 2, and the first-innings dream is alive. He calls his superiors and informs them of a change in plan. "I've taken leave till Monday," he says. "My team doesn't get here often. I have to be here when they do, right? Hopefully they will qualify."
Beigh's passion for cricket is a mere reflection of the love the region has for the game, and he wishes the system becomes more streamlined than it was when he started off as a confused teenager. "That's the dream. When kids can fearlessly say they can manage both cricket and studies here. One day, one day, it will happen."
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo