Jammu and Kashmir has a wealth of fast bowlers: 'We will see many more Umrans'

The emergence of Umran Malik has put the spotlight on the state's quick bowlers. Are there more like him? The answer seems to be a resounding yes

Interviews by Mohsin Kamal
Multiple games of cricket are on at a ground in Srinagar, August 30, 2020

There was never a dearth of cricket in Jammu and Kashmir, and fast bowlers abound in every team  •  Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images

When Umran Malik made his IPL debut last year, people began asking, "How many more undiscovered Umrans in Jammu and Kashmir?" The conversation grew more animated this season as 22-year-old Malik lit up the IPL. He sent down three of the five fastest deliveries of the competition (the fastest of them at 156.9kmph) and took 22 wickets - the second highest by a fast bowler in the season, just one behind Kagiso Rabada.
Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) have been among the weaker sides on India's domestic circuit. They have made it to the Ranji Trophy quarter-finals just twice in their 62-year history. But fast bowlers have always made a mark. A quick survey of the current J&K squads reflects this. In their 21-member squad for Ranji Trophy 2021-22, there were as many as eight fast bowlers. The numbers were similar in the various age-group teams.
At the IPL, apart from Umran and Rasikh Salam, who was a part of the Kolkata Knight Riders squad before he was ruled out with an injury, four other J&K fast bowlers served as net bowlers for franchises - Sharukh Dar and Umar Nazir at Sunrisers Hyderabad, Basit Bashir at Punjab Kings, and Auqib Nabi at Gujarat Titans.
We spoke to a few former J&K players and coaches about the past, present and future of fast bowling in the region.

Why is fast bowling so common in Jammu and Kashmir?

Samiullah Beigh, former J&K captain: The major reason is that the infrastructure in Jammu and Kashmir is not comparable with other places. For batting and spin bowling, you need a lot of equipment, skilled coaches and other facilities, but fast bowling is all about natural raw talent. We are physically better built because of our eating habits.
The other thing I believe is the passion for cricket here. A few years back I was playing in Mumbai and a lot of players there told me, "In Azad Maidan, you can see a factory of players playing." Then I showed them a scene of our Eidgah ground [Srinagar], where on a single pitch, about two to four teams play together - two on the vertical side and two on the horizontal side.
Abdul Qayoom, former J&K captain and coach: In 1984 I was playing as a wicketkeeper-batsman in junior cricket and I went to Jammu for the CK Nayudu Trophy trials. I kept wickets for a couple of days in trials but on the evening of third day, I was bowling to tailenders for fun. There was a coach named Gautam sir. He came to me and said, "Abdul, from tomorrow you won't keep wickets but bowl fast!" I was surprised, but as he was our coach, I agreed. That day onwards I became a fast bowler and went on to play for J&K for years. I don't know whether it was my physique or height or whatever that made him convert me into a bowler. This is the case with almost every one of us - we are kind of naturally built for fast bowling. I also believe it is because we belong to a high-altitude region, so our stamina and physique is better than, say, someone from Delhi or Mumbai.

Is fast bowling new to J&K or has it always been there?

Beigh: J&K has been blessed with fast bowling from the very beginning. Our cricket history suggests that in 90% of the matches that we have won so far in Ranji Trophy and other domestic competitions, pace bowlers have contributed the most. Our batting and spin bowling has always been weaker than our opponents' but it's the fast-bowling department where we are on top.
I will share an interesting incident: back when Bedi sir [Bishan Singh Bedi] was here, he was of the opinion that no matter what the pitch offered, a team should always bat first. So one day he asked us what we would do if we won the toss. I was supposed to be the captain that year and I was the only one who said we should bowl first. He got a bit angry and gave his reasons but I explained to him that J&K has always banked on its fast bowlers. And the best condition for pacers to bowl is the first session of the first day.
Qayoom: When I used to bowl, everyone outside J&K would say, "Yaar, ye ghoda hai, ye thakta nahi" [He's a horse, he never gets tired]. Before me, Abdul Rauf, Abdul Qayoom Khan, Mehboob Iqbal, also used to bowl fast and they would hear similar things. So we took it from them, and then the upcoming generation learned it from us and it is continuing even now. I mean, in J&K, fast bowlers have been the role models. They are the ones who have achieved big things.
Abid Nabi, former J&K fast bowler and India U-19 player: When I was playing, there was no sign of a speedometer. You could only check your speed if you played at international level. But I think J&K always had bowlers who bowled extremely quick. There was a J&K bowler named Surendra Singh Bagal. He made it hard for even international players to bat against him. There were also Abdul Qayoom, Asif Peerzada and many others in the past.

How is J&K's fast-bowling talent different from the rest of India's?

Milap Mewada, J&K senior team coach from 2018 to 2020: The entire pedigree of fast bowlers in J&K is very different. Everyone you come across wants to bowl quick. There are so many seam bowlers that even someone like Umran didn't make it to the team sometimes, as there were already a lot of senior bowlers performing well.
The major difference is in stamina. I am currently working with the Hyderabad Ranji team. I came across a couple of guys who are also bowling fast. If I make them bowl for too long, they will break. They can bowl fast but can't sustain, but if I compare them with someone like [senior J&K fast bowler] Mohammed Mudhasir, they are nowhere. He never says no to fast bowling. Whenever you ask him, "Mudhi, three overs", he always raises his hand. He's a very senior player, so imagine what he was like as a young bowler!

Why haven't many bowlers from J&K made it big?

Beigh: The simple reason is that till around 2013, the system of selection was wrong. It used to only favour big cricketing teams like Delhi, Mumbai, Karnataka. No selector used to watch Plate group matches of Ranji Trophy. The maximum reward for doing well was a place in the zonal team but the captain of these teams would always be someone from a place like Delhi. They would refer players from their own states. I was part of the zonal team six times in my career but I got to play just once in Duleep Trophy, that too after my bus had passed. I used to carry drinks despite having the highest wickets among the bowlers. It happened to me and it must have happened with Abid Nabi, Abdul Qayoom. I think the same would have happened to Umran but thanks to the IPL net-bowling stint, he was spotted at the right time.
Nabi: There was no one to talk about us earlier. No one would put an arm around our shoulders or guide us. I remember in 2004, I was in England playing county cricket and the Indian team was also on tour there. Many of their fast bowlers got injured and I had clocked 151.3kmph while playing U-19 around then. But no one recommended my name, so I never got to play.

Will Malik's emergence change things?

Qayoom: After watching Umran, I truly believe that a lot of youngsters will take up the game more seriously. We are currently holding a talent hunt in J&K and I can already see many kids trying to bowl fast. They now think that if they bowl quick, they will be noticed. I visited Anantnag in south Kashmir and Baramulla in the north and a lot of pace bowlers are showing up. Despite having zero infrastructure here, a talent like Umran emerged. So if we improve facilities, a lot of Umrans will come to the forefront.
Nabi: If Umran Malik plays at international level and does well even in one match, it will help J&K's upcoming fast bowlers. In the past there used to be talk that J&K has good fast bowlers but nobody believed it. But now after watching Umran, India and the rest of the world will finally accept it and see for themselves. During my time, nobody would look at us. I finished as the highest wicket-taker in U-19s quite a few times but I wasn't even considered for zonal teams initially. I think all of this will change after Umran's success.

What do the BCCI and the J&K cricket association need to do to ensure the state's fast-bowling talent doesn't go in vain?

Mewada: I believe the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA) has to go to the ground level and bring out the talent. This is what they are there for; the association itself is a part of the BCCI. They have enough funding, so they can hire professionals and try to utilise them to the best.
I, as a coach, will keep Umran in the top category and prepare two more guys for his back-up. When I think I need two more Umrans or Mohammed Mudhasirs, I won't get them suddenly, so to identify and train them I need to form a system. It should be a continuous process.
Beigh: I believe J&K is a gold mine of fast bowlers and a lot of bowlers from here can serve India, but the BCCI has to do one thing to ensure that: they need to appoint a permanent fast-bowling coach and a fast-bowing trainer, not part-time or for a single season. They should then work with fast bowlers here every single day; do conditioning in the morning and coach them in the evening. This is the only way the crop of raw pace bowling will be reserved and we will see many more Umrans.

Which upcoming J&K fast-bowlers should we keep an eye out for?

Mewada: Mujtaba Yousuf and Basit Bashir, two very young and talented bowlers, Akash Choudhary from Jammu, and a very talented fast-bowling allrounder Auqib Nabi. They are really good.
Beigh: Mujtaba Yousuf - I like his bowling action and run-up. Sharukh Dar - he's already a net bowler with Sunrisers Hyderabad. He swings the ball both ways at pace. I am quite hopeful that he will play at the higher levels. Third one is a young guy from Kupwara: Basit Bashir. I have predicted that if he improves a few things, he may play for India within a few years. He is a terrific bowler with pace, swing and height.

Mohsin Kamal is a journalist and cricket enthusiast