Updated February 9th, 2024 at 15:28 IST

Challenged by life in more than one way, Kashmir's differently-abled cricketers shine

Aamir Hassan had to learn quite early in life that left is right for him. He didn't really have a choice. Fingers of his right hand had to be amputated when he was just an infant after burn injuries caused by an accident deteriorated into severe infection. But life wasn't done testing him.

Differently-Abled Indian Cricket Team | Image:DCCI

 Aamir Hassan had to learn quite early in life that left is right for him.

He didn't really have a choice. Fingers of his right hand had to be amputated when he was just an infant after burn injuries caused by an accident deteriorated into severe infection.

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But life wasn't done testing him.

As if being forced to become a southpaw wasn't enough, he also had to grow up the hard way in Tarzoo Village, just three kilometres from Sopore town in Kashmir valley which earned fame for its apple orchards and notoriety for being militancy-infested during the '90s.

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Being the eldest child in his family, he gave up education to help his father, who worked in those picturesque apple orchards. What he never gave up was his cricketing ambition.

"Infrastructure is a problem in Kashmir. I daily walk three kilometres from my village for practice. As far as disturbances were concerned, I never got perturbed by them," the left-arm pacer, who is part of the national cricket team for the differently-abled, told PTI during an interaction here.

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The side has done exceptionally well in the past few years winning the 2019 and 2023 World Cup for the differently-abled, and then beating England in a bilateral T20 series last month. The achievements become all the more significant given the challenges posed by the COVID-19 disruption.

"From childhood, all I wanted to do was to play cricket. I would go for training and come back home. I never indulged in any gossip or activity that would disturb my focus," said Aamir, who idolises former pacer Irfan Pathan and the first J&K player to represent India, all-rounder Parvez Rasool.

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Now in his early 20s, Aamir is the leading seamer of team, having played the two World Cups and the recent series against England where he got five wickets in five games.

Not only Aamir but national vice-captain Wasim Iqbal and batter Majid Magray, both of whom hail from Anantnag, and Jaffer Bhatt (batter) from Srinagar are shining examples of how cricket for the specially-abled has picked up in the valley.

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Aamir practised bowling while playing with able-bodied boys of his village and that helped him stay a cut above the rest when it came to competing against other physically challenged cricketers.

"You know when National Schools (Championship) was held years ago, I played under Abdul Samad's captaincy, the guy who plays for Sunrisers Hyderabad," Aamir said with a lot of pride.

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Ravikant Chauhan, the secretary of the Differently-Abled Cricket Council of India (DCCI), which has been recognised by the BCCI, gave an insight into the growth of cricket in the state.

"A lot of people do not know that Jammu and Kashmir has won back-to-back national titles in this category. So, this isn't a surprise that we had 450 to 500 physically challenged cricketers appearing for trials in Jammu.

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"We receive requests everyday to conduct another round of trials. If four are playing for the national team, you can imagine the level of talent," Chauhan said.

The most experienced of the lot, Wasim developed a lifelong knee condition in his childhood and finds it difficult to walk but he had a ready role model for him to beat the odds.

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"I come from the same place as Parvez Rasool, who is first able bodied cricketer from the valley to represent India. Parvez bhai has been a great supporter and it has been a privilege to know him.

"He got Jammu and Kashmir CA to donate two full cricket kits," Wasim, who works in the Civil Secretariat of Jammu and Kashmir in the Administrative Reforms, Inspections and Trainings Department, said.

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He is the only one among the quartet with a secure government job.

Majid, who represented a local club named Anthem, had played alongside fast bowler Rasikh Salam, who was with Mumbai Indians some seasons back.

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"Me and Wasim bhai, we first discovered together that there is something called cricket for Differently-Abled. I had some personal issues and I missed out on the World Cup both in 2019 and 2023 but when I first touched the India jersey, I became very emotional.

"Thanks to DCCI, we now stay in good hotels and when we play for India, we also get an allowance. We don't suffer from any inferiority complex about our disability," Majid said.

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For Jaffer, there couldn't have been a better feeling than raising his bat after scoring his maiden half-century for the national team.

"My family is very happy and they want me to fully concentrate on cricket. Yes, it would be great if I can get a job as that will help me feel secure while focussing on the game," Jaffer said.

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"Now people in Kashmir are slowly getting to know about us. Since Kashmir willow is famous, there are lot of local bat manufacturers, who want us to use their products. I have my personal gear sponsor now that I play for India," Wasim added.

Chauhan believes that these four will be role models for the youth in Kashmir and it will only help in growth of cricket in the state.

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"I must thank BCCI secretary Jay Shah for his help. This series, we played with white Kookaburra balls supplied by BCCI. They arranged for the best hotel in Ahmedabad and Jay bhai always ensured that we host teams at best Indian venues," he concluded. 

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Published February 9th, 2024 at 15:28 IST