India

Parvez Rasool: First Kashmiri Muslim cricketer to play for India

Parvez Rasool
Image caption Parvez Rasool has been one of the top wicket takers for Jammu and Kashmir

"I find it difficult to answer when people ask me questions which are political and have nothing to do with my cricket," says Parvez Rasool.

Last week, the 24-year-old spinning all-rounder became the first Muslim cricketer from Indian-administered Kashmir to be selected for the national team. He earned a call-up for the forthcoming one-day series against Zimbabwe, beginning on 26 July.

Rasool has kept his mobile phone mostly switched off ever since his selection last week as people call him to ask him about his political beliefs, ideology, and playing for India.

Kashmir, claimed by both India and Pakistan, has seen an armed insurgency against Indian rule since 1989.

Only two international cricket matches have ever been staged in Indian-administered Kashmir - the cricket pitch was dug up by some angry locals during the first match against West Indies in 1983. The home side were booed by supporters of the separatist cause and lost the game.

Most cricket fans in the troubled Muslim-dominated valley have traditionally supported the opposition in cricket matches involving India.

Boost for Kashmir

"May Rasool perform well, but be on the losing side, particularly if he plays against Pakistan," says Tariq, a shop owner from Rasool's native village of Bijbehara, some 44km (27 miles) south of the summer capital, Srinagar.

Kapil Dev, who captained India during the 1983 match in Srinagar, however, believes that Rasool's inclusion in the national team will be a boost to Kashmir.

"Kashmir has suffered a lot in the last 20 years and hopefully Rasool's story is the brighter side of things to come," he told the BBC.

Image caption Rasool has been feted by local people and the government after his selection

"Players from smaller cities have been dominating Indian cricket for a decade now. Like [Indian cricket captain] Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the first from [the eastern city of] Ranchi to play for and lead India, I hope Rasool repeats [a similar feat] for Jammu and Kashmir."

Rasool has already made his mark.

In the 2012-13 domestic season, he took 33 wickets and scored 549 runs, including two centuries. He was the top scorer and highest wicket taker for the Jammu and Kashmir team, and the third highest wicket taking spinner of the season.

'Political motive'

And if this was not all, Rasool also picked up seven wickets against Australia in a warm up game in February. He was also the first Kashmiri Muslim to play in the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament, turning up for the Pune Warriors team.

"His ability to bowl orthodox off spin is his strength. He is a good all-rounder. He has got a chance in Zimbabwe to do justice with his talent," says Indian spin legend Bishen Singh Bedi, who played 67 Test matches for India and picked up 266 wickets.

Rasool's journey to the national team has been chequered.

When he was selected for the India A team earlier this tear, some media reports alleged that the selection was influenced by a "political motive to bring the people of Kashmir closer to India".

Image caption Rasool is an all-rounder

Omar Abdullah, Chief Minister of Indian-administered Kashmir, reacted angrily on Twitter, saying such reports were "insulting to Parvez and his entire life-long effort" and also to the "people of Kashmir who don't need artificially created icons".

In 2009, while travelling with the under-22 team, he was detained at the airport in the southern city of Bangalore for allegedly carrying explosives in his kitbag.

Abdul Qayoom Bagow, the team's coach, says it all began after Rasool and another member of the team objected to sniffer dogs searching their cricket kit. Both the players, he said, were carrying the Holy Quran in their bags. They were let off after questioning.

As an 11-year-old, Rasool aspired to bat and keep wickets, remembers Bagow.

"After seeing him bowl, however, I asked him to practise the art of spin bowling. The best thing about Rasool is he always listens," says Bagow.

Rasool's father, Ghulam Rasool, a retired government worker, says he "never thought" of making an international cricketer out of his son and wanted to keep him away from the violent politics of the troubled valley.

"I don't want to talk politics. Some people do politics, some read books and some play sports. My son is a cricketer and not a politician. I want people to understand it," he says.

Rasool says he is working hard to earn a regular place in the Indian squad.

"It is a proud feat for me to play at the highest level of the game for India."

Nasrun Mir is an independent journalist based in Srinagar

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