Soon after the domestic season ended last year, Irfan Pathan, the then player-cum-mentor of Jammu and Kashmir, sent an e-mail to the state association suggesting measures to improve cricket. The road map he prepared with coach Milap Mevada was being implemented when abrogation of Article 370 in August threw preparations into disarray. Players and support staff were sent home.
Due to the communication clampdown in the region, the team management had a torrid time in establishing contact and asking players to regroup. Eventually, the players first assembled in Jammu and later shifted base to Baroda. The series of events made the J&K team battle-hardened instead of wearing them out. They didn’t fare well in the Vijay Hazare one-dayers, but won four matches out of seven in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20s Trophy to narrowly miss out on a Super League berth.
Parvez Rasool’s boys carried this confidence into the Ranji Trophy, winning six out of nine matches in Group C, losing one and drawing two to make it to the quarterfinals only for the second time in their 50-year history. Although they lost to Karnataka, it was not before giving the domestic giants a run for their money. “Shifting to Baroda proved to be a turning point. We prepared on different surfaces in completely opposite weather. It also gave us a chance to compete against tough opponents like the full-strength Baroda side in practice matches,” said Mevada.
Players, especially those from Kashmir, were not in the right frame of mind as they were worried about their families with no way to contact them. But mental conditioning classes started by Mevada helped them ride the storm. “Mental conditioning helped on and off the field. Team bonding exercises turned them into a unit. Earlier, players from Jammu and Kashmir used to have separate groups but not anymore,” added Mevada. “We should have qualified for the Mushtaq Ali Super League but missed it by a whisker,” Pathan, who donned the role of mentor this season, told this daily from Russia.
“The team had a good camp in July where we focused on fitness and agility under ex-India trainer VP Sudarshan. Focus was on fitness and fielding,” the former India all-rounder added. Pathan gives full credit to the players for the success. “It’s not easy especially when you have curfews and you are not able to do any physical training. It’s really commendable if you still give your 200 per cent.” Skipper Rasool was all praise for the coaching staff and JKCA CEO Syed Ashiq Bukhari. “There was a time when we used to struggle to form a competitive XI and now I am spoilt for choice,” he said. Like the previous season, Pathan will mail the JKCA in a few days again, but this time the plan might be to go a step ahead as he believes the team can lift at least one of the domestic titles if they perform to potential.