The fielders have to be on their toes here. A cover drive, cut, or a just a heave by a right-hander has to be stopped knowing exactly where the boundary ends. You have to be nothing short of a Jonty Rhodes to dive, slide or leap as a bit here or there could make you tumble down the hill. Good bye! Thank you! Don’t expect a physio running towards you.
Diehard cricketer: that is exactly what you have to be to play the ‘Gentleman’s game’ on this small hillock next to Sumlar village, in Bandipora district around 60 kilometres to the north of Kashmir.
For years, the youth in the village played their gully cricket longing for an actual ground in the vicinity where they could enjoy the game with more freedom. They never got one. And finally, as COVID shut the world and with it most of the international cricket, the youth in Sumlar decided to trek uphill and use the ground carved out on the southern side of the hillock at nearby Gojarpati village.
It took some time, effort, contributions, and sheer will to shape up the pitch to some working state and start playing on it.
With no rollers, no ground staff, and no covers, the youth still managed to set up their 22 yards.
On September 13, the boys rolled out the mat, marked the boundaries, pegged in the stumps and tossed the coin for their first 12 overs-a-side match.
‘Knight Riders’ versus ‘Black Hawks’
It would have been a tough pitch report though, going something like this: A sunny day here at Sumlar, with zero grass on the entire ground and a tricky outfield. It is a belter of a pitch with a new mat unfolded and any team winning the toss, we imagine, would love to bat first to send some deliveries flying downhill to the next village.
Batting first, Knight Riders hit 119 in their allotted overs with Afaq, the opener, hitting 63 of just 30 deliveries. His blistering knock included seven boundaries and three huge sixes where the ball landed right down the hill
Chasing the target, ‘Black Hawks’ lost too many wickets early on, and were bundled out for mere 75 runs.
Though there aren’t any stands, the cricket matches do attract some spectators who settle themselves down on a vantage point to enjoy the game played in a breathtakingly beautiful background.
Twenty seven year old Mohammad Sameer Sheikh, an avid cricketer is one of the local youths who have been at the forefront of this effort.
“The government at the block level had sanctioned Rs 7 lakh for a ground downhill near the village. But years after years, no progress was made and we were losing patience as we couldn’t play our favourite game,” he said.
Sameer and his friends came up with a group they named ‘Sumlar Youth Foundation’.
And as days went by, the group, after deliberations and discussions, decided that there was a hillside they could carve out their ground from.
“We know that the boundary here is a dangerous one and we have to be very careful not to tumble down and hurt ourselves,” said Sameer.
More than the players, it is the ball boys that are important here.
“We hire a few young lads and pay them Rs 50 a day. These boys remain on the slopes and at the foot of the hillock and throw back the ball whenever a boundary or a six is scored,” he said.
The only issue with the pitch is rain. A little drizzle makes it unplayable.
“We fear that if it rains hard, it may trigger a landslide turning the entire ledge back to a slope,” said Sameer.
Hoping the weather remains balmy for now, Sameer and his other friends have been trying to organise multiple games a day.
“We want to engage as many youth as possible. Cricket is a favourite game in Kashmir and this Covid lockdown has really frustrated us. We want to get out of our homes and just hit some sixes and take some wickets,” he said.