Ahmed Ali Fayyaz/Srinagar
Buoyed by the success of Legends League Cricket (LLC), the Jammu and Kashmir Government is planning to hold the next season’s national winter games in Kashmir. Besides, efforts are also underway to organise some matches of the Indian Premier League (IPL) at Srinagar. This, the authorities believe, would bring international cricket back to Jammu and Kashmir after 35 years.
According to Nuzhat Jehangir Gul, Secretary, Jammu and Kashmir Sports Council (JKSC), over 800 athletes are expected to participate in the national winter games at Gulmarg in the first week of February. The games would open at Kashmir and the closing ceremony will be at Leh, Ladakh.
The events on snow are being scheduled in Kashmir and the events on ice in Ladakh.
The second major sports event under the flagship programme ‘Khelo India’, following the LLC, is being jointly organised by the Winter Games Federation of India, the Indian Olympic Association, the Sports Authority of India, and the JKSC.
“After 2019, sports is the top priority of our Government. After the phenomenal success of LLC and some other events, we are going to hold the national winter games at Gulmarg. We will leave no stone unturned to hold the IPL and bring back international cricket to J&K”, Gul told Awaz-the Voice.
Nuzhat Gull with other organisers of the LLC event in Jammu
Last week, on 1 December 2023, Jammu’s Maulana Azad Stadium was packed to its capacity of 20,000 people to witness a game of cricket between Urban Risers Hyderabad (URH) and Bhilwara Kings (BK). It was the last of a four-match series of 20:20 overs organised by Legends League Cricket (LLC) in coordination with the Jammu and Kashmir Sports Council (JKSC) and other organs of the Union Territory government.
With the participation of six teams, the league is being played for 22 days from 18 November to 9 December 2023. Four out of a total of 19 matches had been scheduled in Jammu. The galaxy of the Indian cricket stars of yesteryears, which played in Jammu, included two Members of Parliament, Gautam Gambhir (BJP), and Harbhajan Singh (AAP).
The kind of enthusiasm and size of the crowd at Jammu’s Maulana Azad Stadium was witnessed in the past only on 1 December 2013 when the then Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi addressed a 100,000-strong ‘Lalkar Rally’, to flag his party’s campaign for the Lok Sabha elections of 2014.
Sportslovers watching LLC matches
At his ‘Lalkar Rally’, Modi only suggested “a debate” on the continuation and abrogation of Article 370. It took him nearly 6 years to terminate the statutory provisions that granted a special status to Jammu and Kashmir. His party and government call the post-2019 era ‘Naya Kashmir’ even as the first two years of the Union Territory’s age were fully consumed by curfew, shutdown, and the Covid-19 pandemic.
After a successful series of the G20 events, which were held peacefully in 2023 with a remarkable participation of delegates from nearly 20 countries in Srinagar and Jammu, the LLC series came to Jammu and Kashmir with promise and hope. It didn’t bring back international cricket but is seen as historic for a reason: For the first time after 1988, cricket stars from different countries played a game in the UT.
According to Ranjit Kalra, a member of the JKSC, more than 60 of the 108 LLC players were foreigners. All the six participating teams—Suresh Raina’s URH, Harbhajan Singh’s MT, Gautam Ghambir’s IC, Irfan Pathan’s BK, Aaron Finch’s SSS, Parthiv Patel’s GGv-carried a number of the former international players for ‘#BossLogonKaGame’.
“All top star hotels in Jammu were fully hired by LLC as the total number of the players, organisers, managers, and other supporting staff was in the hundreds. Some of the crews, including commentators Sanath Jayasuriya and Anjum Chopra, both former cricketers of Sri Lanka and India, had to be accommodated at a hotel in Katra—45 km from Jammu”, Kalra said.
3rd Khelo India Winter games at Gulmarg (File)
Nuzhat Gul, the woman behind LLC’s grand show described sports as a “game changer” in Jammu and Kashmir. “Our ultimate target is international cricket. That will be the real game changer”, Gul asserted.
“It is for the first time in the last 35 years that we have been able to pull a crowd of this size in J&K for a sports spectacle. A large number of international players came, played, enjoyed, and promoted our culture and region in a big way. You saw the enthusiasm. It was a positive engagement of our youth. Many of them came from Kashmir, Punjab and Himachal”, Gul added.
In her message to the Kashmiri youths, Gul said: “Come forward and be a part of the change; be a part of peace, positivity, brotherhood, and national integration”. She emphasized that sports were “the best soft power to wean away the youths from anarchy, insurgency, drugs, and other social evils”. “After this grand success, we are now planning IPL (Indian Premier League) and other big events in Srinagar and Jammu. We are not far away from the day of holding international cricket back in Jammu and Kashmir”, Gul asserted.
The Indian cricket stars Suresh Raina, Irfan Pathan, Yusuf Pathan, Mohammad Kaif, S Sreenath, Robin Uthappa, and others played in Jammu with more than 50 foreigners. They included Ashley Nurse, Hasim Amla, Dilhara Fernando, Ricardo Powell, Fidel Edwards, Rusty TheronMorne van Wyk, Kirk Edwards, Ben Robert Dunk, Jacques Kallis, Chris Gayle, Kevin O’Brien, Liam Plunkett, Richard Levi, Elton Chingumbura, Rayad Ryan Emrit, Sulieman Benn, Trent Johnston, Tilakaratne Dilshan, Ryan Sidebottom, Solomon Mire, Tim Murtagh, Prosper Utseya, Christoper Barnwell, Lendl Simmons, Jason Mohammad, Martin Guptill, Dwayne Smith, Rikki Clarke and many others.
The LLC owners, Vivek Khushalani and Seema Kilachand, with co-owner Yuvraj Kilachand and their high-profile CEO Raman Raheja, camped in Jammu to ensure a big success for the event.
The author with Suresh Raina
International cricket came to J&K for the first time on 13 October 1983 when a match was played between India and West Indies at Sher-e-Kashmir International Cricket Stadium. On this occasion, the Indian players were heckled and the wicket was damaged by a motley separatist crowd. The second international cricket match was played at the same stadium between India and Australia on 9 September 1986.
The top Indian and international cricket stars who played in Srinagar included Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Madan Lal, Roger Binny, Kris Srikkanth, Dilip Vengsarkar, Yashpal Sharma, Mohammad Azharuddin, Syed Kirmani, Ravi Shastri, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall, Roger Harper, Allan Border, Dean Jones, Geoff Marsh, David Boon, Simon Davis, Gregory Mathews and Bruce Reid.
With the outbreak of armed insurgency and terrorism, playing national and international cricket in Kashmir became impossible after 1989.
In the last 10 years, Sher-e-Kashmir International Cricket Stadium has been upgraded while the iconic Bakshi Stadium has been lately developed as an exclusive football ground as per FIFA norms. Funds to the tune of Rs 200 have come from the Prime Minister’s special package for the development of Bakshi Stadium in Srinagar and MA Stadium in Jammu.
In Jammu, the first international cricket match was held at MA Stadium between the women's teams of India and New Zealand, led by Diana Edulji and Debbie Hockley respectively, on 19 December 1988. Later a men’s international cricket match was organised at the same stadium between India and New Zealand in 1989 but it was washed out due to rain. The players including Kapil Dev and Maninder Singh returned disappointed.