Cricket in Jammu and Kashmir is stuck in a perpetual state of flux, with administrative wrangling and apathy adding to the troubles. This regardless of whether the game in the region is run by a state unit or directly by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). And, as is the norm, it is the players as well as the employees at various levels in the cricketing ecosystem – from coaches and support cast for the teams to groundsmen – who have been hit hardest.
On March 23 this year, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court handed over the affairs of J&K Cricket Association (JKCA) to the BCCI. The decision was made with a lot of hope with the court, in its order, stating that "the BCCI shall ensure promotion of cricketing activities in Jammu and Kashmir".
Forget promotion. The move seems to have compounded the issues plaguing J&K cricket, including the plight of the non-playing staff who are still awaiting their payments from the 2019-20 domestic season.
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The staff, most of whom employed during the domestic season via contracts, are in a quandary because earlier they could at least call the JKCA officials to ask about the status of their pending salaries. Now, with the big bosses of the BCCI handling things directly – after the court order, the Board, in its apex council meeting in April, gave the reigns of JKCA to senior officials Rajeev Shukla and Arun Dhumal – they have no one to approach. Needless to say, there is no one within the state who could be held accountable either.
"I used to call the JKCA office bearers and they would say the salary will come in another 7-10 days, sometimes in 15 days. It kept going that way," says Sanjeev Chaudhary, who was the coach of the J&K U-23 team during the Col. CK Nayudu Trophy 2019-20.
While Sanjeev says he has had "no direct contact with the BCCI," another coaching staff member, Imtiaz Ahmad, reveals his numerous emails and calls haven't received a reply or even an acknowledgement.
"JKCA is without a working body right now, so we sent mails and called the people at the BCCI, but to no avail. We simply asked when players and support staff of almost all other teams have been paid their money, why not us?," he wonders.
The case has been no different for trainer Samir Ahmed, who has been very badly affected by the delay in the processing of funds.
"I have sent a detailed email to the BCCI, explaining my struggle. But I didn't receive any response," he says.
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The J&K cricketers, who took part in different tournaments in the 2019-20 domestic season, received their match fees quite some time back. It is just the support staff whose dues are pending. BCCI treasurer Dhumal, who is at the helm of JKCA, had a vague answer when asked about the issue.
"It was supposed to be paid by the JKCA, now that the court has given a verdict, we are looking into all the issues and it will be resolved," he said.
One can’t help but notice that the predominant sentiment in the senior board official’s words is of putting the blame on the JKCA. However, the support staff were told by the JKCA earlier that the paperwork for the salaries were already completed and the BCCI had to clear them.
"Whenever we contacted JKCA, they used to say that we've sent all the papers and the money will be processed soon," Naseer Want, the J&K Ranji Trophy team's assistant coach in the 2019-20 season, says.
A JKCA official, in January, had spoken about the issue to this writer. He said the association had sent the bills to the BCCI, and the Board had to release the funds.
It has been almost five months since then.
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"We will have to go through all the documentation, contracts and everything and then only it will be done. It may take some time," Dhumal says.
The wait looks set to continue for a long time. All the more so since the Board is busy with pressing matters including that of the staging of the remaining matches of the 2021 Indian Premier League (IPL). The plight of Jammu and Kashmir’s cricket coaches and support staff takes a back seat. However, these former cricketers and professionals, whose only source of income is cricket, cannot afford to wait.
On the Verge of Going Under
In late 2019, Samir Ahmed was busy making arrangements for his sister's marriage. Being the lone earner in the family post his father's death in 2017, Samir had his eyes set on the forthcoming domestic cricket season, where he was supposed to be a part of an age-group teams' support staff.
Thinking he will receive enough money by serving as trainer in one of the domestic tournaments, Samir borrowed a little over Rs. 2.5 lakh for the wedding. After that, Samir was assigned to be a part of J&K's U-23 team in the Col. CK Nayudu Trophy.
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Although the team didn't find much success – finishing sixth in Elite Group C – Samir was satisfied with the work he did with the youngsters. Season over, he went back home and the long wait for the salary began. The wait is still on...
Initially, he wasn't worried as he was aware of the timelines involved in processing the payment. It arrived late but it always arrived. However, a wait that was usually for a few months has turned into more than a year and Samir is on the verge of becoming homeless.
"Had Covid not happened, I might have had to sell my house to clear the debt. The lender hasn't been too tough since he knows the Covid has put a stop to everything," Samir, a Srinagar native, says, dejection clearly evident in his voice.
"My sister got married in 2019, at a time when the valley was shut with no businesses taking place. I had no option but to borrow the money. It wasn't a problem since I earned the amount back for my services with the U-23 team. Now, even my sister has a nine-month-old daughter, but there's still no sign of the salary,” he adds.
Samir, a former J&K U-19 captain, earns his livelihood by participating in the BCCI-organised domestic tournaments as well as by turning up for local clubs. However, with no salary provided in the last two years and no cricket taking place due to Covid-19 lockdown, the 30-year-old is feeling helpless.
"I just don't have words to tell you how devastated I feel. Cricket is my only source of income. I have spent my whole life in stadiums and this is how I earn my bread," he exclaims.
Like Samir, Naseer, an Anantnag-born former cricketer, is also finding it hard to make ends meet.
"You need money to live, don't you? To run the family, to pay the fee of your children and so many other things, but when you earn it and don't get paid, it's really disturbing," he says.
For Sanjeev, who was the head coach of J&K in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy 2021, the personal plans he had made lie in tatters.
"We had some plans in mind but the non-payment thing has hampered all of it. While we understand that it will take some time for this season's money to process, the previous dues must be cleared at the earliest," he says.
Almost a dozen former players-turned coaches and trainers, had similar tales to narrate. Their situations are bleak and the blame does not fall squarely on the pandemic here.
(Mohsin Kamal is a freelance sports journalist based in Srinagar, J&K)
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