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The Google image results for 'cricket in Kashmir ' are both beautiful and blood-curdling. Hundreds of pictures depict the culture of cricket in the breath-taking valley often devastated by conflict. There is one picture which shows young boys playing cricket on a dusty, empty road under the sun, with the omnipresent army-men surrounding them. Ignoring the threat - that in which the empty road can break into a war zone by sunset, they are seen lost in their game. A big box of taped carton can be seen serving as the wicket. Another picture, beautiful enough to tempt you to make a trip to the tourist-feared valley, shows a group of boys playing cricket on snow, with some space in the middle cleared. With the region experiencing monsoon and snowfall for almost half of the year, the slippery surface is their least of concerns. The Google image results for 'cricket in Kashmir' are both beautiful and blood-curdling.
Cricket in a sense is a part of Kashmir's curfew culture.'Cricket is a momentary escape from the occupation around us' and a way for, 'youngsters to vent their anger', Saqib Majeed, a popular photo journalist from Kashmir, told dailymail.co.uk. He adds, 'Last year, for the first time cricket - which forms a part of our curfew culture - wasn't played as a mark of respect and solidarity with those who were killed in the streets.' Despite the curfews, crackdowns and natural interventions in the form of rain and snow, cricket goes on in both the sides of Kashmir. Budding cricketers from Indian Kashmir and Azad Kashmir share the grievances of poor facilities and of course, the frequent shutdowns. They also share their love for Virat Kohli and Shahid Afridi, as is seen from the pictures hung outside some of their local shops.
A rising star from Azad KashmirIn December 2011, a young pacer from Azad Kashmir impressed Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman with his thunderbolts. The then 27-year-old Imran Arif, whose resume includes two first-class matches for Worcestershire, dismissed Dravid and Laxman both in a practice session he was lucky to attend. "Dravid stopped me in my run up, congratulated me for my sharp bowling and inquired about my background. It was a really nice gesture on his part," Arif was quoted as saying by pakpassion.com. Seven years down the line, another fast-bowler from Azad Kashmir, Salman Irshad, has made a name for himself in Pakistan's cricket circuit. Irshad is being recognized as the first player from Azad Kashmir who can make it to the Pakistan national team. Historically, Pakistan have produced brilliant pacers like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and the like, and through PSL, rose Hasan Ali. New talent is now emerging from hunt programmes of PSL teams. One such story is of Irshad. Lahore Qalandarsconducted a talent hunt programme in Pakistan-administered Kashmir headed by former Pakistan bowling Coach Aqib Javed. As many as 35,000 aspiring cricketers tried to impress in the trials. From among those, 17 players including Irshad who 'constantly bowled at speed of 144kmph' were selected for the Jazz Rising Stars programme. Irshad was included in the Qalandars' Rising Stars squad. The team toured Australia for a quadrangular tournament, where the young pacer made a mark. Also read: Cricket in Kashmir: A dangerous and beautiful game On his debut, he claimed a five-wicket haul for Australian cricket club Hawkesburry.His bowling figures 14-4-46-5 generated much buzz. His22 wickets at an average of 12.95 in his first five-second division games for Hawkesbury made his place in the Qalandars squad certain. Atif Rana, CEO of Lahore Qalandarssaid, 'We have practically connected Kashmir to Pakistan in cricket. We wanted to do something for cricket in Azad Kashmir which motivated us to organise open trials there.' This year, the debutant proved his high rating by removing Islamabad United's skipper Misbahul Haq (4) with the first ball of his PSL career. He also hit a timely six in the last over of Qalandars' innings. Meanwhile former Pakistani pace sensation, Shoaib Akhtar has touted Irshad as the 'bowler who can breach the 100 miles per hour mark.' 'He is bowling at 92 miles an hour now. He can go up to 97. And if he puts his heart in, he can break the 100 miles per hour barrier. I want to train Salman Irshad myself,' Akhtar told GeoTV. That comes as a big comment on Irshad, since there have been only four bowlers - Jeff Thomson, Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Akhtar, who have bowled at 100mph in international cricket. What next for the Kashmiri boys? The fact that as many as 35,000 young boys from Azad Kashmir turned up for the PSL trials proves that there is no dearth of passion for cricket in the region. They are ready to compete without nets, facilities and even security, because they have the talent. Many promising cricketers had their talent wasted away in an atmosphere of constant tension. But there are also those ready to break stereotypes, and it is for these brave hearts that infrastructure, in both halves of Kashmir, should be developed. Also read: Manzoor Ahmad Dhar: A rags to riches tale Mehboob Iqbal, former chairman of the Jammu &Kashmir Cricket Associationtold Catchthat 'Political interference in cricketing affairs is ruining the game of cricket in Jammu and Kashmir. The procedures are not followed by the JKCA officials. Unfortunately, cricket is not in the hands of cricketers. They (JKCA) are responsible for all the mismanagement.' Seeing Irshad bowl at the newly constructed cricket stadium in Bagh, Azad Kashmir, will inspire hundreds of others in the state to pursue the sport. Cricket is played on most streets of Kashmir and it is now the responsibility of the respective authorities to facilitate their young talent.