Srinagar: On Sunday night, in front of a packed Wankhede stadium, a 17-year old was included in the playing XI for the Mumbai Indians. And even as he stepped on to the field in his debut match, alongside superstars such as Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya and Yuvraj Singh, a rush of elation swept through Rasikh Salam Dar’s native Kulgam village in his home state of Jammu & Kashmir.
Rasikh made an impressive start, conceding just 21 runs in his first three overs. However, in the last over of his spell, Rishabh Pant plundered him for 21 to spoil his figures for the night. It was a reminder that Rasikh was now playing in the big league.
Back home, Rasikh’s nervous father, Abdul Salam, unfortunately could only watch his son’s performance partly “because the light went out in between.”
“We had no idea that he is playing but when the word spread, we got lot of congratulatory calls and messages. Entire Kashmir valley is jubilant and the social media is flooded with praise for him,” said Salam, who is a teacher in a local school.
Rasikh is the last of four siblings in the family and the most ‘pampered’ of the lot. He was an average student, always eager to play cricket. His journey started on the village grounds where he was coached and mentored by cousins Nadeem Javeed and Mubeen Koul. They would pay for the sports kit if his father would get angry with him for ignoring studies.
“He is crazy about cricket. It you look at the compound wall of his house, you will find spots on it,” says Mubeen. “At my home, he would lay hands on even a paper weight and try to bowl. Even today whenever he finds a round object, he will chance his arm.”
“I scold him often for not focussing on studies but encourage him to play cricket too,” says Abdul. “Now that he is playing for a big team I am proud of him.”
Irfan Pathan, the former India pacer and Rasikh’s coach cum mentor, says the ability to swing and swerve the ball compensates for his lack of pace.
“Even 135 (kilometres per hour) is a decent pace. If you can move it both ways you are actually more effective,” Pathan said when asked whether he can become express in next few years. “His strength is the in-swinger and the slower ball. He can bowl a yorker and an out swinger.”
Abid Nabi, the former J&K fast bowler is of the view that Rasikh needs to develop a good bouncer to add to his arsenal.
“He is very young and can generate more pace if he trains hard,” Nabi, who has played more than 50 matches for the state, told CricketNext. “We knew he has the talent and it was a matter of just one big opportunity.”
Rasikh had first caught Pathan’s eye in a talent hunt drive. Hired by Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA) last year to improve state cricket which had been in doldrums due to recurring mismanagement of funds and poor infrastructure. Pathan picked Rasikh from 700 aspiring cricketers in the nets despite resistance from selectors.
“Just two balls at the nets and I could sense this boy has talent. I took him under my wings. He did not disappoint,” recalls Pathan.
Over the last year, Rasikh has played in all major domestic tournaments. From the state under-19 to Ranji trophy to the Mushtaq Ali tournament, he hasn’t just taken wickets, but also continued to improve. Though he is quite short, Rasikh can be skiddy and has the ability to swing the ball prodigiously. Last year after he took a hat-trick in a trial match, Rasikh was called up for the Vijay Hazare Trophy where he caught the eye of the Mumbai Indians scouts. He was purchased at the subsequent auction by the franchise for 20 lakh rupees.
However, there have been bumps along the road. His cousin Nadeem said Rasikh was bitter when he was rejected by selectors two years ago.
“He told me then he will never try for state teams. His morale was down,” he said. “We counselled him to try again and he did. And what a turnaround it has been in last few months.”
There is still a long way to go, but already Rasikh has come further than many around him could have ever imagined.