While Jammu and Kashmir continues to be partly incommunicado, its senior cricket team, having won five matches on a trot, is rewriting history in the ongoing Ranji Trophy season.
The side received a major blow before the start of the tournament with captain Parvez Rasool suffering an injury. The all-rounder plays a vital role in the team, contributing in all three departments apart from leading the multi-regional side. However, young Shubham Pundir, who had the experience of captaining age-group teams, took the task with both the hands.
Unmoved by the social and political turnarounds taking place in the erstwhile state, the side stuck to their game plan and announced themselves in the premier event by overpowering Uttarakhand in the first match.
The next challenge for this young team was up against strong Maharashtra. Known for its fast-bowling strength, the newly made Union Territory stunned the hosts in style. The rookie duo of Abdul Samad and Suryansh Raina hit fifties while pacemen Mohammed Mudhasir and Umar Nazir were amongst wickets to ensure J&K return home with 6 more points.
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High on confidence, the team was all set to host relatively weaker Assam side in Jammu. However, the inclement weather played spoilsport. The match couldn't start on time during all four days, hence forcing both teams to settle for a point each. Up next was probably the toughest task that far for Pundir and co. as they were playing star-studded Jharkhand, away from home.
However, unlike previous seasons, the team didn't lose momentum. They went out in the field with an aim of sticking to their gameplan. The approach paid off quite handsomely. Host to many Indian and IPL stars, Jharkhand began confidently though J&K made sure to not let them take the control. They restricted the home team to a below-par score in the first innings to give themselves a chance.
The batsmen also responded well, especially teenager Abdul Samad, who was bought by Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) in the IPL auction last month, played a 128-run knock to almost throw hosts out of the game. Replying to Jharkhand's 259-run total, J&K made mammoth 441 runs to take a huge lead.
The challenge became tougher for Saurabh Tiwari's men as J&K picked early wickets to put them on back-foot. The side was finally folded on 155 runs, hence rewarding Jammu and Kashmir a big win of an innings and 26 runs.
Subsequently, with regular skipper Parvez Rasool regaining his fitness, J&K outplayed Services at Delhi to make it to the top two of the Elite Group C points table. The experienced campaigner made career-best 182 runs in first innings while scalping three wickets in the second to hand his team an easy win of 173 runs.
Continuing the winning streak, the ever-spirited J&K cruised past the table-toppers Odisha in a nail-biting encounter to inch closer to the quarter-final berth. Despite conceding the first innings lead, the Parvez Rasool-led side fought courageously to knock down hosts and jump to the top of the points table.
Known as minnows for decades in the Indian domestic cricket circuit, J&K did make some strides a few seasons back but the ongoing season is proving to be their best. It is for the first time in history that J&K has posted five outright victories and in a Ranji Trophy season. It provides without doubt signs of J&K repealing its minnows-tag. However, there still is a lot to prove with more matches to come and the developments point to the trend continuing.