In Depth

From gully cricket in Kashmir to IPL at Wankhede: The advent of Rasikh Salam

Under the high-beam floodlights at Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium on Sunday, the 17-year-old right arm pacer had taken the centre-stage to mark his IPL debut. Miles away in Kashmir’s Kulgam district, his father had his eyes glued to the blank TV screen, waiting to come to life with the return of scheduled power cut.

At the tick of 8:00 PM on March 24, as the LED finally flicked, Abdul Salam Dar witnessed the “unbelievable”: his athletically handsome son, Rasikh, donning the blue Mumbai Indians jersey was preparing to take his first-ever run-up on the grand platform. He had been given the responsibility to start off the match proceedings.

Several eyebrows were raised over captain Rohit Sharma’s decision to hand over the new ball to a young-inexperienced-debutant, but back home in Kulgam’s Ashumuji village, Dar “believed”.

He had seen his son romanticise the white cherry since he was nine, and now, was the time for the flamboyant Rasikh Salam to even the odds.

Dar watching his son’s debut.

Tuning along the roaring crowd of about 30,000, Rasikh with all his might raced towards the 22 yards, but the pressure of performing in the world’s most lucrative domestic league, unfortunately, had the better of the small-town boy, as he ended up overstepping his first ever delivery.

As the umpire signalled no-ball, the on-ground cameras focused at Rasikh who couldn’t help but try staying calm. “But from inside,” his father says, “he must have been very disappointed with himself.”

“I wished I could run to Rasikh and advise him to bowl a bouncer.”

“And then, guess what?” Dar jubilantly expresses, “He listened to me from far away!”

The next ball, Rasikh ran with more intensity and indeed bowled a short-pitch to the world’s 12th ranked batsman Shikhar Dhawan, who even ended up getting caught at mid-wicket – but the curse of a no-ball snatched away the debutant’s chance to celebrate his first ever scalp.

Nevertheless, Rasikh only got better. In the very third delivery, he bowled a ‘cracker’ that whizzed past Dhawan’s bat, barely missing out an outside edge. And by the end of the first three overs, Rasikh’s bowling figures read: 3-0-21-0.

“My son has always come back strong,” Dar says sporting a proud smile.

Until 2017 begun, Rasikh was only exposed to club competitions and had played a few district tournaments. When he appeared for the state-level trials, he faced straight rejections. Despite repeated attempts, Rasikh was told that “he doesn’t have what it takes to play cricket for J&K”.

The criticism did affect him, but it was only a matter of time before he would come out stronger. He enrolled himself to any and every district tournament across the state.

From Rajouri-Poonch to Baramulla, he travelled and played as much competitive cricket he possibly could. Not a day would pass by when he wouldn’t hit the nets. And back home, all Dar would discuss with Rasikh was cricket.

“More than being a father, I’ve been his head coach,” says Dar, who is also a teacher by profession.

Salam’s brother posing with his trophies. (FPK Photo/Zishan Amiri)

“I’m glad he feels comfortable talking to me about all his highs and lows. Although before flying to Mumbai he had warned me to not discuss anything about the team selection or his individual game, I don’t think I would be able to hold myself from doing so. At least the latter,” he chuckles.

Indeed, it was Dar’s timely bits of advice that helped Rasikh turn the tables in 2018 trials. He was straightaway selected in state’s U-19 team under the eyes of star Indian all-rounder Irfan Pathan, under whom he groomed further.

Rasikh Salam with Irfan Pathan.

A “natural talent”, as Dar describes, Rasikh is known for his toe-crushing yorkers and seamy in-swingers. He had come into the limelight for the hat-trick he had taken in a friendly state match in September last year. He had sent four batsmen packing that day with his fiery pace, uprooting the middle stump thrice.

But it was the skillful six-wicket spell in the Cooch Behar Trophy last year that caught the eyes of the Mumbai Indians scouts. By the end of the season, as the rest of the team returned home, he was on his way to Mumbai for trials. And in December, Rasikh became only the third player from J&K to have made it to the cash-rich IPL, after Parvez Rasool and Manzoor Dar.

He also excelled during the Vijay Hazare Trophy and even went on to join the senior Ranji team. And now, he is at the Mumbai Indians nets, sharing the locker room with scores of legendary names of the cricketing world.

But coming from the region with poor cricket infrastructure, performing at Wankhede indeed wasn’t going to be a cakewalk.

Rasikh had gone for only 21 runs of his first three overs, but in the final over he was taken to task and leaked double of what he had conceded in the first three. But then, even the world number one bowler Jasprit Bumrah had a bad day at office, giving away 40 odd runs.

Salam with his MI coach Zaheer Khan.

However, back home, Dar is still a happy man. As he says – “I’ve never been more proud of my son’s accomplishments.”

“I remember he was only 13 when he was trying his hands on Dilscoop (a cricket batting stroke—developed by former Sri Lankan right-handed batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan during the ICC World Twenty20 held during June 2009 in England—where batsman goes on his one knee and hits over the wicket-keeper’s head).”

It was a local tournament, Dar continues, and Rasikh was batting positively, until he was hit on his jaw while trying out the shot.

Salam’s home in Kulgam. (FPK Photo/Zishan Amiri)

“After a while, he tried again and only ended up hurting his jaw the second consecutive time. But despite the pain, he had continued batting and in the third attempt, he masterfully pulled off the Dilscoop. When the match ended and we took him to the doctor, he had to undergo three stitches,” Dar recalls, looking at his son’s cabinet full of trophies.

The rising pacer from Kulgam is someone who does what he wants and has a never-say-die attitude, Dar says. “And I’m sure he will perform better in the next game, and Inshallah, continue making his Abbu more and more proud.”

 

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