Skalzang Dorjey Becomes First Ladakhi Picked in J&K’s Cricket Team
31-year-old Skalzang Dorjey Kalyan has become the first cricketer from Ladakh to be selected to play for J&K.
'Ladakh' has been a major keyword for most Indian news outlets during 2020. First, due to the scrapping of Article 370 and then the India-China border standoff.
The implications of both, understandably, have been quite tough to handle for the people living in the region. However, news from the cricketing world could spread cheer in the cold winter days of Ladakh.
Skalzang Dorjey Kalyan, a resident of Tugla Village in Leh, has been named in Jammu and Kashmir’s squad for BCCI’s Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Trophy, becoming the first-ever cricketer from the Ladakh region to break into the team.
"I have no words to describe my feelings. It was unexpected and I am too happy to say anything," an elated Skalzang said.
Since telephone connectivity is still an issue in Ladakh, Skalzang had to make multiple attempts before delivering the good news to his family and friends, back in Leh.
"When I informed them about it (selection), they were extremely happy," he told The Quint during a phone conversation after his selection.
Early Years and a Selfless Mentor
The journey to his selection in the team has been both challenging and full of surprises. Skalzang, 31, bowls left-arm spin and tries to take inspiration from New Zealand veteran Daniel Vettori and former Indian spinner Pragyan Ojha.
It all started from his school days in Karnataka, where he met a coach from Mysore, who showed him the path that has now led him to glory.
"I have done my schooling in Bangalore. There was Mahabodhi Hostel, where children of financially-weak families are admitted for studies and that is where my cricket journey began," he recalls.
“I was representing my hostel in one of the tournaments and the coach of Mysore University spotted me. He motivated and guided me, without charging me a penny,” he added.
Skalzang continued to be under his guidance and even represented Mysore University during the completion of his BPEd degree.
Parting Ways, & Then Reuniting With Cricket
The real challenge to Skalzang’s cricketing dreams, however, was awaiting him back in his hometown after he finished his education. With hardly any grounds to play cricket on in Ladakh, Skalzang was left with no option but to concentrate on finding a job.
"Cricket is undoubtedly played in Ladakh, but there is no concept of professional cricket. So, I thought why to waste my time and, as my family also suggested, I started to look for a job instead," he said.
After a few years though, destiny again made him take to the cricket field. This time, for a local tournament in Leh itself where the sport had caught on a little.
“In 2015, I played my debut tournament in Leh, which reinstated the dream of becoming a cricketer in me. Thereafter, I never looked back.” Skalzang said.
In 2018, luckily for Skalzang, Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA) decided to include districts of Ladakh in their set-up.
"We were called for a camp in Srinagar for some days and upon looking at our skills, we were told about the improvements we could make in our game. Thankfully, JKCA sent us to KC Sports Club (cricket academy in Jammu) for a couple of months thereafter," he recalled.
"There, we trained hard and started taking cricket more seriously, as all arrangements were made by JKCA," he added.
The Big Break
After many years spent learning the sport, and some playing it more professionally, Skalzang’s big breakthrough came when he played in the recently-held T20 tournament in Leh.
"This time, a tournament was held in Leh by District Cricket Association, under strict SOPs of COVID-19. The best performers were marked and some days back, we were sent to Jammu for Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy trials," Skalzang remarked.
The trial camp wasn't a dream-come-true for Skalzang just because of the opportunity to get noticed but also because he met local cricketers Parvez Rasool and Abdul Samad, who recently played in the IPL for the first.
"I had seen Samad on TV, hitting those bix sixes, and it just felt out of this world to be around him. But, amid this, I was concentrating on competing in the trials," Skalzang said, with a bright smile on his face. "I was trying to be confident and bowl as well as I can."
Not just his left-arm spin bowling, Skalzang's exceptional fielding surprised selectors.
“Actually, in Ladakh, the grounds are different, there is no grass and the outfield is very rugged. So, fielding there is really tough. Once I came here and saw the grassy field, it all felt easy,” he shared.
The J&K squad list of 20 announced for the BCCI’s annual domestic T20 tournament had his name on it As he takes one more step towards the big leagues, Skalzang wants to utilise the remaining days in improving his weaknesses.
“I will try and improve myself. Once I play in the event, I will try to improvise whatever my captain and team wants from me,” he said.
For Skalzang, this is not just his individual achievement; he aims to be a pathbreaker for other cricketers of Ladakh region, striving to reach the top-level.
"I believe there were players who could have played at higher levels from Ladakh but since we were not a part of JKCA, they couldn't. But now, things are changing. I want to be the pathbreaker," he said, optimistically.
"When I'll go back after playing this tournament, I will share my experience with the boys there and guide them. My dream is now to make the most of this opportunity," he said, signing off.
('A cricket nut' would be how Mohsin Kamal would best describe himself. A keen fan and follower of the game, his days start and end with reading, researching and penning down stories on topics that resonate with him.)
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