Cricket Dreams & Crisis: What A Young Kashmiri’s Story Tells Us

24-yr-old Shabir from Pulwama has impressive left-handed batting skills and has played under-23 Ranji matches.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
Shabir ‘Lefty’ posing with the special helmet that he received from Irfan Pathan, with his parents (on either side).
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Amid the action-packed drama and high-voltage geopolitics of Kashmir, here’s something different. It normally wouldn’t make news, for it’s simply about a sudden jolt to the aspirations of one young man.

Shabir Ahmad Nengroo, who is generally called ‘Lefty’, owing to his impressive left-handed batting skills, has played under-23 Ranji matches and even an international match for India. He had great dreams of playing more of both.

But he is at a wrenching crossroads after his father, a lorry driver with no savings, died in August 2020, following a sudden heart attack.

His death has left Shabir with the responsibility of caring for his mother and younger siblings.

Shabir ‘Lefty’ posing with the special helmet that he received from Irfan Pathan, with his parents (on either side).
Shabir ‘Lefty’ posing with the special helmet that he received from Irfan Pathan, with his parents (on either side).
(Photo: Accessed by David Devadas for The Quint)

As it is, family poverty has meant that the 24-year old’s trajectory is way behind what it might have been. Now, it might just plummet.

Kashmir’s Poor Are The Ones Who Seek Peace & Prosperity

Shabir’s story is important precisely because he hails from near the bottom of the socioeconomic rungs of Kashmir’s society.

My survey of several thousand youth across the Valley, published in ‘The Generation of Rage in Kashmir’, established that those who live in the poorest families and in the most remote areas are the most likely to want peace and opportunities for prosperity.

Ironically, I found that sons of high-salaried government officers, so-called mainstream politicians, and others among the elites of the state establishment often had the most strongly anti-State views. This category is eloquent, voluble, and brassily confident. Since they are savvy about the media and social media, their narratives get huge traction.

Shabir ‘Lefty’ on a poster
Shabir ‘Lefty’ on a poster
(Photo: Accessed by David Devadas for The Quint)

Of course, those who shout the loudest not only attract the most attention, they also get the most care from the State. Those who go quietly about their lives, working hard to make a career in a field such as cricket, get short shrift.

Take Shabir. He lives in Pulwama, which has emerged as the hotbed of resentment and rebellion over the past decade.

Shabir concentrated on his batting skills instead, and earned high praise from district authorities as well as big names in cricket. He proudly shows pictures of himself with Irfan Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohit Sharma, Enamul Haq Bijoy of Bangladesh, and several other big names.

Shabir ‘Lefty’ with the Indian cricketer Irfan Pathan.
Shabir ‘Lefty’ with the Indian cricketer Irfan Pathan.
(Photo: Accessed by David Devadas for The Quint)

Shabir’s Cricket Journey

Shabir has been playing ever since he can remember. By the time he was around eight years old, he had formed a team, which he captained. They would play with only one pad, one glove, and sticks for wickets, but with full dedication.

On 15 August 2020, Shabir ‘Lefty’ received the award for promising cricketer at the police lines, Pulwama
On 15 August 2020, Shabir ‘Lefty’ received the award for promising cricketer at the police lines, Pulwama
(Photo: Accessed by David Devadas for The Quint)

Shabir gradually emerged from the poorer quarters of Pulwama town. While still in school, he was noticed when he scored a century against a team from Tahab, a nearby hamlet. After that match, at Awantipora, he got to play at Bijbehara.

By the time he was in high school, he had played inter-district, inter-division, and even at the national level. “I have found that hard work pays off,” he remarks.

Shabir gradually made such a name locally that a manufacturer of steel rods put up hoardings naming him as their brand ambassador for Pulwama, and gave him a relatively small fee.

Cricketer Mohit Sharma (L) with Shabir ‘Lefty’
Cricketer Mohit Sharma (L) with Shabir ‘Lefty’
(Photo: Accessed by David Devadas for The Quint)

Shabir’s Moments Of Cricket Glory

Shabir’s personal diary helps him keep track of his growth as a player, the advice he has been given over the years, and his progress towards his goals.

About five years ago, Shabir formed the Pulwama Gymkhana, a team established with the support of a couple of local businessmen and a mentor from the education department. They invite promising players to join and welcome any aspiring player to try out.

Shabir ‘Lefty’ posing with the ‘Promising Cricketer Award’ at Pulwama Stadium
Shabir ‘Lefty’ posing with the ‘Promising Cricketer Award’ at Pulwama Stadium
(Photo: Accessed by David Devadas for The Quint)

The first of July 2018 is a red letter day in his diary.

It records the day former national player Irfan Pathan, who has coached and mentored Jammu and Kashmir cricketers, was so impressed with Shabir’s performance at the nets that he gifted him his helmet.

He says that Pathan asked Pervez Rasool, an idol for Shabir and most other Kashmiri cricketers, to call him over, and then presented the helmet. He adds that Rasool told him that this was a rare gesture, and he should treasure that helmet.

Indeed, Shabir is very proud of a picture of his parents flanking him as all three hold the helmet. Pathan is also left-handed, Shabir remarks, underlining his connection with the star player.

Apparently, Pathan liked his stance, and the way Shabir chose to play each ball—or not.

Another interaction Shabir remembers fondly was with Ravindra Jadeja a couple of years ago. On the eve of their match in Rajkot, the Kashmiri players discovered Jadeja was in the hotel where they were staying. Shabir says Jadeja advised him to always keep in mind the hardships his parents had faced.

One of finest Indian cricketers Shubham Gill, with Shabir ‘Lefty’
One of finest Indian cricketers Shubham Gill, with Shabir ‘Lefty’
(Photo: Accessed by David Devadas for The Quint)

Life After Grief: At A Crossroads

Shabir appears to have taken to heart all these nuggets of wisdom he has picked up over the years. He is evidently responsible, straight-forward, and hard-working.

Even though he is the first in his extended family to have been educated, or to have flown in an aircraft—all because of cricket—he has done fairly well in exams too.

That is all to the good, for when he emerges from his father’s mourning, he will have to call upon all that wisdom and insight to figure out how best to navigate life’s choppy waters.

(David Devadas is the author of ‘The Story of Kashmir’ and ‘The Generation of Rage’ in Kashmir (OUP). He tweets @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the authors’ own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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