So Rasool was within touching distance of an India cap because he had shown the ability to take wickets with his offspin and score lower middle-order runs. But he wasn't just another up and coming Indian cricketer. Rasool was from Kashmir- and his was a story to celebrate. He had beaten the odds. He was a pioneer. Rasool was destined from that moment on to be more than just another cricketer.
When interviewing Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah on the day Rasool was selected, I was struck by his candour. Making no effort to conceal his excitement, Abdullah insisted he would be deeply disappointed if Rasool played for any reasons other than his 'cricketing merit'. Abdullah told me "For the first time we have been able to create an icon for the pre-eminent sport of the country".
He had identified Rasool as the symbol of an alternate reality to disgruntled youth in his state. In Zimbabwe, when Rasool would play for India, Abdullah hoped thousands would crowd around TV sets in a joyous celebration of a feat that was unimaginable so far.
Unfortunately, Abdullah didn't recognise that sport isn't always as romantic. After Rasool missed out on selection in the first four games, Abdullah tweeted, "Really disappointed that Parvez Rasool hasn't been given a game in Zimbabwe. Come on BCCI give the young man a chance to prove himself".
This appeared at first to be the exhortation of an impatient fan, eager to see his man in action. However, once Rasool was left out of the final game as well, Abdullah wandered into the ridiculous. "Did you really have to take him all the way to Zimbabwe to demoralise him?? Wouldn't it have been cheaper to just do it at home???" he outraged.
Let us break these assumptions down. Does Abdullah no longer believe Rasool must play only on "cricketing merit"? If he does, who judges this "cricketing merit"? He, in faraway Srinagar? Or the Indian team management on the ground at Bulawayo? Did Rasool confide in Abdullah about being 'demoralised'? Or is that the CM's own assessment? Could the snub not have the converse impact on Rasool and motivate him to get even better at his craft and force his way into the eleven when an opportunity next arises?
As for it being cheaper to 'do it at home', that is a laughable claim. If Abdullah were to only ask, young cricketers often speak glowingly about being on a tour even as bench-warmers. Over this series, Rasool had access to a knowledgeable coaching staff, soaked in the atmospherics of an India squad on tour, was part of intense fielding sessions he wouldn't have experienced yet at the lower levels of the game. He may not have earned a debut, but his education in the game was certainly enhanced.
By dramatizing Rasool's non-debut, Abdullah does disservice to his future as an India cricketer. There were murmurs already that his elevation was as much about symbolism as about merit. Abdullah has added weight to that sinister argument. Abdullah should have recognised Rasool's predicament isn't new. Indian cricket is replete with examples of players who have carried drinks over long overseas tours. Think back to the tri-series in Australia in early 2012, when Manoj Tiwary failed to get a game. Did Abdullah hear the Bengal chief minister throw the toys out of the cot?
Cricket selections are at times flabbergasting and outrageous. But once a player is part of the India set-up he ceases to be regional representative. When that tag is reasserted it impedes the player's progress. When Rasool does finally play for India, Abdullah's twitter tirade will inevitably be brought up. And the doubters will whisper, "Maybe he's playing because his chief minister raised a stink and got his dad in the BCCI to put pressure on the powers that be". How awful will that be for Rasool to hear that on the proudest day of his cricketing life?
When cornered after his outrage, Abdullah joined forces with Union Minister Shashi Tharoor on twitter. On learning of Rasool' exclusion, Tharoor observed, "Greatly disappointed that Parvez Rasool not playing today. Bizarre selection. Could easily have rested Jadeja & Raina for Rasool & Rahane. What's the point leading 4-0 if you can't give every member of the touring team a chance to play at least once by reshuffling the deck now?"
Five hours after his original tweet, Abdullah clearly buoyed by support from a prominent voice jumped in, "What amazes me is that people on all these websites have criticised me for having an opinion as if being CM means I shouldn't", he replied to Tharoor. And then thundered "Mamata Banerjee can felicitate an IPL team, Govt's can reward medal winners & I'm not supposed to have an opinion about cricket. SAYS WHO??"
So let's make sense of this little interplay now. Tharoor is a well-known "cricket tragic". He has romanced the game from his time as a schoolboy and written eloquently about it. He's even had a failed dalliance with the IPL. Tharoor has voiced his 'opinion' about the game for years now and in this case too he was making a sound cricketing argument, no more. Tharoor was at no point suggesting Rasool, the Kashmiri cricketer, was being side-lined unfairly. His angst was that of a regular follower of the game and frankly was hard to argue against. The series had been won and every other member of the squad had played a game. So it was only natural to assume Rasool would get one too. The swap Tharoor suggested in the make-up of the XI was reasonable as well.
Abdullah's interest in the game though isn't as well established. His father is the president of the state association but was young Omar ever a player himself? Does he follow the fortunes of the Indian cricket team? Has he tweeted much in the past about the goings on in the game? He asked vehemently, "I'm not supposed to have an opinion about cricket. SAYS WHO??"
Of course you do sir, but why the sudden urge to do so when a player from your state is the talking point? Have you felt similar angst when other fringe players have waited in vain for their opportunity? Amit Mishra, man of the series in Zimbabwe, has played 20 games in 10 years since his debut. Wonder if he ever felt 'demoralised'? As for another chief minister felicitating an IPL team, what is to stop you from doing just that if your Jammu & Kashmir boys win a domestic title? How is that comparable to voicing a view about a player from your state who is part of the national set-up?
Beyond the haranguing here is the bottom line: Parvez Rasool is no longer merely a Kashmiri cricketer. He is now an Indian cricketer from Kashmir. He belongs to Indian cricket and he will sink or swim with Indian cricket. CM saab, he is already the icon you were looking for. He can already be feted. He can already be celebrated. But his journey has just begun. You have played your part in delivering him to the point from where it commenced. Now trust those in the know to take over.
First Published: August 4, 2013, 10:13 AM IST