Village lad Manzoor Ahmad Dar, 24, can hit the ball hard, handsome and long, even with a raw willow cleft, forget an English willow. His coach and selectors swear by his raw talent and ability to hit balls out of the biggest grounds.
“He is Mr 100 metre sixer man," says Abdul Qayoom, coach of the Jammu and Kashmir cricket team. "He gives the ball a real thump. Last year in a match with Punjab, he hit a few sixes that were 100 metres plus," recalls Qayoom.
Qayoom, an express bowler himself and a contemporary of Kapil Dev, turned out regularly for the North Zone. He was not only one of the top wicket-takers for the state, but would use the long handle to great effect.
"This boy has talent for the shorter game. Give him 12 to 15 deliveries and he will tilt the game in his team's favour,” he says of Manzoor.
Manzoor is tall and has a stocky built. He stands at 6 feet 2 inches and weighs 84 kg. Friends touch his forearm teasingly and shout ‘Pandav’ which means ‘strong man’, like the Pandav brothers in Mahabharata. He smiles back at them.
So how did he get the ‘Pandav’ nickname?
"We were playing a kabbadi match in our village one day. When my turn came, I crossed the opponent's half and lifted three members to my side when they tried to put me down. At that very instant, locals started to call me Pandav. I haven't objected to this tag," he tells News18.
‘Pandav’ was picked up for Jammu and Kashmir on Friday for the T20 Mushtaq Ali Memorial Cup for the second consecutive year.
"Last year I played a few matches and got noticed after I smashed a brisk 34 in one match. The selectors picked me for North Zone probables," he adds.
"This is my second season and I hope to do well. I hope I will make an impact," says the shy batsman, who occasionally bowls medium pacers. Manzoor plays on Monday against Services.
The soft spoken all-rounder comes from a poor family and belongs to Sonawari area of North Kashmir’s Bandipore district. His father is a labourer and struggles to make both ends meet. Being eldest of four siblings, the responsibility of the family has now fallen on his broad shoulders.
And he hasn't disappointed, though the earnings come at the cost of his cricket which requires more commitment.
The hard-hitting batsman juggles between a few jobs. He is a security guard at a private motor company at night and a wood craftsman in the day though he finds few hours to turn up at Srinagar's main cricket stadium for practice.
He says that a few years ago he would cycle between his workplace and stadium because he had no fare to pay.
"I would shuttle 18 km a day from office to stadium and, back but never miss my training."
His financial position is “not that bad” now since he has become popular for hitting sixes and is "hired almost every other day by local teams".
"Local teams invite me to play and sometimes even pay if I help them win. They arrange for everything," he says.
One team even took him to Dubai where the Kashmiri diaspora had organised a tournament. "It was a sponsored trip and I was paid well. Some local clubs think that if I am on their side, they have a huge advantage. I can turn around a match quickly," he says with pride.
Arshad Bhat, Jammu and Kashmir team selector and former Ranji player told News18 Manzoor a.k.a Pandav needs a few good performances and exposure to be considered for IPL.
"A bit of luck and bit of performance and he can get there," says Bhat.
Manzoor sounds confident too. "I am targeting IPL. Let us see how it goes," he told News 18 hours before his team's crucial match.
Abdul QayoomIndian Premier LeagueIPL 2018jammu and kashmir cricket teamManzoor Ahmad DarMushtaq Ali Memorial Cup
First Published: January 7, 2018, 8:50 AM IST