Rasikh Salam Dar would have never played cricket again. The young fast bowler from Jammu and Kashmir felt his career was almost over after facing the two-year ban for age-fudging in June 2019.
The sanction came barely a couple of months after Rasikh made his debut for Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League. Even though he conceded runs and failed to claim a wicket, the MI camp supported him throughout.
And after the stint with Mumbai, Rasikh was getting ready to travel to England for a tri-series with the India U-19 team, when the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) banned him “following a discrepancy submission of faulty birth certificate.”
From being one of the brightest talents, the world came crashing for Rashid. “It was a very tough phase for him. When he returned home to Kulgam, many people felt that it would not be possible for him to bounce back. It was incredibly difficult,” his cousin Nadeem Dar told Sportstar on Wednesday, a few minutes after Rasikh featured in the playing eleven for Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL 2022 fixture against MI in Pune.
Being a first-class cricketer, Dar knows the challenges a player goes through in such times and recollecting those dark days he believes that Rasikh was very strong and determined to make a comeback. “For an athlete, who had just started his career, it was very difficult to phase all that, but his family was very supportive…”
“MI provided mental support and training. He would often be in Mumbai to train,” Dar said.
Whenever he would be back home in Kulgam, Rasikh would make it a point to train with Dar. “We had come up with a plan on how to train regularly. Every day, we would go to the park nearby for practice. He would bowl and I would bat, and that would go on for a few hours. In the evening, we were back again with a similar drill,” Dar said.
“After playing in the IPL, he had gained that experience, so there would be times when Rasikh would even guide me with gym sessions. Both of us enjoyed those sessions. A lot of people said that bahot mushkil hoga comeback karna (it would be very difficult to make a comeback), but none of us paid heed to those things. We knew that he has age on his side, and he is a tagda (strong) bowler, who has the potential to play for India.”
The cousins bunked classes to play cricket together back in the day. “When he was in school, I would often go to his class and ask the teacher to excuse him so that we could play together. There would be times when the teachers even complained to his father, but eventually, everyone realised that both of us wanted to take up the game seriously,” Dar reminisced.
Before joining the MI camp three years ago, Rasikh had gone for the U-19 trials in 2017 but never got an opportunity to bowl. His life, however, took a turn in 2018 when former India fast bowling all-rounder Irfan Pathan joined Jammu and Kashmir as the mentor of the team.
During one of the talent hunt camps in Srinagar, Rasikh’s outswingers impressed Pathan. “He is an outstanding talent. He can bowl an outstanding slow one, can swing it both ways, and he will get quicker the more he plays. He can bat well at No. 8, so I am hoping that things will only get better from hereon” Pathan told Sportstar.
“After the ban, it was a difficult phase for him. But he did not lose hope. For a youngster, it was very difficult to not play cricket for two years, but all credit to him for the way he managed it all. No matter how much cricket he plays, MI’s contribution will always be there with him,” Pathan added.
“He used all the facilities for two years because they saw a great future in him. Now, he is playing for KKR, but these two years were difficult. He kept working hard, kept himself busy and now he is reaping the benefits…”
Milap Mewada, who was the coach of Jammu and Kashmir during that time, remembers how Rasikh’s raw pace impressed both him and Pathan. “We had open trials for a few days in Jammu and Kashmir, where we identified several youngsters – including Rasikh and Abdul Samad. Rasikh had raw pace and variety. I remember he took a hat-trick in one of the practice games,” Mewada said.
Jammu and Kashmir pacer Rasikh Salam in action against Tamil Nadu in the Vijay Hazare Trophy in 2018. – FILE PHOTO/ B. Jothi Ramalingam
By then, Rasikh hadn’t played U-19 cricket, but Pathan and Mewada thought that it was a perfect time to draft the youngster into the senior team for the Vijay Hazare Trophy. “Many in the association did not like too many changes and we faced resistance. But we still went ahead with it and he played in the Vijay Hazare Trophy and had an impressive outing,” Mewada said.
Rasikh was even part of MI’s net bowling squad when the ban ended last year. But taking many by surprise, in this year’s mega auction, KKR picked Rasikh and eventually handed him a debut against his former franchise.
Rasikh bowled three overs for 18 runs without a wicket, but he will be happy to return to the cricket ground.