At the match in Srinagar on Wednesday. (Express Photo by Shuaib Masoodi)
A few hundred meters from the TRC ground, where thousands turned up to support Real Kashmir Football club for their I-league match, another set of players took to the field silently Wednesday at the S K Cricket stadium in Srinagar.
Though only a few hundred schoolchildren cheered the players, the ice was broken. The boys from the old Srinagar city, stereotyped for throwing stones during protests, were face-to-face with top state administration officials on the cricket field. The Administration XI was led by Srinagar Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Imtiyaz Ismail Parray.
“The idea was to show that downtown (old city) is the heart of Srinagar,” said Deputy Commissioner Srinagar Syed Abid Rashid Shah, who belongs to the old city and chose to lead the Downtown XI team.
“We have to make sure that the heart stays healthy. We need to ensure that youngsters get an opportunity. Obviously, Downtown is our core priority,” Shah said.
The downtown city, a stronghold of the separatists and bastion of Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, is stereotyped for its stone-throwing protests every Friday. The youth of the old city are often at loggerheads with the state administration.
In this backdrop, Wednesday’s friendly cricket match at S K Cricket Stadium — where the seeds of rebellion were sown during a cricket match between India and West Indies in 1983 — was significant. During the match in 1983, the Indian team was booed by supporters of the separatist cause and some were accused of digging up the pitch during the lunch break.
Players said that politics took a backseat during the match as the old city team triumphed over the administration. “We are here only to play cricket,” said a Downtown XI player.
The Downtown XI team triumphed comprehensively over the Administration XI. Batting first, Downtown XI set the Administration XI a target of 165 runs in 20 overs. The Administration XI were bowled out for merely 82 runs.
Officials said that this was just the beginning of the plan to reach out to the youth from old city, and more such matches will be held in the coming days.