Politics cannot do much good to sports, but sports can do some good to politics. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has been criticised for his tweets on the non-selection of Kashmiri off-spinner and lower middle-order batsman Parvez Rasool for India’s last One Day International cricket match against Zimbabwe. But there is no denying an Indian team with Rasool playing would have been great not only for cricket in Kashmir — and thus, by extension, for cricket in India — but also for a people long on hurt and short on hope. Rasool would certainly have brought cheer to a State that has lived under the constant shadow of violence for more than two decades. Rasool’s selection to the playing XI would have provided a big inspirational boost to cricket in J&K, encouraging other youngsters to take to the game quickly and earnestly. The wider the talent pool, the greater the chances of finding more and better players, and the cause of Indian cricket would have been served well. Of course, stand-in captain Virat Kohli cannot be blamed for not keeping the bigger picture in mind since his priority was to go with a team that would win all the matches. Giving everyone on the bench a look-in was secondary in his to-do list. In many ways, to have chosen Rasool for purely political considerations would have been worse than not having chosen him. The promising spinner would then have remained a ‘regional’ cricketer, and not earned the respect and admiration of India’s players and fans. The Kashmiri all-rounder did not need political godfathers for reaching this level in cricket, and he surely does not need them to climb further.
While there is surely a vast reservoir of cricketing talent waiting to be tapped in Kashmir, those who think a Kashmiri playing cricket for India can change the troubled history of the Valley are mistaken. The Kashmir issue is a complex one and Rasool, or cricket itself, can make no definite impact on the State’s future. It is surely too much to expect one cricketer playing for India to contribute in any substantive way to ending the alienation of Kashmiri Muslims in the Valley. Rasool has talent and his day will come. But getting him to do well for Indian cricket is the easy part. Untying Kashmir’s political knots will require more than the combined efforts of Kohli or M.S. Dhoni or the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Cricket is no magic wand that can erase scars that have accumulated over long years. When all is said and done, a political problem can only have political solutions. Cricket isn’t the problem in Kashmir, and cricket can’t be the solution.