Bandipora, Sep 17: As Team India’s star allrounder Hardik Himanshu Pandya is making a fortune, Kashmir’s cricket star Manzoor Ahmad Dar alias ‘Pandav’ is finding himself abandoned by the sports authorities and struggling to make a living.
Pandya, who plays for the Indian national cricket team at the international level and the Baroda cricket team domestically, captained the new Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Gujarat Titans and led them to their maiden IPL title in the 2022 edition.
Kashmir’s IPL cricket star ‘Pandav’ on the other hand is struggling to take care of the expenses of his family and has returned to play local cricket and to take care of his family’s needs.
“Despite dedicating my entire life to cricket and so much hard work, the local administration ignoring my efforts has deeply saddened me,” Dar told Greater Kashmir in an exclusive interview.
Dar, born to a farmer’s family and the eldest among eight siblings, comes from a decrepit village of Shinganpora in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district.
He has even done jobs like wood cutting and acted as a private security guard while working hard and making a mark in cricket both locally as well as nationally.
When he was 24, his pick in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2018 by Kings XI Punjab for Rs 20 lakh was widely celebrated not only in his native village but by and large in Kashmir as well.
“Like any other player, despite tremendous hardships at home, I started my cricket story from the local level. I played with a tennis ball wearing slippers at my village ground,” Manzoor said.
Gradually, as young Manzoor’s skills got noticed, he was introduced by local teams to play alongside them.
“I loved cricket so much that I would continuously watch it on TV and even travel long distances by foot to watch local cricket,” Manzoor said.
As time went by, Manzoor began working as a private night security guard at a motor vehicles workshop in Srinagar city.
“The job gave me an opportunity as my friends there would take me to play cricket to various places. This gave me an idea and direction to proceed towards my dream of playing big cricket,” Manzoor said.
With practice, Manzoor began playing club cricket with Kashmir’s oldest and most well-known clubs - Hyderia, Kashmir Gymkhana, and ACC.
“Playing with these clubs was like playing for the state as all Ranji players would play in them and my heart had always desired for this,” he said. “From 2011 to 2013, I played leagues and tournaments where I performed well and later on began to start appearing in trials.”
In the trials, Manzoor performed well following which he made it to the camp where senior and big players would help him improve his techniques.
Later in 2016, Manzoor debuted in the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
“I performed well there too and became the first cricketer after playing only four games to appear in the North Zone in which all Indian cricketers played,” he said. “That was the start and by the grace of Almighty Allah the story goes on. I worked hard and dedicated my entire life to Jammu and Kashmir. I wanted some platform from the state, Besides, scores of aspiring young cricketers follow me even now.”
Manzoor said that though the government helped certain players by ensuring their livelihood was taken care of, he found himself without any help.
“I have four sisters and three brothers, who are still studying, and parents to take care of,” he said. “I several times requested the administration to hire me as a coach for J&K Sports Council or the Department of Youth Services and Sports but I only got the cold shoulder.”
Manzoor said that had there been some support from the administration he would have been able to balance his professional and personal life.
The 20 lakh the IPL auction provided him was not enough to meet his family’s needs and take care of his ailing parents.
“I have been playing local tournaments to manage my family expenses though it does not suffice,” Manzoor said, spotting a T-shirt, old trousers, and worn-out shoes at Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium Bandipora where he was to play a match.
He feels sad and is worried if he could manage to continue supporting his siblings to complete their studies.
“My sister getting admission to the university to do her post-graduation is the greatest joy for me. One of my brothers is also preparing for NEET and my other siblings are continuing with their studies. For me, helping them complete their studies means a lot. However, when I can’t meet the family’s expenses and pay their tuition fee, I become extremely sad and worried,” an anxious Manzoor said. “It is for them that I am out to play and join local cricket.”
Manzoor is also struggling with his fitness for the past seven to eight months as he had to attend to his fatally-injured uncle at a hospital.
He is worried that his cricketing career might be over and he would be left to fend for himself with a large family to take care of.
“I have given my blood, sweat, and tears to build myself and even sacrificed my studies for several years to serve J&K. Allah forbid if I am not able to play cricket again due to any reason or my fitness doesn’t get back, I will be lost in history. It will all be because there was not any support for me from the government,” Pandav said.