How Umran Malik became an icon for young Kashmiri cricketers

A group of youngsters are playing cricket on a small ground along the Tawi River in Gujar Nagar locality of Jammu city early in the morning.

A 12-year-old boy runs while holding a tennis ball tightly in his right hand.

The ball, bowled fast and with all his energy, goes past the batsman and hits a stone that marked the wicket.

Jubilated, the bowler walks a few yards towards the batsman with a sense of pride and says: “It’s not easy to play Umran Malik’s pace.”

The comment drew a cheer and laughter from those around them and was also evident of a Kashmiri star’s rise in the world of cricket.

Son of a fruit seller, Malik was recruited as a net bowler by the Sunrisers but when Thangarasu Natarajan was ruled out of the tournament due to COVID, Malik was drafted into the squad.

Malik, 21, delivered the fastest ball of the recently concluded Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021, an Indian T20 league event, at 153kmph (95mph).

He became an instant star. And as he regularly clocked more than 150kmph (93mph) during the few IPL matches he played for the Sunrisers Hyderabad, he drew praise from many, including Indian captain Virat Kohli.

“This tournament throws up talent every year. It’s good to see a guy bowling at 150 [kmph]. It is important to understand the progress of individuals from here on,” Kohli said.

He added that the pool of fast bowlers being strong is “always a good sign for Indian cricket and whenever you see talent like this, you are going to have your eyes on them and make sure you maximise their potential which is already being seen at the IPL level”.

His pace attracted admiration from experts of the game as well.

Former West Indies fast bowler Ian Bishop said Malik has got all the qualities of a really “potent weapon”.

“Malik has raw pace, which is hard to come by. It’s a rare commodity,” he said on ESPNcricinfo.

Indian commentator Harsha Bhogle said Malik was not “just a tearaway” and looked like a “proper bowler” who needed to be looked after.

In 2018, Malik was picked for the Jammu and Kashmir under-19 team. He went on to play in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, a domestic Twenty20 cricket championship in India, and the Ranji One-Day Trophy.

Though the Sunrisers Hyderabad did not have a good season in this year’s IPL – finishing last on the table – for Malik, the turnout opened new opportunities.

He was told to stay back in the UAE after being picked as a net bowler with India’s national team for the T20 World Cup.

As a young boy, Malik was a regular on the field that the youngsters were playing and enacting his feats.

Here, the patch, dotted with potholes and rubbish, often doubled up as a grazing ground for sheep and buffaloes.

“We are so happy to see our son play in the IPL and now he has been selected as a net bowler for the World Cup. He has made all of us proud,” his father, Abdul Rashid Malik, told Al Jazeera at their home in Jammu.

“He was always passionate about cricket. The only thing he loved was cricket and we never stopped him from playing,” he said. “We just pray that he plays for the Indian team now and make his country proud.”

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