Think Jammu and Kashmir, and a range of images flash before the eyes. From the shikaras in the Dal Lake to the scenic valley with snow-tipped mountains to school books mentioning Kashmir as 'Heaven on Earth'. But rarely has one associated cricket with the valley, especially under the prevailing political situation, until Parvez Rasool decided to put J&K on the map of India's most cherished sport.
The 2012-13 Ranji Trophy season marked the start of all the right moves made by the 24-year-old allrounder, who as a child used to accompany his father Ghulam Rasool to the grounds and later idolised Abdul Qayuum before putting his heart into cricket.
His 594 runs and 33 wickets in the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy season opened the Team India nets to him, and after impressing MS Dhoni & Co, Rasool got the ticket to Board President's XI squad against the visiting Australians. Figures of 7 for 45 in that game put him firmly in the eyes of Indian selectors, but before that it was Pune Warriors India who knocked at his door with an IPL contract in hand.
Rasool's mentor and coach at J&K, Bishan Singh Bedi, who reserves his praise only for the best, gave his offbreaks and useful batting 10 out of 10 for commitment, skill and talent. But when a few tried to use Rasool's rise to fame to gain political ground in the J&K, Rasool was quick to get his point across. "I don't want any politics in my game. I don't know how they bring politics into cricket. Insha Allah I will make it [to Team India]."
But Twenty20 is a different kettle of fish and in that T20 pool, IPL is definitely a Starfish. And while the IPL has proved to be a cricketer's shortcut to fame and money, the razzmatazz and stardom it brings also has the potential to be a mental block for young cricketers. The long-term goals may get obscured with short-term gains. That's what Rasool has to guard against.
The young valley dweller wants to fly J&K's flag in Indian cricket and playing the IPL is certainly a step in the right direction. But what he is going to face is like a sun-reflection blinding one's eyes. The packed galleries, the vociferous crowd, the critical analysis, the nail-biting encounters will be a first-of-its-kind experience for Rasool and his first real test on a world stage.