“When I used to work as a carpenter, we made our own bats to play with a tennis ball,” Manzoor Dar recalls his early tryst with cricket.  “Whenever we got time, such as lunch breaks, four or five of us young boys used to play inside the factory.

“We used to take a thin slab of wood and make those and then buy a tennis ball, for Rs 10, which was quite heavy. And the bats were quite fragile, so they used to break easily. We used to have to make a new one almost every day,” he laughs.

That laugh tells that Manzoor knows more than a thing or two when it comes to overcoming adversity. Born in Bandipora, he is the eldest among 8 children in a lower middle-class home. So, his decision to become a cricketer, which in Kashmir was a less than viable option financially, obviously did not go down well with his family.

“There was a time where I had to decide between playing cricket and running my household,” he reveals. “I couldn’t sacrifice either. So I found jobs where I could play cricket.”

With that, he kept the fire in his belly and the fireplace at his home, both burning. And it still isn’t easy where he comes from.

“There is immense craze and competition in Kashmir when it comes to the sport of cricket,” Manzoor points out. “But they have less than zero facilities.

“There are no academies, no coaches, we have one turf wicket which is in Sher-e-Kashmir. Six or seven months of the year people can’t play because of the weather, since it snows so much. There is no indoor ground either. In spite of all this, if some cricketers can go on to play for the country then you can imagine the talent the kids there have!”

"Things have changed for the better in my village after my selection."

It is this unique ability to laugh in the face of hardship which has served Manzoor well over the years. He may have gone through a lot, but neither his voice nor his expressions betray even a sense of dismay.

Eventually, the all-rounder managed to conquer his circumstances instead of playing victim and made his place in the Kings XI Punjab side, an achievement, he says, that changed more than his own life.

“When the auctions happened, I was at the Vijay Hazare camp. On returning home after finishing the tournament I was surprised to see that the lane to my house, which used to be full of muck and mud, had been cleared and a new access road had been made. We didn’t have water in my village earlier, now that has changed as well. People who had earlier never heard of my village now know its name,” he says beaming with pride.

Having lived an inspirational life, Manzoor’s advice for the youth of his state and, in deed all over the country, is simple- no matter what happens, keep moving forward.

“All I want to tell the younger generation is work hard and you can achieve anything. You will face obstacles but if you lose heart you can never move forward. You just have to focus on your goal. Sometimes there is no straight road there. The road could be winding but you still have to walk.”

Kashmir’s Gentle Giant is now walking on the road to success and may leave a blazing trail for others to follow. This Pandav’s ability to fight and prevail despite the odds stacked against him is no less than mythical.