Unfazed by the politics that followed his selection to the Indian national squad, Jammu and Kashmir all-rounder Parvez Rasool said on Tuesday that he should be seen and judged solely as a cricketer.
Rasool was picked for the recent ODI tour of Zimbabwe but was not given a single game by the team management. This led to a controversy, with J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah lashing out at the BCCI for not fielding Rasool in any of the five matches.
But, Rasool prefers to remain apolitical and urged everyone to judge him only as a player.
"A cricketer should always be seen only as a cricketer. Whatever performances I have given in the past and the way I am performing at the moment, I would request people to look at only those and that's all," said Rasool.
Rasool added that his selection to the national team has brought in a lot of positive changes to cricket in the state.
"Obviously after my selection a lot of youngsters are taking up the game in the state. A number of new leagues have also started, including the J&K Corporate Premier League. Parents now come to me and talk about their kids' future in the game. Even the youngsters have started to work very hard," said Rasool.
The 24-year-old all-rounder admitted that he has a long way to go before he can break into India's playing XI.
"There is a lot of difference between domestic and international cricket. In international cricket you need to work very, very hard. I am looking to improve my game so that I can play for India," he said. "When you play international cricket, you realise that conditions outside are very different and that matters a lot. One needs to work extra hard at that level."
Despite being handy with the bat, Rasool considers himself primarily as an off-spinner. "I am concentrating hard on my bowling. I am working on my doosra and looking to strengthen my stock delivery. I also want to bowl to quality batsmen so that I can improve overall as a bowler."
He said being part of the Indian dressing room has completely changed his outlook towards the game.
"I learnt a lot while I was travelling with the Indian team. I saw how big players behave and work hard and that encourages me to work even harder on my game," said Rasool who idolises Sachin Tendulkar and England's Graeme Swann.
Rasool was also part of the India A side that won a tri-series in South Africa, beating Australia A in the final. "Because of the nature of the pitches, we were playing all high-scoring matches but it was a great moment for me and the team when we could beat Australia A in the final in a low-scoring game.
"I feel had there been a fair (competitive) wicket, I could have performed better."
There have been suggestions that Rasool must leave J&K and play for some other team that figures in the Elite Ranji Trophy list, in order to grow as a cricketer but he said it was now his turn to serve the state.
"It is the J&K team that has provided me all the opportunities. I have come into the Indian team while representing J&K. I would like to serve my state now. We will try to perform well and break into the Elite group." "It is true that facing players like Wasim Jaffer and Manoj Tiwary helps but I do get a chance to be with them while playing in the zonals or the Challenger Trophy," Rasool said.
Rasool has yet be capped by the senior Indian side but already serves as a brand ambassador for a company.
"The fact that corporate houses are taking interest is a very good thing. There are a lot of talented youngsters like Shubham Khajuria, who has already got into India Under-23 side, then there is Umar Nazir, who is also very good.
"Facilities are very limited in Jammu. Even coaching staff is not enough but still a lot of guys are coming out, which is a very healthy sign."
Bishan Singh Bedi was instrumental in shaping Rasool's career and he acknowledged that it was on the legendary spinner's insistence that he took up bowling seriously.
"Bedi sir has had a big contribution in my career. He has groomed me as a bowler. I used to play as a batting all-rounder but he encouraged me to concentrate on my bowling. In one of the practice matches, we were losing but I took 3-4 wickets and Bedi sir was impressed.
"He told me to work on my bowling and also said that 'if you work harder, you can become the first cricketer to represent India from J&K.
"It was during the J&K Ranji Trophy camp last to last year and I became serious about my bowling," said Rasool.