"I want to play cricket till the day I die. There is no interest in working another job," says the first Arunachali player to score a century in domestic cricket.
There have been two definitive moments in the nascent cricketing career of Techi Doria, the diminutive and dreadlocked opening batsman from Arunachal Pradesh. The first arrived on 21 September 2018, in Vadodara’s Moti Baug cricket stadium, where he became the first player from the state to score a century at any level.
The celebrations that ensued included performing a series of acrobatic jumps and a moment where he almost hugged the umpire in sheer delight. He went onto score a sensational 122 against Sikkim in a Vijay Hazare Trophy league match, and Arunachal went on to win the match by 49 runs. “I danced like a crazy man that day,” he says.
The second moment arrived nearly two months later on 20 November 2018, in Goalpara, Assam, during a Ranji Trophy match against Uttarakhand.
Scoring 60 runs in 246 balls in a hard-fought second innings performance, he played in a manner that went completely against his instinct as an aggressive T20 batsman. Although Arunachal lost that match by an innings and 73 runs, he insists that it was an innings that he will never forget.
Here’s the reason why.
After a protracted legal battle, in July 2018, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) granted the Arunachal Pradesh Cricket Association full member status. This meant the state could also now have their own team in the Ranji Trophy and other domestic tournaments organised by the BCCI. Consequently, the team made its senior-level debut in the 2018–19 season.
“Since we were new entrants into the Ranji Trophy tournament, the Uttarakhand team was confident of winning the game in less than three days. The team had even booked their return tickets before noon on the third day of a four-day match. I was furious when I got to know this, as it was a blatant show of disrespect. How could they underestimate us in such a manner,” he recalls.
So, once Doria got into bat on the morning of Day 3, he vowed to play a long innings and only got out very late in the day.
“During my innings, I could see the Uttarakhand team getting visibly frustrated. Rajat Bhatia, a veteran of the domestic cricket circuit and captain even hurled abuses at everyone. I eventually lost my wicket through a run-out. Although the game finished by the very end of Day 3, my innings played a part in ensuring they missed their return trip back on that day,” he says.
Bob Marley of Indian Cricket
Search the name ‘Techi Doria’ on Google, and the first results will make references to the ‘Bob Marley of Indian cricket’.
The only link between the cricketer and the legendary Jamaican artist are the lush dreadlocks that flow well below the shoulder. It was during a local match a couple of years ago, when someone in the crowd started chanting ‘Bob Marley’ when he entered to bat.
The name had initially irritated him, but upon researching more about the singer-songwriter, he understood about the respect it garnered.
Doria is a hip-hop fan with a special affinity to a dance form associated with this urban musical genre called breakdancing or b-boying. Before he dedicated his life to the game of cricket full time in 2014-15, he was part of a dance group that won many competitions locally and performed in front of thousands of people. He had even featured in a couple of local movies.
“But cricket is my true passion, and I gave up everything else to truly focus on the game,” he asserts.
“I will play till I die.”
Growing up in Naharlagun, a town situated on the foothills of the Himalayas in Arunachal Pradesh’s Papum Pare district, the 26-year-old batting all-rounder learnt the game by watching his heroes on television. And like millions before him, Doria grew up idolising Sachin Tendulkar.
“My first inspiration to play the game of cricket was Sachin Tendulkar. He inspired me for two specific reasons—his style of batting and his humble, yet confident nature. I want to emulate his game and personality off the field,” says Doria.
However, it was only in Class 8 as a 13-year-old when he started playing the game with greater seriousness. Before, he would watch others play, particularly his elder brother Techi Tahim, who also played in the state Ranji Trophy side for one season (2018/19).
“My elder brother inspired me to take up the game. He would play big tournaments in the state. Seeing him, I thought if he could play at that level, so could I. For the most part, however, I learnt the game on television,” he recalls.
Doria began playing only in Class 8 because until then he couldn’t get into the school team. His undeniable talent soon caught the eyes of local cricketing aficionados, playing across all age groups in the state before finally making his way into the senior state team. For those who haven’t seen him play, Doria is an athletic batting all-rounder who bowls leg-spin.
“I am a naturally aggressive batsman who likes playing the big shots because of my greater exposure to T20 cricket, but over time I have learnt how to play in a game-sensitive manner. If the situation demands I play big shots, but if my team needs me to hold onto my wicket I can play cautiously as well. My bowling also follows the same instinct. Nonetheless, my focus is more on batting. My favourite format of the game is T20, although my love for ODI cricket is growing. The transition from playing T20 to ODI is easier than playing the 4-day Test match format of Ranji Trophy games,” he says.
Former Indian team fast bowler, Sanjeev Sharma, who has coached different teams in the last 15 years and is the current coach of the Arunachal team, is all praises for his player.
“I was the Sikkim coach, when he scored that wonderful century. Doria is a very promising player, although this year, his performances with the bat have dropped a little. But a few umpiring decisions on the field have gone against him as well. We have seen great improvement in his bowling. Doria’s biggest strength is his temperament. If he starts confidently by defending a few deliveries, he can occupy the crease for a couple of hours. He has taken some absolutely brilliant catches and is a fantastic fielder. His biggest weakness is against spinners, particularly left arm spinners, which will improve by working on defense and footwork. If you’re a good four-day player, you can survive all formats.”
Even Doria acknowledges that playing four-day matches is a tricky proposition, particularly when he plays against quality spin bowling. However, even though the Arunachal team is new to the test match format, under Sharma’s tutelage, it has witnessed some improvement since the 2018-19 season, particularly in the longer formats.
“Our focus is on strengthening the technical foundations of our game. There are very few players in the state with genuinely good technique whether it comes to batting, bowling or fielding. In the next two-three years, we hope to develop our technical skills significantly. Meanwhile, there is a greater emphasis on developing talent in the state across various age groups, and women’s cricket is receiving real encouragement as well,” mentions Doria.
In addition to team meetings and practice sessions, the Arunachal coach believes that his players should at least be involved in camps lasting 10-15 days before tournaments. This includes both conditioning and technical camps.
“For these boys to play tournaments like Vijay Hazare, Syed Mushtaq and Ranji Trophy is not going to be easy. They need proper summer camps before the season begins, playing in conditions like Chennai, Delhi and Bengaluru to get their requisite exposure. Our last camp in Dibrugarh, Assam, lasted only seven days, of which three were lost to rain. Following the camp, we straightaway competed in a challenging Vijay Hazare Trophy in Dehradun, where we finished above Sikkim, Manipur and Mizoram,” mentions Sharma.
“Ideally, there should be a two-week camp, followed by a short break where they go home, and then another two-week camp before the start of a major tournament. It would be very good for these boys so that they are better prepared for the upcoming season,” he adds.
Nonetheless, he compliments the management for fulfilling their financial obligations to the players and support staff in a professional and timely manner.
For the 26-year-old son of a farmer, the ultimate objective is to play in the Indian Premier League. At no point in his life have his parents told him to stop pursuing his dreams of playing cricket under the bright lights.
But merely playing domestic cricket for Arunachal Pradesh has its limitations financially, although that doesn’t seem to bother Doria too much.
Unlike other athletes in the Northeast who support their sporting ambition by getting a government job, he wants to constantly remain in touch with the game whether it’s in a playing or coaching capacity.
“There is enough money. I don’t want to do another job to supplement my income despite tensions that I may not be able to play sports all my life. But I want to play cricket till the day I die because that is where my happiness comes from. After attending a Northeast coaches training camp in 2017, I started my cricket academy, which trains players from all junior age groups. At present, there are nearly 100 players enrolled in my academy,” he says.
Pre-lockdown, he was up at 5 am every day, spending a couple of hours at his academy in Naharlagun before setting off to Itanagar 13 km away to coach at another batch of youngsters. Although the coaching gig only pays him around Rs 8,000 per month, his passion for nurturing the next batch of talented youngsters is unmatched.
“There is a lot of talent in Arunachal, and we must harness it,” he says.
There is still some way to go before the diminutive Doria fulfils his professional goals. Maybe, he fulfils them, maybe he doesn’t. But what we can say for certain is that his dedication to the game and desire to nurture it in the state will never diminish.
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(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)