Cricket expanded its footprint to parts of India hitherto untouched by the national obsession when a handful of new teams made their List-A debuts recently. Having witnessed their induction into the fold, Bharat Sundaresan profiles a few players that made quite a first impression.
Techi Doria| B-boyz to Men
Techi Doria has featured in both of Arunachal Pradesh’s viral movie hits in the last two years. He’s part of a B-Boying group that’s won many competitions locally and he’s even performed in front of a one-lakh strong audience. He also perhaps possesses the most eye-catching hairdo in modern-day cricket. But the 25-year-old sounds almost annoyed when anyone fusses over these rather significant aspects of his life.
It’s what he achieved two weeks ago in front of an empty Moti Baug cricket ground that gets Doria most excited. In a Vijay Hazare Trophy league match against Sikkim, the diminutive and dreadlocked opener had become the first local from Arunachal to score a century at any level—age-group or otherwise. Reaching three-figures—his ultimate cricketing fantasy—also incited the ever-ready performer in him to let loose. His celebration was a mix of a lot of acrobatic stunts, numerous spot-jumps and at one point in his delight, he even almost ended up hugging the umpire. Like Doria puts it, “Pagla jaise naach raha tha.”
Doria wasn’t done showcasing his multiple non-cricket skills that day. Later, he would perform a few perfect somersaults after hanging on to a difficult chance on the boundary. He would repeat the act a few days later in Anand against Meghalaya after picking up a wicket with his innocuous leg-spin, and then at the request of the opposition players show them how it’s done.
There are those who indulge in showmanship to seek attention. There are others who get attention naturally because they live their life the way they choose. Doria insists on belonging to the second category, and it’s difficult to disagree. His dreadlocks are lush and flow well past his shoulders but according to Doria, they’re not a consequence of a raging interest in reggae music.
“I didn’t know they were called dreadlocks or who Bob Marley was till I searched for him on the internet a few years ago, irritated after having been asked by everyone if I was his fan. I didn’t really enjoy his music. I have always been into hip-hop and Eminem. My hair is natural. I dive into the river for a swim whenever I want to, and it stays the same,” says Doria.
In fact, the right-hander confesses to having hated his matted hair while growing up. As a result, he always kept it short and hidden under a cap. It was his new-found interest in hip-hop around five years ago that gave Doria the confidence to get rid of the cap and let his hair grow. His cricket career though had already begun growing by then. Having started off chucking balls at his elder brothers during matches in the basti in his town of Naharlagun, the shy youngster caught the eye of those who mattered with his performances in the local Circle Trophy (club cricket in Arunachal). He represented the state at the under-16 level, scored 60 on his under-19 debut after serendipitously getting a go after the team captain had withdrawn. Cricket opened other avenues.
“I used to celebrate very exuberantly on the field, and one of my friends had his B-Boying and breakdance group. I tried to replicate an air-dive that I’d seen him do on the field. He saw it and asked me to join the group,” he recalls. Doria also reveals that his look in local cricket matches used to be “khatarnak” and inspired by hip-hop with hankies tied over his biceps, shoulders, around his neck and around both shins. “It changed only when I played for the state. But the first time I got a jersey; I lifted my pants and tied the hanky around my shin.”
In Doria’s opinion, it was his self-proclaimed “dangerous” look that brought the movie roles, both where he played brief but negative characters. In Orunasol Man, the state’s first superhero movie, he plays a henchman who gets shot dead by his boss, the lead antagonist. “It’s no fun dying on camera. It’s after a failed mission where he says ‘tum kya jaanoge dus lakh ka aukat?’ and pulls the trigger.” In Itanagar Zero Km, Doria appears in scenes where he’s roughing up the lead hero and taking apart his home after an argument—“the scene required 30 takes,” he reveals. Acting does run in his family of course with his father, Techi Sonia, who he says, “was the hero in a few movies earlier but now sticks to papa roles.”
Cricket though remains at the centre of Doria’s busy life. For someone so young, he’s already been running two academies over the last year and has 50 “students in all”, including the present captain of the Arunachal U-16 team, Ajit Sharma. “If I don’t play even a single day, my head starts spinning and my mantra is ‘cricket never sleeps’,” he says.
In reality, Doria doesn’t sleep much either. He’s up at 5 am every day and then spends two hours at his academy at Naharlagun. He returns home for some rest, has lunch and is off to Itanagar to tend to his other academy, and isn’t back before 7 pm. His fascinating talents aside, it’s being an inspiration to budding cricketers back home that fills Doria up with most pride—he once partially sponsored a student’s surgery despite only making around Rs 8000 a month from coaching. And he often recounts to them some of the challenges he endured to get here. His favourite though is with regards to his shoes, which he would scavenge from the floodwater whenever the water receded back following a thunderstorm. “I never got the same pair ever. It always used to be one Nike and one Reebok. And I played with a wrong pair even as recently as two years ago. Like with everything I do, that too became a fashion statement.”
Lee Yong Lepcha| Wielding bat and guitar
The sobriquet “rockstar” generally gets attached to cricketers rather loosely and on frivolous grounds. Unless you are Sikkim’s Lee Yong Lepcha of course, for he was one till recently before his cricket took over. As lead guitarist for the state’s most popular metal band Damage Era over a five-year period, the 28-year-old was shredding riffs around the country, playing at every major metal gig and even opening for world-famous bands like Kreator and djent-pioneers Sikth on their visits to Bangalore. All that while, he continued to moonlight as Sikkim’s most dependable batsmen in the age-groups and other local competitions.
“It was my father along with my late uncle who introduced me to cricket. And in a way, it was he who introduced me to music too. He (Nordem Lepcha) was a very popular folk musician and even today his songs are played in all Lepcha weddings,” says Lee Yong.
While he captained and remained the key batsman for his state at under-14 to under-19 level, it was in college that Lee Yong took to metal music. He first started off as a bass guitarist with a three-member band, covering songs from power metal bands like Iron Maiden and Lamb of God. Then came his big break with Damage Era in 2011, where he took over the lead guitars, and started arranging riffs and melodies for their original compositions.
He insists though that his two distinctly unique worlds never quite clashed, and that he managed to juggle his two passions rather comfortably.
“There were times I would have to miss jamming with them on Sunday because of a match, and the band guys would make fun of me. Now the same guys are following my scores here,” he says. Sikkim captain, Nilesh Lamichanay—an old Bollywood songs’ fan—though describes the difference between his closest friends’ two avatars eloquently. “I would see him, head-banging and going wild on stage and wonder, this Lee Yong plays a gentleman’s sport?” he says to which the metal-head raves about how every one of his gigs witnessed a “mosh-pit”.
The Dave Murray and Marty Friedman fan laments about the dwindling fortunes of metal music across the country. He’s put his impressive collection of guitars aside apart from the odd studio session for his cricket; but came close to winning the significant cash-prize at last year’s Hornbill Festival where he stepped in as guitarist for a local band, Perfect Stickfigure Illustrations.
Marema| Labourer-turned-cricketer from Mizoram
For three months ever year, the people of Champhai in Mizoram have no idea where Marema disappears. The scrawny youngster spends the rest of the year in town working as a labourer and delivery boy for Medina Stores. His job involves loading, unloading and packaging imported plastic and electronic goods coming into the border town from China and neighbouring Myanmar. Come November though, he’s off to the capital, Aizawl, to play a sport that hardly anyone knows much about in Champhai.
“Like most others, I watched it first on TV back in 2006. I liked the idea of people hitting the ball hard. Luckily I found some 3-4 other boys who knew about cricket, and we started playing without knowing any of the rules,” he says. When he heard that the sport was played more in Aizawl, Marema, whose father is a policeman, decided to make the 7-hour trip there. The 25-year-old’s left-arm spin, modelled according to him on Ravindra Jadeja, got some traction during a match he played after joining a few boys he saw playing on a football field. Before long, he was hired by a local club, provided accommodation and paid some pocket money to boot. Marema starred with three wickets in Mizoram’s opening match at Nadiad against Arunachal Pradesh.
Once the very brief cricket season is over though, he is back to his day job. “You won’t say it when you see how I’m built, but often I have to lift quite heavy loads,” says Marema, who’s studied up to the 10th standard. His departure this time around though was met with a lot of attention, considering he was off to play cricket at the highest level in the country. And he’s also looking forward to the financial gains that the sport will bring so that, “I can invest it on cricket and have more people to play with in Champhai.”
Sandeep Thakur| Making runs, and reporting about it
“At times, I get very tempted to write stuff while watching the match,” says Sandeep Thakur. As someone who’s been in the journalism industry for the last three years, it’s understandable that the Arunachal Pradesh seam bowler finds it tough, only occasionally, to divert his well-trained reporters’ eye from what’s happening around him. And so when his employers, Arunachal Front, ended up carrying his byline for the report on Arunachal’s opening game, the 25-year-old was left feeling rather sheepish.
“It was not supposed to happen. They’d called me for information about the game, and maybe by habit printed my name,” says Thakur chuckling. It wouldn’t be the first time that he’s had to report on a match he’s played in. It’s been the case for pretty much most of his journalistic career though his beat isn’t confined to cricket. “I have to cover all sorts of events but whenever I get a chance, I ensure even a gully cricket match gets a mention,” he says. And though he’s had to take a break from his day job, Thakur still ends up passing on a lot of press releases and news briefs that come his way to his colleagues at the Front. He counts cricket and journalism as his two major passions but he’s fully focused on getting the best of himself with ball in hand or as he says, “Abhi ke liye sirf citizen journalism.”
Hokaito Zhimomi| Coaching to playing: Career in reverse
“I’ve gone from coach or sir to Bro for everyone in this team.” Hokaito Zhimoni says so with a mix of humour and disdain. It is a strange scenario he finds himself in though. Till only a few months ago, it was at his academy and under his tutelage that all his present Nagaland teammates used to hone their skills at. And now here he is, sharing the same dressing-room and on paper at the same level as all his pupils. “The likes of Tahmeed and Sedezhalie in particular came to me at 12 and 13, and I’ve overseen their entire cricketing journey from that point on. And now we are teammates,” says Hokaito.
Cricket and Hokaito are synonymous with each with other in Nagaland. The 33-year-old became the first Nagaland cricketer to make his mark in the country, and then play in the Ranji Trophy for Assam in 2012. His career in domestic cricket never took off though, and he’s hinted on occasions for politics in the region having played a role. But rather than keep at it, Hokaito returned home and using his own money decided to prepare the future of Nagaland cricket, even if the state on its own didn’t seem to have one—back then anyway. “It got really bad. I remember once I was sick and nobody in the team came even to visit me in my room. That’s when I realized I am better of home. I thought that was it,” he recalls, And then he finds out he can play Ranji again, for Nagaland that too, even if it means on the field as he quips, “I know even if I misfield one, which one of them is going to pull up their ‘coach’?”