Syed Mushtaq Ali T20: A season of learning for Arunachal Pradesh

For the first-timers from the North East, there is not so much riding on the outcomes but the joy of competitive cricket moving to the hitherto unchartered parts of the country is writ large on their faces.

Licha Tehi at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack on Saturday.   -  Ayan Acharya

They have just suffered a second straight defeat in as many days. The first, they lost by eight wickets against Haryana and the second, by 96 runs against Chhattisgarh.

But the Arunachal boys are a boisterous bunch as they slowly take over the makeshift media enclosure overseeing the sightscreen at the DRIEMS Ground in Cuttack.

Techi Neri is assiduously browsing through the scorecard of matches happening parallely at other venues.

All-rounder Techi Doria, meanwhile, has his earphones plugged in, closely following the Bengal — Karnataka game that's underway.

“Shot yaar, kya shot tha. Flick kiya, six gaya (What a shot! He flicked and it went for a six),” exclaims Neri with an exuberance bordering disbelief as Bengal opener Vivek Singh sends one soaring over deep mid-wicket.

READ: Meet ‘Bob Marley’ of Indian cricket

For the first-timers from the North East, there is not so much riding on the outcomes but the joy of competitive cricket moving to the hitherto unchartered parts of the country is writ large on their faces.

“This is the longest I’ve been away from home!  Family and friends weren’t used to me being on the road for so long but they’ve become more supportive now,” smiles Doria.

After a gruelling Ranji season where Arunachal lost all but one game, Doria says he wants to go home and get himself a bowling machine.

“The biggest challenge I faced was with regard to negotiating pacy bouncers. Here most fast bowlers get the ball to rise over chest level, so how to deal with that is something I want to work on,” he says before adding, “I wasn't used to facing bowlers clocking speeds in excess of 120. I faced Pankaj Singh of Puducherry during Vijay Hazare and realised for the first time what real pace is!”

Techi Doria has been the batting mainstay for Arunachal Pradesh.   -  Ayan Acharya

 

Trailblazers

For seamer Licha Tehi, “landing the ball on one particular spot on the pitch” was something he wasn't used to before the 2018-19 season.

“We don't have turf wickets back home, and we play most of our cricket with a tennis ball. So obviously seam and swing were new to us but here, our coach showed us what lengths to bowl at different stages of the match,” Tehi points out.

READ: Sandeep Thakur’s moment in the spotlight

Workload management too was a novel concept to the diminutive pacer but he feels he is better equipped to handle the rigours of the game now that the players have a trained support staff at their disposal.

“I have also learnt how to better utilise the off-season. After going home, team physio has asked me to rest for two weeks before starting practice again. Like a newborn baby, I'll start from scratch,” Tehi says with a sheepish smile.

For a bunch of newcomers bred largely on Twenty20 cricket, the concept of multi-day format was new and challenging. And Tehi, while harbouring dreams of extending his career ‘by another seven to eight years’, remains pragmatic about the situation.

“See, we consider ourselves fortunate to be sharing the same space as big teams like Karnataka and Bengal. Watching them play live was great.

“We want to be the trendsetters for young kids back in Arunachal. If we can inspire the under 16, 19 boys to do well, then nothing like it,” Tehi says.