Pondicherry batter Paras Dogra is pleased with the return of the Ranji Trophy - India's marquee First-class tournament - but has expressed disappointment about the curtailment of the schedule. The Ranji Trophy was not held in the 2020-21 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
BCCI secretary Jay Shah has confirmed that the board has decided to hold the Ranji Trophy in two phases this season, split by the IPL. The first phase, in February-March, will have all league matches, while the knockout games will be held in June. Earlier, the tournament was scheduled to start on January 13 but had to be postponed indefinitely because of rising Covid-19 cases in the country.
“Everybody in the camp is ready to go but also a little disappointed because the number of matches has reduced. Still, the chances of qualifying are higher,” Dogra said after the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced a revised schedule for the Ranji Trophy.
“Financially players are not so happy because 75 to 80 per cent of them are dependent on the Ranji Trophy,” Dogra said, maintaining that it was a relief the tournament was not being called off for the second time in a row. “Two years is a big time, especially in cricket where you have very less time and very less period of age to prove yourself and play good cricket.”
A veteran in the Indian domestic circuit with 118 First-class matches under his belt, Dogra is appreciative of the BCCI’s decision, taken in 2018-19, to bring nine new teams into its fold.
“It is a good idea, and it is for the long-term. You won’t get the results right from the beginning. Teams like Himachal Pradesh and Tripura also had a similar trajectory. Hopefully, in five or 10 years, we will get some international players also. BCCI has done a good job. The competition has grown,” he said.
“If you talk to match referees and umpires who have been conducting those matches, they can show you the difference between how they were playing in the first year and how they are playing in the fourth year. Until and unless you don’t put them in those conditions or make them compete against big teams, how will you know if you are good enough or not,” he added.
The former Himachal Pradesh captain joined Pondicherry – one of the new entrants – as a professional ahead of its debut season in 2018-19 and has been the key architect of the rapid strides the team has made in domestic competitions.
“Continuously beating big teams has given us a very big boost. We beat the Bengal team, we won against Tamil Nadu and Mumbai – the Vijay Hazare Trophy tournament has given a big boost to the team. We now know beating them isn’t a fluke,” Dogra said.
“From day one we were given good facilities. From the first season itself, we started playing small tournaments, against big teams, like the ACA Sir Vizzy Trophy, which happens in Andhra. The thinking has always been to win and grow. Grow slowly but grow. We are playing tournaments every day. Sometimes T10 tournaments, the Pondicherry T20 Tournament; one-day tournaments are also going on. This has made a big difference,” he added.
A consistent run-machine with a record nine double hundreds to his name, the Palampur-born batter is relishing being the batting mainstay in a relatively inexperienced side.
“Wherever you are, you have to perform. Only then you have a chance to survive. I took it up as a challenge and a responsibility. That’s also what I have been doing for Himachal. I have consistently made runs for Himachal and always take the pressure of winning a game for the team. So, it wasn’t something new for me when I went to Pondy,” Dogra, who has scored a staggering 1696 runs at 84.8 for the Union Territory, said.
Rewarding domestic talent
Pondicherry is yet to compete with heavyweights in red-ball cricket, having played its two Ranji Trophy seasons in the Plate Group, and Dogra feels local talent needs to step up in the four-day format.
“We are still lacking a player who can play a big innings. The bowling department is doing quite well, but we need local players to come up and start making big runs. They are good for T20 or 50 overs, but we need local players to contribute big. Score a hundred or match-winning knocks,” he said.
Boasting over 8000 runs in First-class cricket at an average of 53.26, the hunger of representing India still burns in the 37-year-old. “I want to represent the country; I want that Test number. That is what I’m dying for. Even now when I go on the cricket field in the morning, the excitement is there. I still play like a kid and challenge myself,” he said.
Dogra feels that performances in the domestic circuit are not being adequately rewarded.
“It is obviously disheartening for domestic players when they don’t get opportunities after doing well for so many years. A lot of players who don’t play First-class cricket are directly being picked up from the IPL (Indian Premier League). For One-Day Internationals they should give more opportunities to First-class players who have done well in domestic cricket than IPL performers. After four or five good IPL innings you are representing India, and no one bothers about what you have done in First-class cricket. It’s a big change, and I don’t understand it,” he said.
Casting personal milestones and achievements aside, Dogra, forged in the fire of domestic cricket for close to two decades, lives by the mantra “make runs, get the win and forget your hundred as fast as you forget your duck.”
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