Veteran Paras Dogra relishing Puducherry challenge
Paras Dogra wants to use his experience to nurture Puducherry players. (Image courtesy: FB)

Paras Dogra is one of the many big names in Ranji Trophy to have jumped ships this season. Having served Himachal Pradesh for over a decade and a half, he has joined veterans Abhishek Nayar and Pankaj Singh in Puducherry’s first season in Indian cricket’s biggest domestic tournament the Ranji Trophy. Part of one of the nine new teams to be playing this year, Dogra, like always is fiercely dedicated help his team advance.

Never mind that Dogra has scored over 6500 runs in over 100 first-class games, at an average of almost 49, but for him, it is all about how much can he extract from Puducherry’s raw talent. It has been roughly three months since Dogra came on board, and things have been pretty engaging for the 34-year-old in his new team.

“It’s a very different experience. Things are happening very fast,” Dogra tells CricketCountry. “The local players in the team are very new to this format and at times it’s difficult to cope with them. So the first thing that came to my mind was that I will have to take up a lot of responsibilities. Besides, the coaching staff and everything is also pretty good. Everyone is supporting and there isn’t too much fuss regarding selection either.”

Dogra’s inclusion, along with a few more seniors in the squad, has been a wonderful beginning for Puducherry. Former India fast bowler Avishkar Salvi is the head coach, whereas former Rajasthan wicketkeeper Dishant Yagnik has been appointed to help the side with its fielding. Besides, the team got together during a pre-season camp in Anantpur, which as per Dogra was a fruitful session, where players getting to know each other and the staff. The support from the government has been tremendous too. If reports are to be believed, Puducherry’s home ground, the CAP Siechem Ground took a total of 90 days to be built.

That said, Dogra understands that although the initial signs are promising, there are chinks that him, Nayar and Pankaj need to get rid of. “It’s a very beautiful ground. I think what you expect from a new association, Puducherry is trying its best to be professionals in that regard,” Dogra says.

“As far as players are concerned, most of them have been playing T20 cricket so both four-dayers and one-dayers is very different for them. I’m trying to help them out, making them understand the value of staying at the wicket and spending time. The main thing is patience. After playing so much T20s, they have this frame of mind of batting aggressively. Our coaching staff, Avishkar Salvi and the rest have been spending time with the local guys and trying to help them out. Us seniors are planning on batting with the local players so they can watch us bat and learn. We’re not expecting that there will be radical changes overnight but they are getting there.

“We are teaching players how to handle different situations. Abhishek and Pankaj are looking after the bowling and I’m mentoring the batsmen. Apart from basics like generating reverse swing and things like that, like I said, we are trying to make them understand the benefits of batting longer, how to take things session-by-session. So in response to that, we are appreciating even the smallest contributions, because confidence is something they need right now.”

Dogra served Himachal Pradesh for 17 long years. (Image: Instagram)
Dogra served Himachal Pradesh for 17 long years. (Image: Instagram)

One match old, the Cricket Association of Puducherry bagged three points after securing a first-innings lead against Meghalaya in their Ranji Trophy opener, with Dogra excelling in the first game itself by notching up his 21st first-class century. So did Nayar and Pankaj, scoring 57 and taking 6/39 in the first innings. But the biggest takeaway was captain Rohit David’s exceptional 138, that gave Puducherry those crucial 100-odd runs towards the end. Having been reduced to 280/8, Rohit batted with the tail to eventually take to total to 389 before he was the last man dismissed.

“The wicket was slow, something we were not expecting. The current one is a lot better. We don’t have big plans as such; just taking things day by day. Bihar’s batting was slightly weak in the previous game and we are trying to cash in on that,” Dogra says. “From the first game, our biggest positive was that our captain, Rohit, scored a brilliant century while batting with the tail. He has been playing a lot of cricket, but he doesn’t have many first-class games under his belt. To see a guy like him, in his debut match, showing such maturity is a very bright sign for the side.”

Between 2010 and 2016, Dogra has averaged over 50 in all barring one season. His most prolific run was during the 2012-13 season, where he accumulated 960 runs at 80 with five centuries. Two years later, he tallied 839 runs from eight matches, averaging over 100, and followed it with 703 runs from eight games the season later. Such numbers make Dogra nothing short of a Ranji behemoth. With seven double-centuries, he is known for scoring daddy hundreds, a habit that surprisingly enough, was inculcated because of his father.

“The reason behind that is my father. When I used to score 80 or 90, my father was never satisfied. Even if I would score, let’s say 120, he would scold me,” Dogra says. “He always advised me to remain unbeaten because that feeling of being not out is totally different. It’s like you’re undefeated. Ever since, I’ve been feeding on that advice. And every time I was dismissed after a century, I used to feel bad. So I think it’s this feeling of wanting to be undefeated that I began scoring big.”

But despite those stunning numbers, an India call-up has always eluded him. If Amol Muzumdar is the most deserving player to have never played for India, Dogra is a close second. Perhaps that his best came when he had passed 30, is what never worked for him. Then again, over time, Dogra has made peace with the fact that it may never happen.

“These things aren’t in my control. In between there was a time when I used to get upset, when I was averaging over 80, I didn’t even get an India A match,” Dogra says. “It was obviously a disappointing period in my life. But as they say, you mature with time. I thought there is no point cribbing about it because selection is not in my hands. I’ve been given reasons like because I play for Plate division, I don’t get recognised. I can’t fight with that. If you as selector, want someone to play for India, I feel at times, even one game is enough. And if you don’t want, even 100 games won’t suffice.”

One Ranji stalwart, Vinay Kumar, has already played his 100th Ranji Trophy match this season, and Dogra is four short of joining him. By the end of the season, it is likely that Dogra will score another century, and perhaps the one he’ll cherish the most. Whether it was a distinction Dogra thought of achieving in 2001, when he made his Ranji Trophy debut, his answer is an outright no.

Dogra joined Gujarat Lions in 2016 but never got to play a match. (Image: Instagram)
Dogra joined Gujarat Lions in 2016 but never got to play a match. (Image: Instagram)

“No chance. I still remember that when I was 17 years old and I had scored a century against Delhi. Mr. Anurag Thakur had told me that I was going to play my first Ranji Trophy in Mohali,” he says. “I was not expecting anything. I hadn’t even seen a proper stadium before that. I never thought I would play so much, or for as long as I have. I just played cricket to enjoy, not because I wanted to achieve anything.”

Having played for so long, Dogra says he doesn’t have any regrets. However, there is one thing he feels he could have done differently. “I believe IPL is a very big platform, and that is where I feel I committed mistakes,” he says. “After sitting out two years, you start questioning yourself. I got a few opportunities in 2010 which I didn’t grab (107 runs from nine innings for Kings XI Punjab). I didn’t do well. Had I performed even slightly well there, it could have changed my fortunes.”