Naman Ojha: ‘I’d love to focus on my batting now’

The 36-year-old Madhya Pradesh captain wouldn't mind if his wicketkeeping duties are handed to someone else in 2020-21.

Since the retirement of the long-serving Devendra Bundela in 2018, wicketkeeper-batsman Naman Ojha has shouldered the weight of captaincy of the Madhya Pradesh team.   -  V. GANESAN

Since the retirement of the long-serving Devendra Bundela in 2018, wicketkeeper-batsman Naman Ojha has shouldered the weight of captaincy of the Madhya Pradesh team, and it’s been a mixed experience.

In his first season of the Ranji Trophy as captain – in 2018-19 – Ojha’s men narrowly failed to make the playoffs, garnering three wins. Last season, the 20th of his career, he got injured just before the tournament began and played only three games; his team failed to win a single match and finished third from bottom in the combined points table of teams from Groups A and B.

“It was my first experience as captain [in a season], in 2018,” Ojha told Sportstar.

“I have played under different captains. Whatever responsibilities were given to me, I knew how I would fulfill them, as a batsman and a wicketkeeper. But when I was captain for the first season in 2018, I kept for the whole season but it was very difficult for me to be a captain, a wicketkeeper and a batsman as well. It was a little tough because I wasn’t used to it,” he said.

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Run hungry

Now nearly 37, Ojha, who will enter his 21st domestic season in 2020-21, wouldn’t mind if one of the roles – wicketkeeping – is instead handed to a youngster wanting to make a mark, even though he clarified he would go by what the team management needed from him. Twenty-three-year-old Ajay Rohera, who already has a double-century under his belt, could be the likely candidate to get the run.

“I’d love to focus on my batting because at this point of time, I want to bat and I want to score runs,” he said.

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“I think in the four-day format, batting [only] is a good idea if I want to play a long season. Wicketkeeping takes a toll on the body, but let’s see. Last season also, I gave the gloves to youngsters; only if someone gets matches to play will he get the experience of keeping wickets in the four-day format, because in four-day cricket you need a lot of experience, fitness, and focus. You need to keep a lot,” he reasoned.

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Ajay Rohera is congratulated by his Madhya Pradesh captain Naman Ojha.   -  V. V. Subrahmanyam

 

One of Ojha’s most memorable games as captain wasn’t with Madhya Pradesh. In March 2016, he led Rest of India to a come-from-behind win in a thrilling five-day Irani Cup contest against Mumbai. Carrying a deficit of 297 runs after the first innings, Rest of India turned it around in dramatic fashion.

“It is a game I will always remember, the way we snatched the trophy from Mumbai’s hands. The way I rotated my bowlers, it was creditable from my point of view; I think I did a very good job in that game as a captain. We got Mumbai bowled out for 182 and then came back and chased down 482, it was incredible,” he recalled.

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‘Beautiful debut’

Less than a year earlier, he had played his only Test for India, the third Test of a three-Test series in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

“It was a beautiful match and a beautiful debut. I can’t ask for a better debut. At the age of 32, I got my chance; after playing for 15 years and scoring more than 9,000 runs. I kept brilliantly, I batted very well; I got a very good partnership with Cheteshwar Pujara in that Test match. [I helped steer] India in a good position in that Test. We won that Test match. That was a pressure match; the third game of the series and the decider.

“Unfortunately I didn’t get a Test call-up after that but that Test was really brilliant for me because I was waiting for so long after scoring 400 runs in Australia (for India A in 2014). After that, I think I should have got a chance for a full Test series, but that didn’t happen.

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“But in that Test, I really enjoyed my batting and my wicketkeeping; five catches I took, and 56 runs I scored; I think that’s incredible for a wicketkeeper-batsman who was batting at No. 7.”

Ojha admitted a second India Test cap felt a long way away at the moment. “I’m not really looking at an India chance. After [the Irani Cup in 2016] I tried really hard; last season, if I hadn’t got injured and played all season and scored a lot of runs, then [I may have entertained the thought]. But at this point of time, not at all, because for six months I haven’t played a single four-day game,” he said.

Due to the lockdown, Ojha has been trying to keep fit at home. “First I need to be fit on the ground because it’s very difficult for me to resume my training after six months. It all depends on how the team management can make use of my experience, it’s up to them now,” he said.

Pointing out what ailed his side last season, he said, “I think batting was a bit of a worry. I think the main problem is discipline, especially the discipline from 9.30 to 5 o’clock. I think most players are disciplined before that and after that. My point is whatever job is assigned to the players they need to do that job.”

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