A team-man to the core

`It is very important for me as a young spinner to stay focussed, bowl with a good rhythm and in the right areas.'-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

“Winning is bigger than having a five-wicket haul and still ending up on the losing side. I always believe that contributing to the team’s victory is more important,” says Pragyan Ojha to V. V. Subrahmanyam.

Pragyan Ojha is on a high. The 26-year-old left-arm spinner, in the company of off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, has formed one of the most formidable spin combinations in India in recent memory. The two together claimed a whopping 73 wickets in just five Test matches!

The soft-spoken spinner from Hyderabad is of the view that the recent match-winning performances against New Zealand in the two-Test series are only the beginning of a new chapter in his career.

“I am definitely happy, but not fully satisfied with my performance against the Kiwis. But my focus is now on the much stronger outfits like England and Australia when they visit India,” Ojha points out in an exclusive interview with Sportstar.

He downplays his recent run of success in Test cricket. “It is very important for me as a young spinner to stay focussed, bowl with a good rhythm and in the right areas,” Ojha says.

Significantly, Ojha doesn’t believe that he has to make any big changes to his bowling style. “In a way, I don’t want to complicate things when the going is good. I am trying to keep things as simple as possible, for I always believe that if you stick to the basics, half the job is done,” he explains. “Here, I must say the English county stint with Surrey last year was a major learning experience for me. It meant bowling a lot in different and difficult conditions,” he adds.

Talking of his fitness, Ojha says, “Definitely, I am much fitter, having lost a lot of weight. Perhaps this is the biggest change I forced on myself, working a lot on conditioning and batting.

“I am aware how important it is to be an all-rounder of sorts — to chip in with useful 30-plus knocks down the order.”

Ojha gives a lot of credit to the elegant former India batsman, V. V. S. Laxman, for his evolution as the country’s leading left-arm spinner. “I tell you, besides my mom, it is Laxman bhai who has been the biggest source of inspiration for me. I always make it a point to discuss with him whether I am doing well or not. He is such a wonderful character, always ready to help you out,” says Ojha.

`Besides my mom, it is Laxman bhai who has been the biggest source of inspiration for me.'-K.R. DEEPAK

“That match-winning partnership with Laxman bhai in the 2010 Mohali Test against Australia a couple of years ago remains an unforgettable experience for me. What an innings he played then,” Ojha recalls.

“The biggest challenge for me now is to push myself that extra bit in the final session of a Test match every day. That is when the team looks up to a bowler. So, I am focussing a lot on my fitness of late,” says the left-arm spinner.

Looking back at the recent Test series against New Zealand, Ojha regrets missing the rare opportunity of playing a Test with Laxman in Hyderabad as the latter had announced his retirement from international cricket just before the series. “It would have been fantastic, for it was one of my dreams to play with him in front of my home crowd. I remember vividly what a learning experience it was bowling to him in the nets when I was playing under-19 grade. Honestly, I thought he would play the Hyderabad Test as many would have loved to see him,” explains Ojha.

What exactly is the most satisfying aspect for Ojha on the cricket field?

“If you are part of a winning team that is the best feeling you can enjoy. It is bigger than having a five-wicket haul and still ending up on the losing side. This is the reason why I always believe that contributing to the team’s victory is more important. This is one big characteristic I picked up from Laxman bhai,” says Ojha.

Referring to the formidable combination he has forged with Ashwin, Ojha reminds us that both of them had played in the age-group tournaments a lot and so understand each other well.

`For me the partnership with Ashwin is very important. As long as we keep winning Test matches for India, nothing else matters.'-PTI

When asked if he experiences any pressure while Ashwin is on a wicket-taking spree at the other end, Ojha comes up with a simple explanation: “In a partnership, one batsman might score a century, but the other too plays a brilliant part with a 70-plus knock or so. So, for me the partnership with Ashwin is more important. As long as we keep winning Test matches for India, nothing else matters. “So, I don’t feel the pressure, for wicket-taking roles can always change. However, what is important is that we complement each other to sustain the pressure, and right now, we are enjoying doing exactly this. The process of playing a key role in winning matches is more important,” he explains.

Ojha, who made his Test debut in 2009 and has taken 75 wickets from 16 Tests so far, is delighted that his captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, has expressed a desire to have spinner-friendly tracks at home. “It is fair enough, for we have to prepare pitches according to our strengths, and I think it is spin at home. When we go abroad, we only come across pitches that are fast and rarely help the spinners,” he says.

Does this mean more pressure on the spinners by way of expectations?

“It is actually the other way round. I enjoy these challenges and look forward to more success against the bigger teams like England and Australia,” says Ojha. “Definitely I am aware of the bigger role I have now as one of the frontline spinners in the Indian squad. It also means greater responsibility that demands a very high level of consistency. This is what I reiterate — that my main objective is to be as consistent as possible,” he adds.

Ojha has always been one of the best spinners and amongst the leading wicket-takers in the Indian Premier League with a tally of 69 wickets in five seasons. He even made an impressive debut in the 2009 Twenty20 World Championship with a four-wicket haul. Ojha, however, isn’t disappointed that he was left out of the Indian team for the ICC World Twenty20 Championship in Sri Lanka.

“Well, I am not going to crib about what has not happened in my favour. I try to be consistent and amongst wickets each time I am given the chance to play. These things do happen, but the important aspect is that you should be ready for the biggest challenge of representing the country when the opportunity comes to you. That is what I am trying to do now and not think about missing the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka,” says Ojha, who has played 18 One-Day Internationals and taken 21 wickets.

Ojha also does not believe in chasing any personal goals. He is more than happy helping script victories for India.