Confident but not complacent

AP

“There is no doubt that I enjoyed the challenges of bowling against the West Indies. I knew it was a huge opportunity to prove a point or two. And I am really happy that all the hard work I had put in, in recent times, has helped me become a much better bowler,” says Pragyan Ojha. By V. V. Subrahmanyam.

Pragyan Prayash Ojha has every reason to look at the just-concluded three-Test series against the West Indies as one of the ‘turning points' of his career. The 25-year-old left-arm spinner, in the company of debutant off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin (22 wickets), demolished the West Indian batting line-up with a haul of 20 wickets in the series. It was Ojha's best performance in his international career.

Not long ago it was apparent that Ojha was staring at an uncertain future. “Well, I never look at it that way. Every one of us has a job to do. And it has always been my endeavour to give off my best and let the results do the rest,” he explained.

The Indian left-arm spinner, who was born in Bhubaneshwar but has made Hyderabad his home, reiterated that the most noticeable change in his bowling has been not just his attitude but also the confidence with which he has been performing. “I owe a lot to my county stint with Surrey (he picked up 24 wickets at an average of 12.95). I went to England on the advice of my seniors. I was told that county cricket toughens a player mentally and physically. It gives you a true perspective of where you stand and what improvements you need to make,” Ojha said.

The transformation from one who gave the impression of being more content with containing the batsmen, in the company of veteran Harbhajan Singh, to a match-winning bowler seems to be complete now. “There is no doubt that I enjoyed the challenges of bowling against the West Indies. I knew it was a huge opportunity to prove a point or two. And I am really happy that all the hard work I had put in, in recent times has helped me become a much better bowler,” said Ojha, who never misses an opportunity to seek former India left-arm spinner S. L. Venkatapathi Raju's words of wisdom whenever he is in Hyderabad.

Not surprisingly Ojha, with his confidence at a new high, is now looking at the bigger challenge — of bowling in Australia. “Definitely the mood is upbeat, but it doesn't mean that I am complacent. Well, for anyone the learning process is endless. So I am striving to become a much better bowler. But the fact that I am going Down Under after a highly successful series against the West Indies should be a huge morale-booster for me,” he pointed out.

Ojha is aware that the pitches in Australia may not be really spinner-friendly, but he stressed on the importance of sticking to the basics. “If you get the basics right, and try to keep experimenting without being expensive, there is great scope for taking wickets even on pitches that may not suit you,” he said.

It's now being acknowledged that Ojha is a far more dangerous bowler than he was in the last few years for the simple reason that he no longer hesitates to flight the ball. “Honestly, I feel more confident now after the county stint, even when bowling on flat tracks. Whatever the nature of the wickets, I will have to change my strategy according to the given situation. With Ashwin too on a high in terms of confidence, I am definitely hoping for a successful series in Australia,” explained Ojha, who now has 62 wickets from 14 Tests.

“Yes, it gives me immense satisfaction to realise that I became the quickest Indian left-arm spinner to take 50 wickets (he achieved the feat in 13 Tests, beating the record of Salim Durrani who did it in 14 Tests). The fact that this category has some of the finest spinners ever from India such as Vinoo Mankad, Bishan Bedi, Dilip Doshi and Raju is all the more gratifying,” he said.

How did Ojha become a different and more difficult bowler to play?

Pragyan Ojha celebrates with V. V. S. Laxman on dismissing Adrian Barath of the West Indies in the second innings of the third Test in Mumbai recently. “Seniors like Laxman bhai have been very helpful to me,” says Ojha.-PTI

“May be it is because of the extra hours of hard work I had put in, in the nets to master the arm ball and actually spin the ball more. But I have still a long way to go,” he said.

Ojha thanked his childhood coach and former Hyderabad Ranji player Vijay Paul (“Sir”) for his “immense contribution”.

“He made a big difference to my career. And of late, there are many seniors such as Laxman bhai, Anil bhai and Bhajji bhai who have been very helpful to me,” he said.

It's an acknowledged fact that Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Ojha enjoy a rare chemistry ever since the left-arm spinner dismissed the Chennai Super Kings captain twice in the inaugural Indian Premier League. “Oh! He is a fantastic captain who makes you very comfortable and understands what exactly you are looking for on the field,” said Ojha in praise of his captain.

Any targets he has set for himself?

“Not really. I just hope to keep improving and let everything fall in place,” he said.