I want to lead Indian attack: Ojha

After making a dream comeback to Test cricket with career-best figures in the Delhi Test, Pragyan tells MiD DAY that he is keen to shoulder big responsibilities

Pragyan Ojha has reached his high point. The left-arm spinner took 24 wickets at an average of less than 13 for Surrey in the County Championship in England this season. He followed that up with a nine-wicket haul for Rest of India in their Irani Cup victory. In yesterday's five-wicket win over the West Indies, he contributed a career-best Test haul of 7-109 in Delhi. Prior to the Test, Ojha last played Test cricket in November last year.
Excerpts from an interview:

Delighted: Pragyan Ojha (left) celebrates after taking a West Indian
wicket with teammate VVS Laxman in New Delhi. Pic/AFP

Within the space of 12 months, you've gone from a limited-overs specialist who was left out of the Test squad, to the senior spinner. Have you got what you wanted?
What I really want is, to play for the country for a very long time. I believe, I am on the right path. I am in a very good position; in a very good frame of mind. I have quite a lot of confidence of bowling against any opposition anywhere and take wickets for my country. I have learnt to shoulder responsibility. I am happy that captain (MS) Dhoni and the management have shown immense faith in me by giving me responsibility. The series is not over yet. I look forward to taking a lot of wickets in the remaining two Tests. I've seen footage of Bhajjipa (Harbhajan Singh) taking a hat-trick at Eden Gardens against Australia (in 2001). I hope to make the country proud at this historic stadium.

You missed the bus to West Indies and England. In fact, you didn't go to England for the one-dayers too. Were you hurt?
I wasn't hurt because I knew my opportunity was just around the corner. I was just trying to stay positive and not let bad news (of not getting picked) affect my bowling. I really believe it's important to enjoy whatever (level) you play. I was enjoying domestic cricket when I was out of the India side. If I had stopped enjoying, I would have never taken wickets. The Irani Trophy (when he grabbed a nine-wicket haul for Rest of India) was a very important game for me.

Were you hurt at not playing the World Cup?
Yes, I was. If you look at my one-day career, I have done pretty well so far. But that's how it goes in life. There are ups and downs. I hope to play the next World Cup.

Before the Delhi Test, you hadn't played a Test match for a year. What did you do to affect a turnaround?
I think what I did was, go back to the basics. Sachinpa (Tendulkar) is always saying, 'get the basics right'. I realised that I was doing certain things that I didn't need to. I realised that I am a left-arm orthodox spinner, who has to do the basic things first.

With 49 wickets from 12 Tests, you are on the verge of becoming the fastest left-arm spinner to 50 Test wickets....
I had no idea about this. I am not carrying anything like figures or numbers into any match. That's another thing Sachinpa keeps saying: 'enjoy your cricket and records will automatically come'. I am just here to play cricket for the country. I used to look at numbers and averages before. Now, it just doesn't bother me. Over the years, I have seen many great bowlers with high bowling averages. They are still great bowlers.

You've developed a slower version of your arm ball which has been getting you good rewards...
Yes, it is basically one of my biggest weapons now. I have to keep varying my pace, otherwise batsmen will get used to my bowling. I don't have too many major variations from the back-of-the-hand or fingers. I realised that you cannot experiment too much. I am a very simple bowler and person. Most of the great left-arm spinners, my heroes, were all simple left-arm spinners. If you see Bishanpa (Bedi)... he told me one day that the main things for a left-arm spinner are perseverance and accuracy. If you have these two things, only then you can try and bring in variations and do other things. I want to learn more about great left-arm spinners.

Then maybe you should watch some footage of Derek Underwood...
Yes, maybe I will one day.

Was becoming predictable your biggest fear during the lean patch?
A little bit, yes. Like I said, it's important to vary your pace, but still keep it simple and maintain accuracy.

You took 24 wickets at an average of 12.95 for Surrey in the County C'ship. How important was that stint?
Thanks to Anilbhai (Kumble) I went and played in England. One thing I enjoyed there was that they were treating me like a senior spinner. They were looking to me to lead the attack and get lots of wickets. That helped me grow as a bowler. It was definitely very important. I came back and got more wickets in the Irani Trophy.

There's been lot of criticism about seamers dominating domestic cricket in the last decade. We are not producing too many world-class spinners. Does India need a spin bowling coach like England, who have Mushtaq Ahmed?
I am not exactly sure about that. At the moment, both Ashwin and myself are very sure about our bowling, about our game. Sometimes if you want to know how to go about certain situations, there are always tips available from Sachinpa (Tendulkar) and the rest. I think the management is well aware of what is needed for the team (in terms of coaching). Also, I don't think a spinner can learn too much extra through coaching.
He has to understand his own game first. I was lucky that Anilbhai helped me during my lean patch.

The Australia tour must be on your mind...
It is certainly is. It's such a big series. But I am concentrating on this one at the moment. I still have to continue what I did in the first Test. I cannot start to feel easy just because I've bagged a six-wicket haul. I don't want to complicate my head or my bowling. I have a simple goal: become one of the leaders of the attack and shoulder responsibility.

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